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…to our Wits End Farm website. Our goal is to make your visit enjoyable and educational, while sharing the beauty and rhythm of nature that daily touch our lives. We use our homepage to chronicle the happenings at our 22-acre family farm located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Both animals and humans let out a sigh of relief when the first warm Spring-like days arrived recently. We had snow on the ground for two months, beginning with a blizzard-and-a-half in mid-December. We had all the sheep in the barn for over a month, and they were all champs because no one became ill or lost condition, including the pregnant ewes.
After a storm dropped two feet of snow atop what was already there, some neighbors had a ‘Snowmageddon’ pot-luck dinner. What to take when treking through the snow over a mile to get there? A tossed salad secured in a Tupperware lidded bowl and carried in a backpack. By the way, they brewed some ‘Snowmageddon’ porter made with snow in it for authenticity.
Now the forsythias and cherry trees are in bloom, and we’ve enjoyed the first 70-degree days. The snow seems to have insulated the grass during the cold because things seem to be greening up earllier than usual. As the leaves bud out on the lilacs, 16 new lambs cavort in the field with unbridled enthusiasm. As of now, there are 13 Border Leicester lambs and 3 Bluefaced Leicester lambs. All the white border lambs are all progeny of Merlin, our champion ram from Overlook Manor Farm. In particular, there are several really nice ram lambs. Check out Merlin’s photo and photos of his get on the ‘Sheep for Sale’ page. As for the ’baby blues,’ they are all enchanting ewe lambs, two of which are silver. The photo of two of them is further down this page.
With Springs come plans to attend the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, held at the Howard County Fairgrounds over the first weekend of May. I will have several Border Leicester yearling rams for sale there, both white and natural-colored, along with several Border Leicester ram lambs. I also will have two natural-colored Border Leicester-Bluefaced Leicester cross yearling ewes that will be for sale. Their fleeces are something to behold.
We also have news of our friends in Pennsylvania who have the therapy sheep; Mike and Sue Reifsnyder. By the way, Sue has written a child’s book about raising sheep. I will be illustrating it for her and will publish it in a limited edition for sale at our pens at Maryland Sheep and Wool. All proceeds will support Mike and Sue’s mentoring program for troubled kids.
With more than a dozen lambs doing lamby things out in the field, there is an excessive amount of ‘cute’ to be had from every vista. The important looking fellow below is Horatio, Wits End 1001, who weighed 14 pounds at birth and tipped the scales at 40 pounds at one month of age. Needless to say, he’s a sheep with attitude, and he constantly tests the patience of the ewes as he makes the rounds bumming milk, mounting other lambs of any gender and generally making a nuisance of himself. “Hey, just keeping folks entertained,” he says.
The ram lambs offered for sale below were all sired by Merlin (Weik Overlook Manor Farm 2753), who was champion Border Leicester ram at Maryland Sheep and Wool in 2007 as a yearling. (pictured here at the right).
His sire was a son of the famous Canadian-bred ‘McCarthy ram’ (McCarthy 7E), and a great grandfather, ’Ice’ (Eldonview 83D), was another champion at Maryland. In addiition, several grandsires and grandams are from Canadian Ayrvale and Ander-Vale bloodlines.
This is the best ram we’ve ever had in terms of prepotency. He has crossed well with all our ewe bloodlines, and there never fails to be an improvement in terms of size and structure.
Four of our Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs were sold in mid-October 2009 at the New York Bred Ewe and Ewe Lamb Sale. The lambs were from two sets of triplets born spring of 2009 at Wits End Farm.
Along with three other Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs, Wits End 924 (pictured below) was sold at the New York Ewe and Lamb Sale at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds near Rhinebeck, NY. We thank the winning bidders.
Wits End 924
Wits End 921
Bluefaced Leicester ewe lamb
DOB 2/11/2009 Triplet
Beechtree 49 GY Sir James TW x Wool N Wood 0075 TR
BLU 2032 (Barlaes Titus) BLU 1756 (Beeston Loyalty)
Wits End 922
Bluefaced Leicester ewe lamb
DOB 2/11/2009 Triplet
Beechtree 49 GY Sir James TW x Wool N Wood 0075 TR
BLU 2032 (Barlaes Titus) BLU 1756 (Beeston Loyalty)
Wits End 925
DOB 3/11/2009 TR
Beechtree 49 GY Sir James TW x Beechtree 1Pk Vindolanda SG
BLU 2032 (Barlaes Titus) BLU 1983 (Carry House)
Geoffrey, a Border Leicester ram which I had used for two years, found a wonderful new home and breeding assignment when he was purchased this summer by Leslie Orndorff of Tintagel Farm in south central Pennsylvania.
At left: Leslie Orndorff of Tintagel Farm with her new breeding ram, Geoffrey, who was bred by Nancy Weik of Overlook Manor Farm.
