Lambs Arrive

We’ve been preparing for lambs over the last few days. Ever-rounder ewes have warned us that it’s time to plan.

These are some of our most ostentatiously pregnant ewes:

We started by placing our order from Premier 1 Supplies. We bought fresh new bottles and nipples for the inevitable bottle lambs, smore syringes and needles, and a can of colostrum replacer. We like to have colostrum replacer on hand to “stretch” colostrum when needed. We’ll mix it with a bit of colostrum borrowed from another ewe. I organized our existing lambing supplies and ordered more ear tags. Lots of small things to think of and loose ends to tie off.

Preparing our supplies is one matter, but preparing mentally is another. I am a huge fan of Lambing Live, a show that used to run annually on the BBC. Episodes are available on YouTube. Even though some are missing or out of order, it’s still a valuable watch if you want to get psyched for several weeks of sleepless stress. Truly, watch this series a bit if you find sheep even remotely interesting.

What is the stress of lambing? It’s not an excess of physical work. We have our farm pretty streamlined from that angle. It’s not even a complete lack of sleep. We have barn cameras to help us monitor the barn without having to get up and clothe ourselves every time. It’s really the stress of responsibility. It’s the stress of constant decisionmaking that could result in the death of a lamb whose issues we might fail to recognize, or excessive intervention where patience is needed. Making these calls constantly tires me, and tracking every detail wears on my mind.

Two days ago, I took a walk up Creek Rd and played “stick” with my pal Nugget, the Border Collie. I told her that it might be the last walk for a while, as we were expecting lambs any time. She cocked her head in a BC manner, not understanding that it may be farewell for a short while.

How precient were my words, because this morning we were blessed with two little black Border Leicester lambs. I had a notion to check the barn cam as I lay in bed at 7, and there they were. Matt reviewed the video on the barn cams. The birth was concealed by a hay feeder, but the moment of birth is perfectly apparent when the loud cry of a lamb alerted and alarmed every ewe in the barn. Ears and heads all turned the sharp, high little baas. Oxytocin is flowing already, and we’ve only just begun.

Target Dress Challenge…

…challenge accepted.

If you are unfamiliar with the Target Dress Challenge, it’s worth reading about so that the rest of this entry will make sense to you.

It all started when someone pointed out that a bunch of long dresses at Target look like “people just lost the farm after locusts ate their crops” but in the pandemic world. And this is where it got fun.

So my friend Betsy decided that we should take the challenge ourselves. She had a nearby Target and I had a farm.

The sheep seemed very confused.

I asked my yearling lamb if she thought we might survive the winter. The weather’s been chilling and cold.
We weren’t hungry enough to kill the goose this winter.
We are blessed with a fresh-baked loaf of humble bread.
Ready to defend the homestead with Grandad’s gun. Tarnation, they’ve hid behind the manure-spreader!

Shearing Day Arrives

Again, credit to Lee for distilling all of the good advice I’ve gotten about how to really share my farm with others into one useful phrase.

We spent Wednesday evening setting up for shearing. We have learned that if we set up morning-of, the sheep get all nervous and suspicious. Nervous sheep do not go into pens willingly. So we set up the pens the night before so that the sheep can inspect them, grow bored of them and move on. At 4pm, we rolled out the last bale of hay for the ewes to gorge on. The ewes will breathe much more comfortably during shearing if they don’t have full rumens.

“Sniff Sniff – what’s all this?”

Yesterday morning, we penned up the ewes first-thing. I tripped and fell carrying the grain bucket. Not a good idea! Before I was crushed by a stampede of hungry, grumpy ewes, Matt took the bucket from my hand and distracted the horde. Thanks, Matt!

Once the sheep were tucked into their pen to await shearing, we added three fresh bales to the barn. That way, freshly-shorn sheep could head straight for the buffet and fill up on good, tasty hay.

