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Expect the unexpected

Never has these words been more true than life on the farm. Back in my days in pharmaceuticals and engineering your week was structured by set mandatory meetings and what’s available in the cafeteria. Monday may be change control reviews and tacos in the cafeteria. Tuesday is immediate staff meeting, and deviation review, along with BBQ in the lunch room. Wednesday…well you get the idea. For the most part the day was structured, start at 8 am, and leave at 4, set meetings where you had to be, and then some filler time in between to get stuff done. It was a routine, you knew what was coming and what was expected, structure, order, timetables.

Life on the farm couldn’t be more different. You never know what tomorrow brings. You may wake up at 2 am because Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) are on alert. You may be fixing electric fence because a tree fell, or sheep knocked off some insulators. You may be chasing goats down the road, because they escaped….again. You may be dealing with a sick animal, or hurt animal. It may be repairing vehicles, or equipment. Then there is feeding, water, stall cleanouts, dishes, homeschool, and meals as filler. Ha, meals, you never know when you are gonna eat. If it is an early morning to tend to a sick, or new baby animal you may eat at 5 am, it may be 11 am before breakfast or it may be none at all and just eat at lunch, Lunch can be from 11 am to 3 pm. Just depends on what the day unfolds. Not like in the middle of helping birth a lamb, or chasing goats…again, that you can say “hold on everyone, it is 11 am, my designated lunch break can we continue tomorrow”. Then there is the weather. You may PLAN on working on new pasture fence Monday to be done Wednesday, but showers show up. Some days it is hour by hour on what the weather holds. You plan to work inside because of rain, and then no rain, and you are a day behind. You want to hay, but need at least 4 full days of dry weather. HA, HA good luck on planning that.  You pretty much just roll with it, expect the unexpected, and try to plan, but know, plans never work out 100% of the time.

A few weeks ago we unexpectedly went to the dollar movie, as we don’t typically go to movies, it was unexpected. Part of the previews if for a new Disney movie Ferdinand. After the movie Sr. Farm Boss aka Brandie tells us of a story with her grandfather who had a bull named Ferdinand and how he would go out and wrestle and play with this big bull in the pasture. I never heard of the book so she explained the significance. Last week doing maintenance on the wood boiler I had to order parts. There were add on items and I needed $4 more to make it free shipping. Brandie added the book Ferdinand for Wee aka Jr Farm Boss and thought it would be fitting for her collection, we wanted to see the movie, and a memory from Brandie’s childhood.

Where am I going with all this? This last Monday was for the most part, usual farm day, we tried to have plans of building a loom for wool projects, regular chores, maybe cut firewood. Then I get a call from the feed store. My 1st thought is there is a problem with our feed or account. Because feed store doesn’t typically call us, we call them. “Ms. Connected” into everything and everyone Jessica asks if we are interested in a bottle bull calf. Stating mom, had rejected and farmer wasn’t able to bottle feed it. And because she knows us said “I know you will have to check with Sr. Farm Boss so call me back.” An immediate yes from Sr., and I got the number of the farmer from Jessica and made arrangements to go get milk replacer, and check out this bottle baby. Arriving at his farm, we saw an older gentleman, who greeted us, and was as friendly as he could be. He reminded me of my wife’s other grandfather who I had the pleasure of getting to know, Grampa Wolf. He gave me the quote “You have a moral obligation to screw the government every chance you can.”  And that coming from a WWII vet.

