Category Archives: Crafting

Feeling crafty

One of the wonderful, and potentially stressful, things about smallholding is the scope. There is so much more than simply raising animals and growing crops. What will you cook with all these varied ingredients? Will you get into preserving such as dehydrating, jams, chutneys, sauces, pickling, juices, homebrew, cordials, vinegars? Then there is dairy production, churning your own butter, yoghurts, cheeses, ice creams. What about baking, savoury and sweet? The desire to smallhold often comes hand in hand with a desire to be more self sufficient and also to have a lower impact on the planet, smallholders are often quite eco aware. Are you going to make your own cleaning products like soaps? What about building things for yourself? From BBQs and sheds to smokers and solar panels, smallholders often tackle it all. What about carving with wood for art rather than function? Then you look at what else your animals can give you, meat for sure but with sheep at least you have the by-product of the fleece which needs to be shorn each year. You can spin it (with a drop spindle or wheel), felt it (wet and needle), dye it, make rugs, make ‘vegetarian sheepskins’, weave with it. Don’t forget products from animals that have gone for meat, you have horns, skins, feathers and bones that can also have a use. There’s always a wealth of new skills you can tackle and I have a desire to have a go at them all! In fact I’ve made a pretty good dent on that list already:

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Today I wanted to talk a bit about the crafting with wool. This is something I was passionate about for a few years. In the space of a couple of months whilst we were Scotland, with the help of youtube videos, I taught myself to knit. I wasn’t very good to start with but I worked at it and became quite competent. My Mum juggled being a seamstress alongside nursing but I have never been very good with the sewing machine. I fell in love with my new found ability to make something. It also allowed me to sit down and still feel productive, a bonus when you have a strong drive to always be ‘doing’ but a body that isn’t very healthy. I had a little dabble at crochet but the confusion between US and UK terms seemed to put me off. I can turn my hands to most knitting without much thought but crochet takes much more concentration for me.

I then discovered fibre. I could knit with real wool and using ‘spit and splice’ to join wool was a revelation that made me look at my stash of acrylic wool with a bit of disdain! Then of course came the need to know more. What about spinning? A wonderful man showed me how to spin with a drop spindle made out of a twig and CD using bits of wool we collected from the fences in a field whilst camping. I was soon the owner of a drop spindle and a lot of roving. Suddenly I was presented with a lovely gift of a spinning wheel. Well once you are spinning it makes sense to go to the source and I ended up with fleece, both that I had bought and that I had been gifted with.  That required processing and after a very lucky Christmas I had a drum carder. Now I had too much fleece to spin though and I ended up buying a peg loom to turn the growing pile of fleece into gifts one Christmas. I even bought a dying kit but never plucked up the courage to use it. My mother in law presented me with a huge loom that is wrapped up as individual pieces, I still haven’t plucked up the courage to unwrap it and put it together yet. Can you see how it is a slippery slope?  At the very least I was always walking with at least one knitting project and I mean that literally, I could walk and knit at the same time.

Then I had my daughter and my focus switched to mothering. I didn’t seem to have time between moving to the smallholding and trying to raise her to do much crafting. I have tried a couple of times to pick up a knitting or crochet project but it has been slow progress and I have had very few finished objects since I had her. I have managed to make two peg loom rugs which are getting a lot of use. I did a demo on it at an event for our smallholding club which re-ignited the flame a little.

Peg loom rug

Our smallholding club (which I love) has been having a wave of starting up small interest groups (winemaking, wooly crafts, cheese making adding to the existing music, growing and baking groups). Despite being pregnant and seeing the imminent demise of ‘me’ time I signed up to the group. We have only had two meetings (one a month) but my word my passion for crafting has been reignited. After the first one I took some time to grab the rovings I made about 5 years ago and dusted off the drop spindle. I need to work on my technique again but it’s at the very least smoother than when I first started with it so I haven’t slid too far backwards.

A rare break to enjoy the weather and spin some wool

Next we had a felting meeting coming up. I had briefly dabbled with needle felting whilst at a camp last year. I made a very thin crescent moon and then forgot about it all. The aim was to do something with the bits of our fleece that are too small to be used in the pegloom rugs (the main destination for our fleeces). I figured I might be able to pick up some tips at this meeting so I dusted it off, grabbed some raw Castlemilk wool that I had bought when smallholding was still a dream and had a go at making a sheep. It’s certainly mammalian, I’m not sure if it is a sheep and you haven’t got much of a chance of guessing it was meant to be a Castlemilk but it was a experiment and I was quite happy. It took me about an hour. My awful start at knitting gives me hope that I can master this skill, I won’t be put off by a rough start!

The felting meeting was great, we made a  wet felt flower with pre-dyed wool and it is something I can see me doing with Chi. It was meant to be a poppy but it came out quite big so I’m not sure I will wear it but it does look lovely. It’s something I can see myself doing during the summer months with Chi.