Mary, our shearer, arrived and set to work. Matt encouraged sheep to enter the sorting chute, and each sheep dispensed leapt straight into Mary’s waiting arms. I am often asked why I don’t shear my sheep myself. Shearing takes real expertise, skill and physical strength. Mary has all three in spades. She’s taller than I am, which helps, but more critically, she has shorn thousands of sheep at this point and has the skills necessary to restrain the sheep humanely, shear carefully, and carry on a partial conversation all at the same time.

Hungry sheep, waiting for Mary

Shearing is a time to evaluate sheep health. Shorn of their wool, we can finally see if a ewe is thin or fat, pregnant or potentially open, healthy or ill in some notable way. We noted that Chloe’s udder has a bad side. We can plan to have her only raise one lamb. Most ewes were quite fat, we noted, but a few of the yearlings could do with some more chub. We’ll make sure that we make it easy for the littlest sheep in the flock to get their fair share of feed.

Queued and ready!
Mary asking nicely for more cooperation.
Mary at work

I’ve buried the lede a bit here, but we had a guest of honor at shearing this year. Laini Fondiller, from Lazy Lady Farm, came to shearing this year. An artisan cheesemaker and goatherd, Laini is solidly the busiest person I know. She has been running Lazy Lady Farm for 35 years now, making some of the finest goat cheese to ever grace the counters at Murray’s Cheese and other fine establishments. We’ve been friends for a decade now, collaborating on dairy goat genetics and commiserating about running small farms. It was really a treat to get to spend a day working together – we so seldom can find that kind of time.

Laini sorting our wool.

This year’s wool varied in quality. The BFL was clean and lovely. My only concern is the prevalence of some felting in the longer locks. We have a few BFLs whose wool is not quite up-to-standard. We’ll make sure that such ewes meet a ram with amazing wool every time. The Borders were more of a mixed-bag. Some ewes had lovely fleeces, others were rough and matted. Several fleeces had to be rejected outright due to cotting and felting, which is always a disappointing outcome. We have some amazing jet-black Border Leicester fleeces from our lambs. I’m going to make something really, really special with that wool.

After shearing, we enjoyed some homemade seafood chowder outdoors together. Mary and Laini departed, and Matt and I picked up the sorting pen and then stowed the wool, which will wait until I can make a trip down to Battenkill Fiber Mill.

A Little Help from my Friends

There’s nothing better than a farm friend when you need one!

January is conference season, even in a year where all conferences are virtual. I was lucky enough to attend a sheep chat hosted by Cornell discussing small ruminant management. While the content of the conference itself varied a bit, I was lucky enough to meet Lee, who runs a dairy and multi-species meat operation. He comes from the entertainment media world, and we had a long discussion about current thought in marketing. Marketing always sounds so cynical to me: I hate feeling like I need to convince people to buy yarn or lamb. Some of my hesitation comes from my own shyness and my cultural background of humility and modesty. Lee understood this and managed to convince me that bringing myself into my marketing doesn’t have to be pushy or obnoxious. It can look like opening up and inviting people in more. Mind, this is not easy for a repressed Yankee like me, but I think that after nearly 10 years raising sheep, I’m ready to welcome you all into my world a little more.

A blog post that’s uncomfortably centered on me. Here I am, attired in woolens and a shabby coat, ready to share myself more generously.

A hastily-composed bio:

My name is Katie Sullivan. I’ll turn 38 in October. I was born and raised in NH, went to college in Massachusetts, and then settled in Vermont after graduation. I came with dreams of working in non-profits. Though my dreams lay in working in social justice organizations, my skillset and personality didn’t fit in that world. I gave the field two solid attempts before quitting for good in 2010, heartbroken, traumatized and looking for a different path towards making a better world.

In 2011, I began an internship on a goat dairy farm that became a job, and that job turned into a new career in value-added food production. In 2012, I got my first sheep and began blogging. In 2014, I went through a divorce, left the goat farm, met Matt and moved in with him. My sheep were fostered that winter with neighbors back at the farm- I still feel tearful when I think of the generosity of the friends who kept my sheep dream alive during that difficult time. The sheep followed me in spring to Williston, VT from 2015-17. In 2017, with some inheritance money of Matt’s, we quit our regular jobs and bought our farm in Albany, VT.

