Sunday, December 27, 2009

Heating our house

Since we live in cold North, and have limited home heating funds, we have to be creative about how we heat our house. We had a new furnace and heat pump installed. The heat pump heats our house as long as it is above 20 degrees f. When it dips below that our furnace kicks in. However, if we heated our house with the furnace, our heat bill for the below 20 timeframe would be over $2000. That is a huge expense, so we also have a corn stove. Corn stoves are definately not for the mechanically challenged. It is important to clean them our really well and often. This requires taking a lot of it apart. However, our living room is now over 80 degrees, and the rest of the house is about 70 degrees, this room is 75. We have a Bixby corn stove and it is very efficient.
These "hockey pucks" are the result of about 3 bushels of corn that went through the stove. There are about 8 of them and they are 3/4" thick and about 4" in diameter.
The other chore with the stove is the lugging of corn into the house. We fill this sled almost once a day (a little less) and that is all the corn our stove requires for a 26 hour heating.
Unlike ethanol, corn grown for home heating does not take much land at all. We use 1 acre of corn each year. It is not the most idea of heating solutions (geothermal being our favorite choice) but you do what you can when you have an old house. My mother hates it. It is HOT in the living room, and it is NOISY. The heat is very dry and you can not put pots of water on it to increase the humidity because the outside does not get hot enough. But, it paid for itself the first winter. Before we had it, we had our old fuel oil furnace (they put out a lot more heat than propane ones but it is dirtier) and it cost us $500 a month. That was about 4 years ago. It has been a savior for our pocket book, seriously. I guess I should add that we get the corn for free, but even if we paid for it, $4 a bushel per day is a lot less than most people pay for heat here.
The other thing to consider about corn stoves is the smoke, it is not like a wood fire, it is not pleasant. I can not see ever having one if I had neighbors close by.

Winter view of the garden


Every winter, after the first snowfall I put out seed for the birds. This year I have black sunflower seeds, peanuts, and safflower seed. I am always rewarded with many constant visits. These pictures will all taken in 10 minutes about 30 minutes after putting out new seed.

It is important to continue feeding the birds until spring if you begin.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas From the Barn

Merry Christmas says the poofy head (Silver laced polish)
Merry Christmas from the Auracanna (blue egg layer) and all of her little friends.
Merry Christmas from Kanga, the rescued lamb.

Merry Christmas from 27
Princess kind of says Merry Christmas. But Na-Na (right) wants to know where her food is.
Merry Christmas from 64, our very first mama ever on the farm and a great mother she is. 27 is her little girl.
Merry Christmas from Meadow, the most adorable girl. She love us even more than her sheepy friends and follows us everywhere.
Merry Christmas from Bam Bam, the fleecy winner of the Lamb and Wool festival. (We need to clip around his eyes so he can see better.
Baaaaaaaaaa, where is our food?
Not all of the critters are pictured.

Snowed In

This makes for a much better workout when doing chores!

Merry Christmas!!!

I made a couple of purse for our middle child. I love how the felted yarn looks like sandstone.

Here is the middle child making Christmas breakfast for us. Notice the pancake in her mouth. Such a cutie.

I received a Pulse SmartPen from Dear this year. It looks really neat. I wish I had it when we went to the Lamb and Wool Seminar last month. Paper for it is fairly expensive, so I will have to be very careful about using it and make sure that each notebook is being used for a good purpose. I plan on getting the small flip note pads to keep barn information on. This will be very nice for us. It also records up to 400 hours of audio! Amazing. Here is a page I wrote and how the pen loaded the page to the computer. This is not a scanned image.

I hope you all had a great Christmas. We will be snowed in here for a few days.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On and Off the Needles

Owls, I am working on a sleeve and have the body complete to the point of cabling. The yarn is Cascade Eco Wool, very economical.
Wisteria, completed, knit from Mary, Na-Na, and Cindy Lou roving processed by Zwool and spun by me. This is sooooooooooooo soft. The softest wool I have ever touched.
Another purse for felting. This one will have lots of pockets and compartments. The yarn is hand spun by me from Ashland Bay merino roving in Daffodil bought at Paradise Fibers.