Following that I decided to have a go at the needle felt sheep with clean, carded wool. I bit the bullet and decided to give washing fleece in the washing machine a go as people in the group were confirming it worked. It was a bit terrifying and I did felt one (used a denim cycle instead of wool as they are next to each other) but it is working well and I think I could get through a lot of fleece this way! The fleece shown was very dirty to start with and was a bit dirty after the wash so I put it through for a second run.  It came out cleaner but still a bit dirty on the tips. It wasn’t a great one to start with but it didn’t felt, the body side is a bit more tangled on the net bag one though, not quite felted but you can see it starting. I’ll go with pillow cases from here on out.

The the drum carder got a dusting off due to another smallholder in the group being excited about them and getting one. I carded my freshly washed wool and set about making a new sheep. It’s very different working with carded wool than with raw fleece, the sheep has been a lot easier to put together and isn’t half as lumpy. I’m still working on getting the proportions right, the back legs are a bit thick, and the head is giving me some trouble but it feels like I am improving which is the aim.

Now another friend is experimenting with acid dyes on spun wool and I’m starting to eye up my dusty dying kit and thinking about putting together that loom. I have 5 reasonably sized white fleeces, 2 huge white fleeces, 1 huge black fleece and 19 of our own fleeces sitting around getting dusty so I have plenty to choose from for experiments.

3 bags full

All in all I am feeling reinvigorated about crafting and I love it. It is something I have really missed. I know baby is due in August but I am hoping I can find some way to keep going to the meetings and keep a bit of me time for crafting this time around. In the meantime I’m going to get as much as I can made before baby arrives. Hopefully this has given you a bit of an intro about me as a crafter and will help my future posts make a bit more sense!

Dans

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Our first mutton, sheepskins and horn

Yes we are still here!

My laptop had a slow death and went completely out of use a couple of months ago. Since then I have been limping along with my phone but it was a lot harder to get things done. Now I have a nice new laptop I’m back again. I’ll catch you up with the various goings on as new stuff comes up, but I want to do a post about our first experience of sending sheep to the abattoir and getting the meat and other products back.

You may remember that we ended up getting more breeding ewes than we thought we could have in the long run. We wanted to see how they lambed and then cull down to our final number of breeding ewes (3). Two of the ewes, Anya and Aelin didn’t get in lamb, there was a chance they would if we gave them a second year but we just couldn’t justify keeping them on. They were earmarked for meat once we were certain they weren’t carrying lambs.

Lambing went pretty well for our first time. Alanna’s lambing stood out though. She scanned as a single and had a small lamb with no difficulty. We saw another sack but she showed no sign of pushing. A very small lamb literally wriggled it’s way out of her, it dropped to the floor, she looked behind her and then continued licking the first lamb. I waited a bit to see if she would do anything but then cleared the airways. We gave her 2 hours and still no mothering towards the second lamb. We did finally get the lamb up and feeding, which she allowed after a bit of a fight. She never did ‘mother’ Crais though. She would allow him to feed if he was by her but she never answered his calls or went to him. Both lambs were a lot smaller than any of the others and Alanna got marked for meat once her lambs were weaned. Her not looking after Crais gave us so much extra work.

So weaning time came around and we booked the ewes in. I spent the week before trying to come up with ways to avoid it. Maybe we could sell them – but we want meat, if we sell them we have no mutton. Maybe we are being too rash in writing them off – but if we keep them we have 12 sheep on the land over winter, far too many. It really was a decision I wrestled with and I am kind of glad I did. I hope I always feel at least a little tug in sending animals off for meat.

Aelin, Alanna and Anya

Abattoir rolled around quickly, the trailer had been scrubbed out, the sheep dagged and checked over, everything was ready. We got a little lost driving to the abattoir, despite doing a test run a couple days before, we pulled up at the butchers expecting the side road to be a route to the abattoir but it turned out it was further so Sam had to do a u-turn in the trailer! The animals unloaded fine and we had all the paper worked needed to get back our Category 2 animal by-products. We drove back home feeling a bit solemn but not with the tears a lot of smallholders had reported.

Saying bye to the girls

I was back there a few hours later though to pick up the skins and horns. It would seem that the abattoir aren’t used to people doing this, they weren’t sure about the paperwork at first and the horns were cut at varying lengths, they did apply an initial salting though which was nice.

Cat 2 products for transit

When I got them back home the skins were laid out and any flesh removed, in future I think I’d actually ask them not to do the initial salting if I’m going to collect them so quickly (they were still warm), as it seems to make the flesh harder to remove in places. I got them as clean as I could though and covered with salt. A week or so later we covered them again and then about a month later we sent them off to be tanned. I’ll try a do a more in depth post about the skins once I get them back.

The horns I had much less of a clue about. I’d read about burying them, or putting them on a high roof far away. Unfortunately we had neither of those and so we popped them in a dog cage near the back door until I could read more about the boiling method. As it turned out when I next checked on them the maggots had loosened the core on one despite the cold weather. I left them longer and the maggots loosened the core on 3 more, not really much of a smell at all until you removed the core. There are two more and they are now in the conservatory. I should give them a try again soon.