More fun facts:

  • My favorite color is red, even though our home interior, cars, sheep trailer and one tractor are all blue.
  • People think I look just like my mother, but if you saw a picture of my paternal grandmother, you’d see the resemblance.
  • I am a former vegetarian/almost-vegan who made a full 180 shift into raising animals for wool and meat.
  • I am preoccupied with the flavors and textures of East Asian snackfoods. I can eat Gochujang until I breathe fire but I don’t love jalopenos. HMart is my happy place.
  • I speak France-French, but I am not always effective understanding spoken Quebecois-French. I am working on this issue.
  • I’m not a skillful knitter (all the good stuff comes from my mom!) but I’ve been knitting a bit more lately because I love the texture experience of yarn.
  • I have fine motor skills deficiencies, Sensory Integration Disorder and some other ASD goodies, so when I say I love wool and yarn, I mean REALLY LOVE. Unsurprisingly, I have a big chip on my shoulder about people telling me to “try harder” at things that I simply do not have the mental or physical ability to do. You asking me to write it again, more neatly = me asking you to flap your arms until you start flying.
  • I love most cats and some dogs. Matt has a parrot who mostly hates me.
  • My biggest strength and biggest weakness is that I am always intense, singleminded, and determined about whatever I am focused on, to the detriment of other activities and needs.
  • Matt has taught me a great deal about engines and electronics.
  • I enjoy casual birdwatching. I would like to improve my auditory birding abilities.
  • I’m a Public Radio nerd and a big nerd in general, so no one should ever feel bashful about demonstrating their passion about obscure topics around me.
  • Nothing better than exploring an old barn!
  • My favorite TV show is Rick and Morty, followed perhaps by OG All Creatures Great and Small or Law and Order. I enjoy Star Wars and Star Trek equally.
  • I can be very, very funny.
  • I normally swear a lot but I can clean up nicely.
  • I am the rare Millennial who likes mayonnaise.
  • Southern New England aggression is my native tongue, but Vermont has taught me to be nicer and kinder.
  • I speak with a strange mixture of Eastern New England R-less-ness with some adopted Vermont pronunciations so people here can understand me.
  • I read the entirety of Emily Posts’ 1967 etiquette guide, so I know what I *should* do but I don’t always behave
  • I don’t enjoy smoothies.
  • Several people have told me that I am the most “internal” person they know.
  • I do not know how to apply makeup.
  • I wish I could dance but I have zero rhythm.
  • I am uncomfortable with hugs or touch from strangers, so please ask first.
  • I have not had many opportunities to travel and haven’t really left the Northeast much.
  • My only “bucket list” task is to swim in a warm ocean before I die.

    If you have enjoyed this list, thank Lee at Moxie Ridge Farm in NY. You can stay tuned for a bit more “personalized” experience of Cloverworks Farm going forward, and I sincerely hope that you’ll enjoy it. I’m also happy to get to know you. What do you want to learn about, or see more of, or dive into more deeply, or share about your own experience?
A picture of me, the human, and #40, a BFL ewe who LOVES cuddles.

Fresh New Goodies!

Ready for some fun new Bobolink Products?

What would you say to a gradient skein with great eye-appeal? We are now offering 2ply Fingering Coopworth in a gorgeous gradient ball. The base yarn is natural gray, so the rich colors will really stand out. Balls contain 200g/790 yards. This wool comes from friends in Hardwick, VT.

We are now offering local sock yarn! Settlement Sock is a 3ply fingering with nylon. Shepherd Dave Martin raises Cheviot and Montadale sheep in Underhill, VT. Enjoy the spring, softness and durability of Montadale/Cheviot wools blended into a perfect sock yarn. Our initial run has been made into lovely art skeins – solids will be available when the remainder of the spun yarn arrives.