My Orenberg lace shawl. I decided to switch to my one ply hand spun. I pinned it out so the pattern was more visible, but when I block it, I will not stretch it as much. I really like this pattern, but at the rate I am going it will be done by the time my last child moves out and gets married. He is 8.

Lots of projects, but I have found that I need to have a variety of things to work on. The purse is pretty much just knit in the dark in the passenger seat. It is amazing what one can get done in short drives and waiting rooms. People who tell me, "oh, I could never find time to do that, I am far too busy." are so wrong, they have no idea how much time they waste just waiting and doing nothing. The Owls sweater is really for me, but it may fit my daughter better, I will have to see. It is a very simple pattern that can be knit while having a conversation. I think this will come with me to Christmas parties. The lace, however, take a lot of concentration and focus (for me, at least).

Too Funny

My husband was out of town for work with a group of guys and one of them asked him, "I have driven by sheep farms and the sheep have different colored butts and I can not figure out why the farmers would paint their butts. Why do they paint their butts?"

For those who do not know, at breeding time, the rams wear a harness with a color crayon on their chest. Every day we go out and check which ewes have been bred by which ones have a colored butt. Sometimes we will change the colors to see if the get rebred or we will put a different ram in there with a different color. This helps us know when they are going to lamb and which ram bred which ewe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My wonderful husband

My dear works very hard and is often gone. He returned home yesterday after a 3 day work trip. Helped us get our cats to the vet for their shots, came back home to drop hem off, and went out again to go eat. We went to the restaurant our pastor gave us a nice gift certificate to (thank you, it was nice). On the way back to town we had problems with our vehicle. It actually stalled. We knew what the problems was, fuel filter needed to be replaced, because it happens every year. Finally we made it home and the eldest and I took care of the animals while my dear fixed our vehicle.
I am not sure what we would do without him.

3 degrees F and mosquitos!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I spilled the corn

We heat our home with corn and I often spill the corn. The birds really like it.
I tried to catch the 2 wood peckers, but they were too quick. I did, however, get this cute little guy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Orenburg lace part 2

OK, so here is the knit so far...

I em really enjoying it, but I can see it will not be fancy.

I have put a request for "do you think I should continue" on Ravelry. I think I will keep going unless someone says, "NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You will be totally embarrassed by it!!!! Stop it NOW!"

Finished purse

This purse was knit and then folded over in the opposite direction of the knit. I do like the results that crochet gives much better, but this is really cute too.

Orenburg lace

Orenburg lace is a fiber craft from Russia. Traditionally these lace shawls are made from goat (cashmere) fibers. Many people in the English world referred to them as wedding ring shawls because the knitting was so fine the entire shawl (normally quite large) could be pulled through a wedding ring.

I decided to try my hand at a warmer version of the Orenburg lace shawl and knit one in light fingering yarn. I found this shawl in the 2009 May / June PieceWork magazine (an Interweave Press periodical) at the local library. I spun some of my merino and after I plied it it was a light fingering yarn, not really suitable for most of the sweaters on my list. So, since I now have a suitable yarn with the correct yardage, I decided to go ahead and try this one. Wish me luck.
The photo above is from Interweave press. They have great magazines: Spin Off, Hand Woven, Interweave many to choose from.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Felted Purses