This older gentleman greeted me and Wee and you could tell he had a love for kids, because he engaged her more than me. Made sure she was included in conversation and things to look at and out for in his barn. He kept apologizing that due to his age he would love to care for this bottle calf but just can’t and was upset with himself because if he had known there were twins and cow was that close would have tied her up and gotten both calves to latch on.  I felt bad, because you could see the love he had for his animals, and at 83, still managing 1800 lb beef cows is no small task. Wee immediately went over and started to talk to and pet the calf, while he was explaining the genetics and history of this calf. He was tickled pink that this little girl would be loving on this calf and do her best to give it a second chance at life. He whispered to me that it may not go the way we want, and not to get up hope. I explained she is a farm girl and knows this is part of farm life. She had to give her own take that “we do the best we can, give them the best life we can, and sometimes they don’ survive, and that is OK, because that is farm life”. At 6 I think she is gonna be OK with this whole death and life thing. We informed him we would be following up in a few days to let him know how the calf was doing. We loaded up the calf in the back of the Explorer and take him home, utilizing all the advice from Jessica who was once a vet tech, the farmer, and all the research of rehabbing a baby calf Brandie had done since I first called her 2 hrs earlier. Yes, all this happened in under two hours. We get him back, settled into a stall (had to kick a few goats out, who were not happy about it). He is now in a stall, protected from elements, and wind, with lots of hay under his feet, and heat lamp for added warmth.

Ferdinand as he is now being called, see the coincidence, it was fate, is doing better, and we see more improvements each time we visit with him. Wee has to not only check every 2 hrs, but has to go and put her head on his chest to listen for a heartbeat. He is still not out of the woods yet, but we are seeing improvements which is a good sign. Just another non-typical day here on the farm.

A few weeks ago, we took in five sheep that needed a new home. Their previous owners loved them dearly, but wasn’t home enough to spend the quality time she would like to. It was at that point Brandie made the comment that we should change the name from Wolf-Beach Farms to Wolf-Beach Animal Rescue. It wasn’t until Ferdinand that I realized the majority of our animal have been rescue/rehomes. All 8 alpaca and both llamas are rescue/rehome. All 6 of our cats, yes, we have 6, are rehome/rescue. 2 of the 4 dogs are rehome/rescue.  19 of our 33 goats were rescue/rehome.  At least 10 of the 32 sheep have been rescue/rehome. 6 of the 12 pigs have been rescue/rehome and 1 bull calf. At least 54 animals here are rescue/rehome. This is not including any of the poultry…She may not be far off from saying we are running a rescue vs farm some days.

Not all fiber is wool Part I

As I started to write this, it quickly became larger than I expected so I am breaking it down into sections. Part one will be about types of fiber. Part two will be dedicated to quality of the fiber. Part three will be processing fiber.  Part four will be using the fiber. I never really knew there was so much to fiber. We are in no way experts, we are just sharing what we have learned along the way.

For someone who isn’t into spinning, fiber, and the wool world understanding what the differences are can be daunting. We were in this boat about five years ago. We assumed all animals you shear provide wool. Not the case. Sheep provide wool. So what do you call the material from llama, alpaca, or better silk worms? A friend who has now become family started educating us. It is all called fiber. There are different types of fiber, from different sources, different qualities and that also goes for natural vs man made fiber. For the most part we want to focus on natural fibers. We will try and break down some of the lessons we have learned, and point you to places so you can learn more.

Fiber can come from many sources, not just animals. Take the silk worm for instance. The fiber comes from the cocoon of the silk worm moth.  Wee aka Jr. Farm Boss and I found one on the farm one day but had no idea what we had. Using the Insect Identification Page on Facebook we were able to tell we had in fact found a native Indiana silk moth. Antheraea polyphemusThese native species are not great at producing usable silk for working with like you would think of for a silk scarf. But still pretty cool.

Cocoon
Pupa

We tried our hand at raising production silk worms as you can feed them native mulberry leaves here in Indiana.  They are ravenous little creatures. Sadly we never made it to the cocoon stage.  They only like fresh leaves, and are very fragile.  We may try it again someday but at the time had way too many projects going on to properly care for them. If you are interested in raising some check out Worm Spit. I would suggest wait until the warmer months, when you can have access to fresh mulberry leaves. Be prepared, they eat a lot, and you may run out of branches you can reach quickly.