Scuttleship Romney is back in stock! I am pleased to announce that we’ll be offering new colorways and fresh Totally Square Hat Kits. Looking to refresh your skein supply? Get in touch!

Speaking of Scuttleship Romney, our Panorama Scarf Kit is a great way to get your customers engaged in 2021! Available as a DIY KAL or a KAL guided by pattern author Judy Sullivan, we’d love to see some panorama scarves in progress!

Lamb Open House – Y/N in 2021?

No matter how much I pet them, my sheep crave attention. I have several who will stop at nothing for shoulder-scritches, up to and including the yearling ewe from my last blog post who now will try to stand on your chest for attention. Needless to say, but we are training her not to do that.

We have a little over a month of petting to distribute equitably before lambing begins right around the end of February. Already, the ewes are waddling more and standing less eagerly. We are expecting anything from 70-90 lambs in 2021. That’s a whole lot.


Not gonna kiss that fuzzy face for cootie reasons.

Not only do my sheep want attention and socialization, but I also do. I’m strongly introverted and happily go several days talking only to Matt. But even I have limits. It would be grand to have some visitors at the farm, socially-distanced of course. The barn is pretty open-air, so having visitors in the barn is at a comparable risk level to two masked, distanced people talking at the park. We also recognize that people NEED interaction of some kind to get through this terrible year. Sanity has value, too.

I want visitors to come because I want you to feel, in person, how wonderful baby lambs are. I want you to watch their spontaneous play, to coo over their snoozing, to sense their curiousity and learn to interact with them on their terms. I want children to develop a fascination with animals just as I did as a child. Nothing makes me sadder than meeting people for whom farm animals are an entirely abstract concept.

That said, news about new, more contagious variants comes out daily. Matt and I are relatively young (42 and 37, respectively), but Matt does have some risk factors for a more serious Covid experience. I am so keen to share our farm with you, but also rather anxious about it.

So I am interested in your thoughts: Should we do FB live lambing streams? Should we offer tours? Should we do both or neither? How would you want to interact with lambs and farms at this difficult time?

Sheep Behaving Badly

I have some entertaining pictures of recent sheep activity. After 45 days in the barn, the ewes express their restlessness with weird stunts.

Activity #1 – Fighting

BFL 129 Amelia and Border Leicester 1736 go head to head, with our resident ram lamb goading them on. Sheep flocks have a hierarchy, and apparently these girls do not agree about where they stand in the pecking order.

A solid flank shot by Amelia. Luckily, ewes don’t fight to the point of injury, like rams do. These two went back to munching hay and gossiping about each other soon after.

I have to admit that I was laughing the whole time. I am sure this felt very serious to the contenders, but watching chubby, fluffy ewes do battle would amuse anyone. I wonder if this could be a pay per view channel?

And then this happened:

Perhaps you recall a story from last spring, where one of our ewes had quadruplets? The runt died and we gave the ram lamb away to be raised by a friend, but we kept two promising ewes from the set. When a young lady contacted me to ask about keeping some bottle lambs over the summer, I consented. She had tutelage from an experienced shepherd, and handing off some problem children was just what I needed at the time, so I gave her one of the quad girls and another bottle baby. This lamb, #174, came home in the fall. She just loves people, and last week decided that perhaps people would make entertaining climbing walls, too.

So here she is, standing on my thighs and peering me straight in the eye. We will gently train her not to do this, as it’s going to get exponentially less-cute the larger she grows. I love this pretty ewe, but it is not safe to have attack-sheep on premises.

The days here are alternating between grimdark gray and sunny and white. It is a beautiful but bleak season. With the sheep stable and some time to think, I am finally catching up on paperwork and hobbies. I really value this bonding time with the core flock. The ewes are all feeling friendly and loving, so I am bombarded with shoulder-itching requests and loving nudges from my friendly ewes during this time. At other times of the year, the ewes are either preoccupied with parenting or feeling free and feral in the fields. So I gather the sheep petting endorphins when I can while we wait for the coming of lambs in late February.