Collecting of the meat was ok. The butchers got a couple cuts wrong which was annoying as I had to drive back to get it corrected, I didn’t want to disappoint the customers. We sold 5 halves in the end, keeping one half back for ourselves. One was collected fresh from the butcher, one was collected fresh from us, two were frozen and then collected from us and the last was posted fresh. The last one was probably the most nerve wracking for me. I pretty much loathe polystyrene so we went for Woolcool packaging which is cardboard boxes lined with a wool insert. We sent it next day delivery via courier and it arrived fine thankfully. I think we’d definitely be open to posting in future.

The contents of one of the meat boxes

We ate our first home grown mutton the next night and it really was delicious, just a quick dish of chops lightly fried but the meat wasn’t tough at all. We saved a leg for Christmas dinner and slow cooked it, the meat really is different to lamb, it is genuinely richer. We’ve had lots of positive feedback from the customers which is really nice.

Our first mutton meal

We should have a very limited amount of hogget over summer, so if you’re interested get your orders in, I have a feeling it will go quickly!

Dans

A wooly adventure

I’ve not been very good at keeping this up to date have I? I’m currently putting that down to a toddling terror with a love of laptops and a questionably understanding of the word no (I’m pretty sure she understands but ignores). A new rule that Mummy can have her laptop at breakfast might help.

So what’s been going on at Six Oaks? I’ll update you on the sheepy front this time.

The sheep have been shorn and ended up looking more like deer than sheep. It was a real adventure getting them in for that. We had to get them out of the field they had been in and then through the next area with long grass and willow trees, down a 12 foot wide strip of good grass between the leylandi and the polytunnels (aka Polytunnel Way) and into the open polytunnel. To start with they didn’t want to go past the gate of their existing field and a drop of the bucket on the other side  meant they got a fair amount of the food without getting them very far. But we got them in and the gate closed behind them. Success!

Except it wasn’t, we got as far as Polytunnel Way and then refused to go further. I guess it was narrower and they could see that the end of it was blocked off. The bolted off in a series of kicks and jumps and found the willow which was then far more interesting than the coarse mix Sam was shaking. We gave up on the carrot approach and went for the stick. There’s a hedge going through this area and with an unsuspecting volunteer (Kay) we tried walking them down the gap between it and the fence to get them into Polytunnel Way. We soon found out that the hedge wasn’t as thick as we thought when they started jumping through it!

We gave up, stuck some hurdles up a little way into Polytunnel Way so that we didn’t have sheep wandering all over the place and put their water there. We had dinner and thought about shearing the sheep ourselves (shearer due first thing in the morning).

Of course when we went out to lock up for the night the sheep were happily in Polytunnel Way munching on the grass. We opened the hurdles and tried with the bucket again. It worked and we got them penned up just before it got dark. Of course both our phones were dead at that point so no victorious photo. The only bucket we had with us at that time was the chicken corn though as we were quite surprised to find that they seemed to like that even more than the coarse mix!

All penned up and ready for shearing
All penned up and ready for shearing

The shearer came and went with little event. We had the sheep penned up in the open polytunnel with the ends of the polytunnel blocked off just in case. Turns out that was a good idea as one sheep got loose at one point and was running around the tunnel.

Our new deer!
Our new deer!

The fleeces were so tiny! It didn’t help that a couple of them were really shedding so had the fleece coming away in pieces and half gone anyway. I may need to get them done earlier next year or learn how to roo them. My plans to make a couple of rugs from them went out the window when I saw the size so instead I have sourced some white fleece and I will do some peg loom rugs with brown and white wool. Hopefully more on that soon.

We then had a go at treating the sheep with clik to prevent fly strike. A lot of people say to do it a few weeks after shearing but our vet advised same day and I trust her, plus we were still mentally scarred from having tried to get them in that once! We managed ok, and it was only the sheep that got sprayed so pretty good going for newbies I think!

They are in their new area now, eating the grass down to a manageable height, taking shelter under the willows and looking very much like deer. The field they had been in is looking lush and green but I want to rest a while before they go back there. I also want to split it into three areas.

Sam with the sheep in the new area (well 12ft strip)
Sam with the sheep in the new area (well Polytunnel Way)

Not much else to report on the sheepy front. We did have our first wound to deal with a while back when I went out and saw one of the sheep had a bald patch. Turned out that 28 had an abscess on her head, but thankfully after a squeeze from the vet and a long acting antibiotic injection that healed up without event.

2016-03-20 16.49.19
28’s abscess

Now to start thinking about tups and how many we keep over the winter. We’ve got use of a neighbour’s half acre field now and the grass is looking really good so thinking about keeping all the girls and maybe selling some with lambs at foot next spring, but I know the grass will slow over winter and I may come to regret that. Lots to think about!

Dans