After knitting my scarf, I had 3/4 of a skein left of my hand spun. I decided to play around with it and I started crocheting a rectangle. I thought, "this might make a cute purse and I know a little girl whose birthday is coming up..." So, I made the purse and it sat, and sat, and sat. Months later, this week to be exact, I decided to felt it. My little man threw it in the wash twice and this cute little thing popped out.
I added a glass bead so it could button closed and then I had another thought, "Oh my, her birthday is long gone and she has a sister, I can't give it to her now and not give her sister something." I told my husband my dilemma and he said, "you better get knitting you have 1 week."
So, today I found a skein I made from 2 half skeins and I began to knit. 11PM and I am done. It looks very sad, but I know this ugly duckling will have a new life from the washing machine.
For those wondering how I did this...
Take a skein of wool (or a little less). Fine wool felts the best (I used merino). [Wool is not: mohair, angora, alpaca, cotton, acrylic etc. Wool is a product of sheep.]
Knit or crochet a rectangle.
With the same yarn, sew up the sides leaving a visually pleasing amount of knit fabric to flop over and be the flap of the purse.
To make the strap you can crochet a chain or braid it.
Make sure you make everything large enough to allow for at least 30% shrinkage.
Toss the purse in the wash a few times until it looks pleasing and is stiff enough to be a purse (it took my crochetted version 2 washings).
Do not worry about the type of stitch you use. A plain garter or single crochet works the best. The felting has a tendancy to make any design disappear. Some will stay, but for the most part, you ill not see little fancy stitches.
After it is felts, I cut off the unwanted strings, sewed a bead on, and cut a hole for the bead to pop through (don't cut this hole too big or it will not hold the purse closed).

Friday, December 11, 2009

My it is cold here!

The kids went to the Christmas train this week. It was -3 degrees F. Being the wise lady I am, I stayed home and spun my merino. I did not let them leave until I had hot cocoa in a thermos for them and I outfitted Hannah's boots with new inserts. It took me less than 5 minutes to measure, cut, and insert her new fleece inserts.
One of the cars opens up on the train and performers sing Christmas songs. I am sure they had a nice time, but they came home frozen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bam Bam won his first prize!

While at the Lamb and Wool conference we had the opportunity to enter in the fleece contest. All we needed was a small sample and they would micron test it for us for free and the finest sample won. Well, out of all of the samples, BamBam won. He had a 16.8 micron sample with very little variation in fiber diameter. The next best was a 21.7 micron. His prize was $50 (about what his feed costs are for the year) and the honor of being the finest. We congratulated him as soon as we got home. It was dark, but I think he was pleased.

Unfortunately, the tester's printer was not working. I will have to wait for him to print off the data and mail it to me. Untl then, here are his parent's tests results from this last shearing:

The CV is really just the amount of variation in diameter of fiber. It should be under 22% or it will be downgraded. Mary's CV is bigger than PeeWee's because she had a pregnancy, birth, and lactation cycle. Even so, her fiber remained remarkably consistant.

The comfort factor is the percentage of fibers under 30 microns.

I will have one or more new lambs from this pair in April. We are very excited.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Minnesot Lamb and Wool

We just got back from a 2 day seminar put on by the Minnesota Lamb and Wool. I will go through my notes and post some of the things we learned in the coming weeks.

The seminar was worth every penny. We had classes with veterinarians and were able to ask a multitude of questions. We had vendors who we could discuss issues with. Pipestone Vet and Sydell were there. They brought some of their products and were available for questions.

At the end of the weekend we had the opportunity to tour a 1,000 ewe "farm" (do I say farm or ranch? I usually say ranch.) The owner spent a lot of time and money trying to get as many thing automated as he could. We saw many things we would like to try and implement here.

Some of our classes included: Scrapie, Bio security, Industry Challenges, Wool grading, and even wool dying.

There was a contest on who brought the finest fleece sample from their flock. They micron tested the samples and our little Bam Bam won. We did not have a long enough sample to bring from anyone except for our 2 ram lambs because we sheared a few months ago. We decided to bring a lock from Bam Bam because he is so soft. His sample was 16.8 microns and was so consistent. He won $50. We are so happy for him. Unfortunately, there were no other breeder there who had the fleece and breeding characteristics we need, so it looks like artificial insemination will be a must in a couple of years.

My mother and grandmother took the kids to a hotel and came back to feed and care for our animals. They did a great job. It was nice knowing that everyone is cared for.