Ready for Winter

The sheep are ready for winter. The Round House has a temporary wall covering to block out the wind and the sheep love to be in it at night.

Vanessa cuts up pork for the freezer

The pigs were slaughtered and the pork prepared for the winter freezer. It was a long, exhausting day of work. Sausage making and smoking of hams and bacons is next.

Chickens peruse the garden

The chickens peruse the remains of the summer garden.
The rooster peruses the hens.

Vanessa & Rose work on the Round House

Vanessa and Rose (a.k.a. Sherpa) spent several days getting the sheep's Round House ready for winter. The roof required expansion of the woven sapling support system. They then cut aluminum "shingles" to tile the roof with. Next will be the sides, which we will temporarily board up. Eventually we want to cob the sides. Icelandic sheep in Vermont at Stark Hollow Farm.

Blueberry & Cider arrive at Stark Hollow Farm

Blueberry (black) & Cider (white) arrive at Stark Hollow Farm. Their sire and dam are both from our farm...they return to their roots after an extended stay with Bloomfield Farm in Charlotte, Vermont.

Photos shown here before and after shearing. These two girls are in great shape and will be bred this fall to Ember, our new black mouflon ram.

Vanessa calls the sheep...

The sheep know to follow their shepherdess who always leads them to greener pastures...

Sheep Wrangling

Sheep handling at Stark Hollow Farm is an adventure. First the sheep must be rounded up and then each sheep caught to be body condition scored, tagged, tattooed, hoof trimmed or provided preventative care. Vanessa has become quite good at wrangling these beautiful icelandic sheep....Laura remains the (hand wringing) stalwart assistant...


Never was there a meaner plant than the milkweed. Like the tiny hair on your chinny-chin-chin, you fear to pluck it lest 5 more grow in its place. Its milky sap is poisonous and causes the flesh to pucker and itch. The odor hangs on your clothes like a veil of mortal corruption...its pungent stench resistant to the strongest detergent. Were it not for its subtly scented flower so loved by the butterfly and the delicate, feathery milkweed spoors that float like snow on the fall breeze to be used by birds and rodents to feather their nests, I would wish the obstinate milkweed gone from this world.

Örn - Resident Ram

Our handsome ram Örn is really coming into his own. His horn conformation is beautiful. He is looking forward to the upcoming breeding season at Stark Hollow Farm. I just love this Icelandic breed.

Happier than a pig in...

This really fits the saying, doesn't it? Except the saying really should be "Happier than a pig in mud", because pigs are actually quite clean....doing their business in only one designated area of their run...contrary to popular belief, they do not roll around in their own sh*t, unless they have not been provided with enough room to live comfortably.

Summer Pasture @ HOWL

Stark Hollow Farm and HOWL (Huntington Open Women's Land) have entered into an arrangement to graze sheep on the land trust land in Huntington, Vermont. HOWL was established in the mid 1980's and is a 50 acre women's land trust devoted to providing a sanctuary to women in transition, loving stewardship of the land, and to ensure that all women may have access to the healing energy that comes from the earth. Once an old Vermont dairy farm nestled onto the side of Crouching Lion Mountain, the land includes a house and barn with two studios. HOWL is run by a collective of women and decision making is handled by consensus. We will spend about 75% of our time at HOWL during the summer months with our sheep, pigs & chickens.

Oink Oink...Piglets Arrive!

Piglets arrived today at Stark Hollow Farm. We had to stuff them into gunny sacks with small nose holes for them to stick their little snouts out. Though they tried to struggle, they are so porky, they barely fit into the bags...

Two 8 week old piglets will follow along behind the sheep on pasture. The put up quite a struggle as we transported them from a farm in So. Starksboro to our summer pasture at HOWL. They are huge for their age and should flesh out nicely. These are Gloucester Old Spot/Duroc/Landrace cross and a Pure Bred Hampshire Boar bred via artificial insemination. Their pink skin is quite delicate when exposed to intense sun, which shouldn't be too much problem here in Vermont as we mostly have seen rain and clouds this summer. We've been hard at work on a pig pen and Vanessa's design has turned out to be quite deluxe. Oakley is a little jealous...

Icelandic Sheep Workshop @ HOWL

Stark Hollow Farm conducted its first ever workshop on the Icelandic Sheep breed. Vanessa led the workshop for about 15 women at HOWL's annual solstice celebration. Vanessa delivered a brief talk about the Icelandic breed's origins & characteristics followed by a lengthy question and answer period. Laura brought two of the lambs over so that workshop attendees got to touch their fleece and look into their eyes. The ram, with his impressive horns, was also coaxed over for some up close and personal viewing.

Poet Cora Brooks, who attended the celebration and workshop, added her artistic talent...

Her words speak volumes,

Hooray for birds peeping
and sheeps bleating
and eating
and trees leafing
and women meeting
Cora Brooks

Thank you Cora.

New Layer Chickens

In order to expand our flock, this year we purchased 25 day old chicks. We choose Plymouth Barred Rocks for their wonderful egg laying abilities and their beautiful feathers markings. The flock now consists of Buff Orpingtons, Australorp, and these new Plymouth Barred Rocks. We also received one "exotic" bird from the hatchery which we have tentatively identified as a Silver Laced Wyandotte. Eight will be added to our flock for a total of 16 (including the exotic) with the balance to be sold as pullets. Vanessa built an awesome brooder for the chicks which kept them warm during May and June. Now they are free ranging and happy. 16 have been sold to local, small farms who plan on using the eggs for their own consumption. They make a wonderful addition to Stark Hollow Farm.