Leslie is a renowned fiber artist who combines Border Leicester wool with mohair from her angora goats to produce lustrous, hand-dyed spinning fibers and yarn. She liked Geoffrey for his dense fleece, thanks to some infusion of English AI bloodlines. Besides his desirable fiber, I found him to be an outstanding ewe sire.
Geoffrey should feel right at home at her picturesque farm with historic stone barns and grassy hillocks; the original Tintagel in England is where King Arthur was born.
Pictures do a much better job of illustrating the exceptional beauty of Rappahannock County during Autumn. Mountains seem to move closer in the crisp, clean air, and the golden light sets off the reds, yellows and oranges of foliage and the harvest.
Dave and I worked like beavers on steroids to prepare for the Rappahannock County Farm Tour. The ‘purpose of the exercise,’ as my father would say, was educating the public about local food production and sustainable agriculture.
At right: Sylvia Rowand; caterer, gardening coach and local food expert; greets Hannah (r) and her sister, two Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs penned beneath the maple tree in front of our house. Sylvie and her husband operate Laughing Duck Gardens; check out her blog at www.LaughingDuckGardens.com.
To that end, we planned a busy schedule for the two days, featuring sheep shearing, natural dying and handspinning demonstrations. We had the studio ready for visitors with our own hand-dyed and handpainted Leicester and Bluefaced Leicester fiber and yarns on display.
At left: Visitors viewed fiber produced and dyed on the farm.
Visitors seemed to really enjoy the ‘magic’ of natural dying. Originally, I had purchased natural dyes known for their dramatic coloration of wool; alkanet and madder. However, in reviewing the subject for the demonstrations, I realized that some wonderful native dyestuffs, each with their own history, were at their peak and grew on our property. So, it became a trifecta of natural dying, local harvesting and a history lesson. I focused on goldenrod and black walnuts over the weekend, and the visitors were as enthuasistic about the results as I was.
At right: It was magic: Three batches of Border Leicester yarn dyed with goldenrod flowers harvested from the fields of Wits End Farm.
Rain and cold temperatures on Saturday meant only the heartiest two dozen made it to Wits End Farm, but their enthusiasm more than made up for their small number. Sunday offered a perfect blue sky and warm wind. The sun made the fall colors dazzle. Farm visitors met the animals and watched the dying demonstrations in much more comfort, as the sheep happily cropped fresh grass. We finished the day in the most pleasant possible way when neighbors dropped by and we found ourselves sipping wine and eating munchies on the front porch. Everyone was tired from the weekend, and our finger food became everyone’s dinner that night.
Below: Dave’s 1955 Allis Chalmers Tractor, Model WD45, presided behind the barn, under Sunday’s blue skies.
The financial challenges that Mike and Sue Reifsnyder have faced since his work lay-off last fall took a back seat last week when Mike miraculously survived a late-night automobile accident that left a telephone pole in three pieces and earned him a chopper ride to the famous Bal’mer emergency care facility.
Mike has been working nights to make ends meet, and as he drove home in the early morning, he rounded the bend of a two-lane Carroll County road to find high beams blinding his vision. Unable to see the lines on the road, he steered so that he would be to the right of the oncoming car. The problem was the car was in his lane, so he unknowingly drove off the pavement and hit seven mailboxes and then got personal with a telephone pole.
Thanks to the airbag deployment and the fact that he was wearing his seatbelt, Mike survived the crash. In fact, he never lost consciousness, and he soon was on the phone with Sue. She in turn contacted Carroll County 911 calltakers who relayed Mike’s medical history to incoming units. The first-arriving county sheriff utilized his emergency medical technician training to quickly decide that Mike needed first-class care and fast. Within minutes, Mike was in the air with some of his new paramedic best friends en route to Baltimore.
Sue called me the next day and suggested that I sit down before she told me the news. Mike had several broken ribs, and the docs were working on his collapsed lung. Sue has been working at a local grocery store, and the joint burden of long work hours and almost losing a husband had her worn out. I immediately made plans to visit them.
Mike was released home last Tuesday, and he is recuperating on a rented hospital bed set up in the couple’s guest room. Sue sleeps on a studio bed beside him, using her nurse’s training to check him every three hours or so during the night. Mike gets up during the day to eat and to feed the two therapy sheep that they had gotten to soothe troubled kids. Now, the sheep pull double duty soothing Mike, too.
What’s the future for them? Mike and Sue are living one day at a time, hoping they can keep their house. They get help caring for the animals, and have cut expenses as far as they can. Oh, did I mention that Mike lost his health insurance when he was laid off, and he was deemed ‘uninsurable’ when they searched for replacement coverage? They hope the new health care legislation will give them some relief.
In the meantime, please pray for them and add Mike Reifsnyder to your prayer list. If you would like to help them in other ways, e-mail me at email@example.com. Sue has written a book for children about raising sheep. I’ll be selling it out of my pens at Maryland Sheep and Fool Festival. We can also do mail order. In addition, Sue sells Tupperware, so a purchase from her is another way to help. Here’s a link to her Tupperware website: Sue’s Tupperware website.