I’ve started taking a walk each day to try to battle my isolation fatigue.

Typically, I begin by walking north. In a few steps past the end of the driveway, I am off our property and walking on the smooth, damp sand of the road. Throughout my walk, I must listen for approaching cars from either direction. Pedestrians are not that common on our road, and many drivers enjoy the wide, open vista and straightaway in front of our property to rev up and go. If a car comes, I will wave. It pays to be neighborly.

Even though it’s now December, it’s still worth taking a look at what transpires in our fields. Commonly, I see crows and ravens. Chickadees flit around in the short trees. Sometimes, the turkeys make themselves visible as they endlessly search the fields for morsels. Two weeks of rifle season has made the deer scarce, though evidence abounds of them crossing our road daily.

Heading up the hill to our north, I start thinking about finding a good throwing stick. I’ve been visiting the neighbors’ Border Collie daily for nearly a week now, and we’ve developed a bit of a routine. I find something nice and throwable as I approach her territory. I crest the hill and I can often see that she’s in the dooryard near the road.

Our routine starts with her bow, inviting me to play. Her gaze fixes completely and resolutely on the stick. I wing it as far as I can away from the road in a westerly direction. Three years on this road and I know that this particular dog has no regard for the hazard that cars present. She fetches, makes a few chomps on the stick and returns. About one in three times, she doesn’t see where the stick landed and looks at me like I’ve deceived her by faking a throw. I shrug at her and we each go looking for a new stick. When I car comes, I try to hold her attention so she won’t thoughtlessly bolt into traffic. I often walk a little past where she will go, and then return for a second session while I walk by the house southbound. I walk on the wrong side of the road for that second throwing time just to keep her where she belongs. Stick time ends once I pass the far end of the barn on the property where the dog lives. She never passes that point with me.

I was informed of the dog’s name by a neighbor recently, but I can’t recall what it is other than that it is feminine and contains two syllables. She has never allowed me to touch her, nor has she approached me to sniff or inspect. This relationship is purely based on stick provision and throwing, nothing else. She is an older dog, likely older than 12 or so. I do not, strictly speaking, have permission to play with her, but neither have I been asked to stop. I have never been acknowledged in any way by her shy and reclusive owner. Selfishly, I plan to continue this activity because it’s really a highlight of my day, and I think the dog takes pleasure in it, too.

Once I am over the hill and out of the dog zone, I can enjoy the prettiest vista on our whole road. From the top of the hill at the Kirshner Farm facing south, I can see Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Elmore Mountain at the head of the Worcester Range and Woodbury Mountain. This view always provides beauty and pleasure in any weather.

Heading back towards my house, I usually now pass my own driveway and walk a little south. You’d think I’d just continue north to get more steps in, but the road turns to pavement there, speeds increase and the road winds around a few blind turns that I wouldn’t feel safe on. Plus, the houses are a little closer to the road and I’m not paying social calls. Heading south, I’m patrolling the lands that we manage and paying a quick visit to the quiet cemetery to the south of our property. The St John of the Cross cemetery holds several generations of French and Irish catholic families that lived in the area. The earliest graves seem to date from the mid 1850s and the cemetery is still active. It’s clear that the lives of previous inhabitants were hard and generally short. Most people born in this area in the 1870s and 1880s lived only into their 40s, 50s and 60s. As was common at those times, there are also many graves of infants and young children.

I usually turn around to walk home after the cemetery. Again, the road gets busier and blind-er, and it’s risky enough already to walk on such a fast road that doesn’t have a good shoulder. I’m usually not tired by the time I turn right into the driveway, but I’ve at least stretched my legs and gotten a little fresh air and sunshine in these dreary days. If my walk is late, I will transition directly into caring for the sheep. Chores are minimal and everyone is waiting for the waning and the waxing of the light.