Ugali & Ada join the flock

Ugali and her ewe lamb join Stark Hollow Farm from Knoll Farm in Waitsfield. This beautiful ewe has lovely black fleece and her lamb is a black grey as evidenced by her grey cheeks in this photo. Vanessa's mom asked that we name her Ada after herself and to keep with our naming convention (all lambs in year one begin with the letter A).

Spring Shearing

Removing the winter coats of icelandic sheep is not an easy task. Jim McCrea, an experienced shearer and his assistant took charge of our sheep. Poor Mara had a particularly matted undercoat... after he removed her fleece and handed it to us, he comment "throw a couple of buttons on this and you'll have a coat!" With the heat and humidity here in Vermont, however, these sheep will be happy campers as they head off to summer pasture at HOWL (Huntington Open Women's Land...more to come).
The Meatrix

(click on image)
Check out The Meatrix...from Sustainable Table to see why locally grown meats are better for animals, humans and the environment. This is why we do what we do at Stark Hollow Farm.

Extreme Sheparding

Here is a little example of what our wonderful animals could so someday!

Poppy's Lambs Are Born!

Poppy gives birth to Stark Hollow Farm's first lambs. Ewe lamb Alba and ram lamb Ansel were born March 25th, 2009. It was exciting and a little scary this being our first lambing. Both lambs presented normally and Alba was up nursing within 20 minutes. Her little brother, born 10 minutes after her, was a somewhat slower to get going. We intervened to express milk from Poppy so that he got good colostrum and had to help him find his mother's teats. It took a couple of hours but now he is plump and frisky growing even more quickly than his sister. They are beautiful, healthy lambs.

Poppy is a great first time mother. Very attentive to her lambs and quick to care for and protect them. She has produced a lot of milk and the lambs are fat & happy.

Miami R.U.

Laura, Betsy, Teresa & Mary Katherine went to the Miami R.U. and had a blast prancing around the pool!

I Finally Gave Into Winter Weather

This is long overdue as I actually gave-into cold temperature a while back. My fingers finally cried-out for an end to having to work tying knots and weaving tree saplings into the roof and walls of the winter sheep pen in 10 F/-12 C degree weather (i.e. on good days). They had it… and they put the foot – or better digit – down and demanded no more work in below freezing weather. They said that it didn’t matter whether the sun was out or the fact that work had begun occurring in the middle of the day as opposed to in the evening to take advantage of warm sun rays… it was just too cold, period! So there you have it: completion of the sheep round house had to be suspended until Spring.

However, because I try to be a good shepherd to my flock, I had to temporarily cover and winterize the round house for use by the sheep this winter. Of course, my fingers wined and complained, but they had to be ignored except for the purchase of nice new mittens to be worn during frequent warm-up breaks. Why mittens and not gloves that might give me increased dexterity and allow me to work with protected fingers you might ask… well it’s simple, yet inexplicable and unusual: my hands and fingers freeze to death when I wear gloves. However, they stay much warmer if I work without gloves and take frequent breaks to warm them up inside mittens. Yes, I have tried different gloves, including different sizes and different kinds. But it doesn’t matter... it’s all the same… gloves suck or more likely they freeze! I love my mittens though… don’t like the price too much (a nice $86), but they are worth every penny. First off, they keep you warm no matter how cold, be it at 32 F/0 C, 0 F/-18C, -25 F/-32 C; second you can handle snow and ice, deep them in the sheep water bucket and your hands stay dry (did I mention warm too); third you can handle wood, metal, sheet metal, etc., but because they are leather w/ extra layers nothing penetrate your hands (and yes they keep staying warm); fourth… well I shut up since I think you get the point: mittens rule on my little farm!

To return to the main topic, the sheep round house got a nice cover, both walls and roof, of something I don’t love, but must admit its usefulness and as far as I know unrivaled quality: plastic. The original plan was to cover roof and walls with sustainable natural materials. But to support these and ensure their durability, I had to provide a good skeleton, which was taking a toll on my poor fingers as mentioned above. So the plan got postponed to the Spring when the weather should allow for a bit warmer temperatures – all I ask is for 30’s-40’s F/0-10 C. So the plastic went up.

But for all the goods of plastic sheeting, it wasn’t easy and took a few days. The draw-back being, among the fact that I hate plastic for being a manufactured and a petroleum based product, that plastic sheeting is darn slippery. Also and although I got 10-mils, it is easily punctured, which is not good if it rains or if snow’s melting… poor sheepies –they got a nice weather proof coat, but it isn’t made of plastic! To overcome the fragility of plastic sheeting, I devised a spider-web like belt around and over the roof, used staples on the walls, and rocks along the bottom of the walls. That worked, even during the unusually strong winds we’ve had this year!

I must admit that last week a section of the roof collapsed under the weight of melted snow and water – yes we had a warm spell of well above freezing temperatures – Indian Summer? – and I should have probably put in some work on placing more sustainable materials. But given the melt down lots of manure had to be handled and cleaned-up. I do try to be a good and “clean” shepherd!

As you can see in the photos the sheep round house for the winter is up and staying -- it’s not running anywhere fortunately -- and the sheep love it.

Did i mentioned my favorite and most personal touch is the vent system on top of the reciprocal roof opening!