One never knows about the weather at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, held in mid-October at the beautiful Dutchess County Fairgrounds near Rhinebeck, NY. Some years, I’ve shown in shirtsleeves and others I dressed for snow. This year’s event definitely called for layering, with cold rain on Saturday and nighttime temperatures almost in the 30s on Sunday. As for the sheep, not to worry; the moderate temperatures made for excellent travel conditions, and they were more than toasty in their lovely fall fleeces.
I consigned four Bluefaced Leicester ewe lambs to the New York Bred Ewe Sale, held in conjunction with the festival, and they fetched satisfactory prices in a tough economy. I do not yet know the identity of some of the purchasers; as soon as I do, I will thank them for their winning bids. Most importantly, I trust the girls are heading to good homes where they will earn their stripes as brood ewes for many years.
At right: Wits End 924 was sold at the New York Bred Ewe Sale in mid-October.
The Saturday sheep auction was followed by a very competitive and well-subscribed sheep show on Sunday. This year’s judge was Judy Moore, who demonstrated her world-class abilities by whittling down large classes into manageable lineups of champion sheep. The Romney entries enjoyed consistent success—best wishes to all their hard-working sheep breeders, including Katherine Moore of Birch Branch Farm in Lee, NH, whose pens were next to mine. Her ewe was champion long-wool ewe. Two years ago, her ram was the supreme champion, and three-quarters of the sheep she brought this year were sired by him. Who was Katherine? She was the willowy blonde in the red boots. A self-described ‘Hamp girl’ in her youth, she’s about the nicest person around.
At left: My husband Dave with the lovely Border Leicester ewe lamb, Wits End 901, purchased during the festival by Chris and Eileen Testo of Westerlo, NY.
I was thrilled when a gentleman in shorts and a parka approached my sheep pens. It was Tom Brown, a prominent sheep judge who survived some challenging health issues during recent years. He said he was very happy to be there, this time enjoying the competition seated in a chair in the show ring. He was quite interested in Bluefaced Leicesters, saying he had seen them all over Great Britain.
“They have such a fascinating heritage, you know,” he said.
I took time to visit many of the yarn and fiber booths that filled the large fairgrounds, where I saw friends and met new ones. My favorite purchase was a hand-knitted hat, made from fine-wool yarn spun, dyed and knitted by Gretchen Wittenburg. Her friend and neighbor, Lisa Letendre of Boulder Meadow Farm & Fiber Mill of Fitzwilliam, NH, said Gretchen heads knitting and spinning groups and is an inspiration to all who know her. Besides the wonderful colors, I chose the hat because it was actually large enough to cover my oversized cranium without reducing vital blood supply. I have a very silly picture of the hat below.
I made another new friend when Neysa Minahan approached my pens looking for a Bluefaced Leicester ram lamb. She was in luck: I had a lovely fellow who would meet the needs of her cross-bred, long-wool flock. Handsome, easy to handle and sporting a beautiful natural-colored fleece, the beloved ram lamb that I called Cadfael trotted off with her to his new home in Lakeville, CT.
The trip home began Sunday night, when I drove almost 100 miles to Milford, PA. At the Hiway Diner over the $3.95 breakfast special, I learned there were extensive traffic delays on I-81 near Scranton, PA. I pulled out my map and soon decided to take scenic, two-lane Highway 209 along the Delaware River south to Stroudsburg. There, I’d take I-80 west to I-81 and, with luck, miss all the construction. It turned out to be a shorter route home and, most importantly, a really lovely one. Most of the trip to Stroudsburg was through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where forested cliffs were on my right and farmed floodplain and the Delaware River were on my left.
At right: My new hand-knitted hat takes in the pristine beauty of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
All of this beauty almost was lost in the 1960s, when the Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to dam the Delaware River north of the gap for hydroelectric power generation. Downriver, the water gap would have become a 37-mile reservoir. The corps acquired by the area through eminent domain, uprooted some 15,000 residents and managed to demolish 3,000 to 5,000 dwellings, many of which were historic. Because of unceasing local efforts and strong environmental opposition (bolstered by an unacceptable geological assessment of the dam’s safety), the property was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978 and the 70,000-acre recreational area was born. Locals still remember the struggle.
At left: The sounds of someone singing echoed over the water. Soon, a canoe rounded the bend and the two ‘Keiths’ halloed. They were on a three-day, 30-mile trip down the Delaware River, which is designated a national scenic river in this stretch.
I pulled over to photograph an old mill house. Beside it, a stream meandered by the Wyoming-Minisink Path, which crosses the park westward. The path was one of three important Indian trails that linked the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, and was the one most heavily used. During the colonial period, settlers from Connecticut used the path to migrate west. The region has seen much conflict over the centuries; Europeans and Native Americans hacked away at each other during early colonial settlement, and the gap area was an important front during the French and Indian War.
I was soon heading west on I-80, leaving behind the crystalline water, multi-hued forest and 400 years of human conflict.