Art, Comfort, Yarn

Today is Election Day in the US. Anticipation and stress fill the air as I’m driving to one of VT’s premier yarn shops to buff up their inventory of Bobolink Yarns. Winding through a small town, I see that political sign-wavers are out in force while voters slow traffic crossing in the crosswalks.

November is already a stressful time of year generally on the farm. The sheep are in three breeding groups, tripling the normal amount of portable-fence-moving labor. We are always cutting right to the wire about getting the sheep into the barn before significant storms hit, with cleaning up the detritus of the year and tucking everything in for storage and with the reality that we now must decide which sheep stay over the winter and which don’t. Everything must be done quickly, even in terrible weather. Moving fence on a warm July morning is a pleasure – picking up frozen fence in a late October sleet storm? Not so much.

I’m listening to a podcast as I drive, mainly to avoid the enless conjecture on the radio. The pod host has invited a therapist who talks about ways to cope with stress. She reminds us to spend time with our art, to do tactile things, to let go of pandemic guilt if we aren’t suffering as some are. These all go straight to my heart. I know that I need to go home and dye some yarn, but I’m too tired to feel artistic or motivated. How do I contact my inspiration on stressful days like today? I know I will feel better when I’m handling yarn. There’s something magical about wool for me – the scent and the sensation make me feel so good. And I know that I feel guilty. How could I be complaining in my head about the stress of having to dye some yarn when it’s pretty much the best job on earth? When I’ve spent the pandemic on a scenic farm? When I live in a state that’s got Covid mostly under control? But like you, I am apart from friends and family. I am without the social settings of sheep and fiber activities that feed the occasional social urges that I feel, even as an introvert.

I’m heading home, minus some yarn but with a bit of peace in my heart and some determination to keep going with this project. I’m going to dye a bit of yarn before I report to my Town Hall to count votes.

Snow Too Soon

I’ll be the first to admit that we put off fixing the barn for too long. Though we have a wide-ranging array of skills, neither Matt nor I are woodworkers. Wood is a tricky medium – it warps, shrinks, grows and splits. Matt prefers metal, plastic and electronics, and I prefer spreadsheets and graphics.

So the barn went unmended for months as we pondered an approach. Finally, we decided it was time to cough up for outside help. On Saturday, exactly a year after the back of the barn tore in half, friends helped us replace the back and front panels of the barn. Our friend will be back to work on adding some wooden framing to solidify the canvas and reduce flapping, which should extend the life of the front and back panels. But since he is doing this after work, we’ll have to wait a few more days for the barn to be finished.

So an unfinished work-zone barn is the context we had when we saw the weather report calling for snow. A bit of snow at this time of year is commonplace, but when we woke up this morning, it was clear we’d had a proper snowstorm. Strong winds were blowing the falling snow across the landscape and our house was buffetted by whiteout gusts.

Sheep will graze through a good amount of snow, but we don’t want them to struggle to find sustenance under difficult conditions. My first action was to move all three groups to areas with sheltering trees. What a slog – the wind was whipping past, making the fence tough to manage. I struggled to keep my hands warm and the snow was just deep enough to impede my stride. But at last, both the Border Leicesters and the Bluefaced Leicesters had trees to block the prevailing winds.

Then, we opened a bale of hay and transported it to the Borders pasture. We rolled about 1/3 of the bale out and warched the ewes go wild for it. As much as sheep love fresh grass, hay is a desirable “convenience food” when the grass is buried. Soon, all were munching contentedly. We picked up the remaining bale and brought it to the Blues, who dug in with gusto just as their Border friends did. Finally, we went to see the lambs, who are in a far flung field protected from the worst of the winds. The lambs came gamboling down to see us and dug right into the core of the bale.

We have another day of freezing weather and hay feeding before temperatures transition back into the 60s. Hopefully, the barn will be finished soon and the sheep will go into their shelter for the winter months.