Saturday, February 18, 2017

Winter Grass

Grass is so much more than food for the sheep and it is not very often that I get to photograph grass in February (without shovelling snow).

Photo one is on tame pasture, I pulled back the residue cover to see more of the greenery I caught a glimpse of while walking.

Photo two is thatch on a native prairie hilltop. When I raise the thatch (third photo) there is greenery beneath here as well. While this thatch is getting too thick, it is very important this year. It is the only covering the soil has when the snow disappears but otherwise the world is still frozen.

In contrast the next photo is a well worn, well eaten hilltop on the tame pasture. The ewes travel through here all the time so this strip takes a hit year after year. There is light residue cover but no thatch to pull back and there is no green here. Spots like this will suffer when it turns cold again and hence for this upcoming grazing season.

Residue cover, thatch and snow are buffers for the soil and help moderate the temperature of the earth in our extreme cold. If the soil is laid bare by too much grazing or otherwise, and then there is a winter with no snow to protect it, the soil temperature is colder and the soil will freeze to a deeper level thus effecting life within the soil, diminishing the soils ability to support plant growth come spring.

One spot with too much cover, another with moderate cover and a third with minimal cover - all based on animal grazing.

I’m writing all that to say - grazing matters. It must occur but overdoing it nets as much trouble as not doing it all. Yet the rancher has no way to know what the weather of the next season will be so grazing is as much a case of reacting to what the year brings as it is planning. It is as much hope as it is knowing. This is why, after years of trial and error it still feels to me like we don’t have a clue about what we’re doing. Just when we think we do Mother N throws us a curve ball. But I like to think that perhaps that’s as it should be and that this is the wonder of grass.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wool Art; Sunrise Over The Seasons

I started this one a couple weeks back and shared its beginnings on Facebook. That was all I shared because this piece was destined for someone who did not know that it was on its way and I did not want them seeing it beforehand.

That someone operates a grain and cattle farm near us and a long, long time ago she asked for a piece of wool art - whatever I came up with would be fine. So I pondered (aka procrastinated), took into account their livelihood, snuck a photo of their house on an evening visit one night, and came up with this (it morphed a couple times during the process):

A bit of a different subject and plenty of detail in this one as I attempted to capture the four seasons of a grain and cattle farm life, and could not let it go without including the family’s Norwegian Elkhound. I have to say, after doing sheep for so long, I did struggle to get the cows to look like cows.

16 x 20 inches and I used a wee bit of silk/wool blend on the water bodies and some yarn to get the effects of field work in the spring and fall. The flowers in front of the house are done with wool neps (think of those tiny little balls that develop on a wool sweater - that occurs during wool processing too and the ‘neps’ are dyed and sold).

I delivered the piece last weekend; it was very well received and appreciated; I think it almost resulted in some tears.

A couple close up photos of the detail ...

At 16 x 20 inches this overall piece is a decent size, so this fellow is tiny. The fact that he even resembles an elkhound is icing on the cake.  He was the last detail I added to the piece and was the crowning moment for me!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lots of Reasons

Valentine's.  Allen and I avoid the consumerism surrounding holidays and celebratory events, a valuable side affect of a ranch life I think, but we take note that there’s a lot to love, and a lot of reasons to be loved, in this life.  The world needs that more than ever.  Here are a few photos from the archives; no particular order.  Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Winter Day Reminder

We brought the flock in today to sort off a few wether lambs who will be killed and butchered later this week. These are 2016 born lambs that we kept here for this reason. Selling at the farm gate is not something we do frequently but we keep half a dozen lambs each year for ourselves and a few acquaintances who ask us for lamb. 

I enlisted the help of Coyote Mic and Gibson to bring the flock in. Two dogs because I expected some trouble with bringing the flock through a narrow, tree lined and snow filled pass between pasture and the first paddock. The ewes balked at pushing through the deep snow and the dogs had to hold the back of the group for several minutes before we convinced sheep to move.

After that it was an easy go across the paddock through another gate, then around the bend toward the building. Getting the entire flock into the building took a bit work again but was managed very well.

It has been a couple months since the dogs and I have moved the flock (or any sheep) and afterward I marvelled at how smooth a job we did with the dogs taking directions and stops readily, as keen as they were.

It felt like the conversation I recently had with a long time friend after being out of touch with each other for awhile. When we touched base again we picked up right where we left off and the conversation was just what we needed.

There are periods of time when I obsess over my dogs not being well trained. To help explain a bit, my comparison models are friends who do extensive training with their dogs for competing on the trial field; I start to feel like I must keep up. When the dogs pull off smooth work like this I feel faith that we’re doing just fine. It’s a good reminder.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Commonplace and Connected

It’s pleasing to hear that others are aware of the nutritional wisdom of livestock, I think it is something that has gone amiss in recent agriculture trends.

There are so many facets to keeping livestock; watching what they do, guessing and juggling and guessing again until a piece fits. It is like working on a puzzle with new pieces constantly being added.

Cajun joined me on my trek out to the flock last evening. He was so pleased to be along for the ride, and he was cold, lol. When we visited the cull group of sheep I let him work for a few moments, tucking the sheep into the building and then bringing them back out again. All too soon we’ll have another winter behind us and be back into the routine of working together daily.

Meanwhile, this is a current work in progress. The dog is Coyote Mic. I enjoy both drawing felting and will switch between the two regularly. When drawing I can sink into the tedium of trying to attain detail. With felting I can let that go to some degree - I’ll always be attracted to detail to some extent.

There is something uniquely and soulfully satisfying about being a creative person and using that as a means to share glimpses of a rich life connected to land and animal. Taking notice of the nutritional wisdom of a ewe nibbling a weed during evening chores and later that night drawing a scene of a working dog that is so commonplace to you, and feeling in your bones how utterly connected all of it is.