There is a whole magnitude of fiber that comes from plants. Most people immediately think of cotton. We have some local friends here in Indiana at Stillwater Farms who grew cotton this year (2017) on their farm. We were always under the impression that it was a southern state crop. Learn something new all the time. Their cotton wasn’t a large scale production, but more an experiment to see if it could be done, and have the experience. Cotton production on a large scale takes specialized and expensive equipment.

Photo: Yvonne Snyder

Have you ever seen a cotton blossom? We haven’t. Thanks to Yvonne at Stillwater Farms for the picture.

In addition to cotton there is hemp which is far more sustainable and ecologically better than commercial cotton. Unfortunately the Indiana legislature still considers hemp, which has by law less than 0.3% THC (the active compound in getting people high associated with marijuana), A Schedule I  narcotic. A  Schedule I is said to have no medicinal value and Indiana and Federal legislature group marijuana with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, Locally Indiana Hemp Industries Association has been on the forefront of getting hemp legalized here in Indiana. Hemp can replace many synthetic products or materials from ecologically damaging practices from fuel, to animal feed, to toilet paper, to fiber used in clothing. The IHIA has more information on their website and how you can help if interested. Up until the 1938 hemp was grown as a crop here in Indiana.

Yucca is another fiber product you can grow here in Indiana. While not suited for clothing it can be used for rope and crafts. Did you also know the roots of the yucca can be eaten,  made into a flour for baking. and even a shampoo and soap?

We have several different animal sources of fiber on our farm. Contrary to what PETA or other animal rights groups you DO NOT KILL an animal for fiber. Many times shearing the animal improves the animals health and comfort. Imagine, a typical Indiana summer, and you are wearing your heaviest winter coat, two layers of pants, and a hat. You would be hot, right? These animals are too. We only shear in early spring for sheep (helps with lambing) and late in spring for alpaca and llama. Why the difference? Ewes (female sheep) won’t feel the chill of early morning spring air with a heavy coat on. They will give birth in the field and not realize the lamb is cold. If they are shorn they will want to move into the barn, so the lamb and ewe will have a similar experience of temperature. We bread later in the season so that outside temps are warmer, and try to isolate ewes ready to give birth in the barn, but sometimes they surprise us.

You can learn more about individual animals or their breeds at the Our Animals page.

We have Sheep

We have a variety of pure sheep and several crosses. Each fiber has different qualities which we will discuss in part two.

Llama

Initially the llamas were here to help keep the pastures mowed and protect some of the other animals. Shearing for fiber was just a bonus.

Alpaca

All of our alpacas are the Huacaya  (pronounced wuh-kai-ya) breed.

Goat

Yes goat….Many people don’t know that the expensive angora (although typically associated with rabbits), cashmere, and mohair sweaters and clothing comes from GOATS.  Here are all the goat fiber breeds.  We have “Token” aka Norman a Pygora goat. While he wasn’t initially brought to the farm for fiber, we have grown to like it.

We will soon be adding rabbits to our fiber animals. Initially as a pet, but possibly production animal as well. Angora rabbits are another source of super soft fiber. Want to learn more about Angoras? Friends at Treen Acres has some info and pictures.

  

Surprisingly you can also use dog and cat hair as fiber. Jack and Freyja our LGD/Farm Dogs have a dual coats and they “blow them out” each spring. Blowing out a coat means the thick fluffy layer underneath that keeps them warm over the winter falls out and they regrow it again in the fall. Major, well, not much to say about Major other than “He’s so FLUFFY!!!”

Cows

In the distant future we hope to add Scottish Highland cattle which has fiber you can use in fiber works. At this time we cannot speak to the quality of the fiber. Aren’t they fluffy looking. Adults have long locks of fiber.

 

Pigs?!?!?!

There is a type of wooly pig that also has fiber. The Mangalica is a wooly pig said to have fiber similar to some sheep.

Photo from wikipedia

So hopefully now you know a little more about fiber vs wool. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.