Fall Shearing of the Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic fleeces come in a wide variety of colors and are prized by hand spinners. The 17 colors and patterns these beautiful animals come in include black, silvery black, blue to lavender greys, silvery grey, whites, tans, beige, champagne, moorit (the brown variations), including deep dark mahogany reds, rusty browns, strawberry blondes. The actual color genetics are a bit more complicated, but but these words give you an idea of what to expect from the Icelandic sheep breed. 

There are many wonder qualities of the Icelandic breed, but the colors and patterns are one of our favorite aspects of these natural colored sheep.

The Icelandic fleece is dual coated, with a fine, soft undercoat called thel and a longer, coarser outer coat called tog. Staple lengths on these fleeces regularly exceed 10".

We love shearing time, both in the spring and fall, when we get to see how the animals are doing. In the spring, we see how they have fared through the winter and during gestation, lambing and lactation and in the fall we evaluate how they have done through the summer on pasture. 

This year, with the introduction of a more sophisticated mineral supplementation program, the flock is looking really great.

How to Wean Piglets on Pasture

Weaning piglets is no small task, especially when you have them in field and forest the way we do! It's definitely a  two person job when you are in the field with no barn in sight. We wean our piglets at 8 weeks of age...they get the benefit of lots of mother's milk and their condition and size at 8 weeks really shows.

  1. First, you want 'em nice and hungry, so manage the feed so that they will be hungry at move time and follow you anywhere you go!
  2. Pick a location to move your sows to, about 300 feet from where your piglets will be and lay in your paddock.
  3. Corral them all into a smaller area behind some hog panels.
  4. Peel out the mama's using a small, walking cage with all sides covered except for the front.
  5. Put some food down for the piglets to distract them... they will already be crying to go with their mamas.
  6. Walk those sows as fast as you can to their new spot and feed them right quick.
  7. Keep the piglets in their familiar spot where they can still have the scent of mama and the comfort of bedding they know.
  8. String the electric fence on the inside of the hog paneled corral so they don't forget about getting zapped and will still respect the fence.
  9. They'll need to be here about a week.

After about a week, you should be able to move them back into a large paddock, still keeping some distance between them and the mamas. You will notice that the little critters will become suddenly even more ravenous as they are withdrawing from mother's milk. They may whine a bit; our Tamworth pigs are known to be rowdier and more talkative than some pigs! But they'll have each other and you'll see them happily pig piling and rooting around in no time.

Hungry Piglets

Note hog panels, electric fence and visual barrier
Moving cage

This is what our moving cage looks like, only here it doesn't have the visual barrier. It's fashioned in a horse-shoe shape with a straight sided opening. This can easily be placed down over the pigs. If there is separating of pigs required, we first corral them into a smaller paddock, then using a piece of ply wood, we push and direct the hogs we want to move into the cage. Two people can just lift it slightly and walk along to move the pigs...

If you follow these steps, you can successfully keep all the participants happy with out pigs escaping and running wild! The key is to have them out of sight, sound and smell. Remember, in farming there is no timeline...just one step after the other, and lots of patience.

Tamworth Feeder Pigs Off to New Home at Intervale

These two vigorous piglets are heading off to a farm at Burlington's Intervale to be raised by a young farmer. We named this year's pigs after the characters from The Matrix. These two critters are Maggie & Morpheus!

The Tamworth pig is particularly well suited for Vermont as they are hardy and adaptable. They are one of the oldest breeds and are prized as "the bacon pig" for their ability to put on large mass without a lot of fat.

These little piggies are 7 weeks old.

Maggie & Morpheus

Documentary on Icelandic Leader Sheep

Watch these interesting videos on the history of Icelandic and Icelandic leader sheep, a genetic trait unique to the Icelandics...

Part 1

Part 2

directed by Guðný Halldórsdóttir, edited by Stefanía Thors

Gorgeous Ewe Lambs Head Off to New Home

Two more beautiful ewe lambs head off to a new home. This moorit badger face ewe lamb is from one of our best lines. The spotted black grey comes from our new ram and out of an excellent ewe who birthed both her lambs unassisted as a first time mom. Both animals are in excellent condition and make a fine addition to the farm they are headed off to.

Icelandic Ewes Sold to NH Farm

These beautiful ladies are off to their new home at a wonderful farm in New Hampshire. This farmer made some excellent choices. These are two proven ewes with their ewe lambs. The mouflon ewe lamb and the black-grey ewe lamb will both carry the moorit gene. The mouflon from her sire Ursus, and the black-grey from her Dam. Lots of color and pattern possibilities no matter who these girls are paired with. All have some great AI genetics and friendly dispositions too!

We still have many beautiful ewe and ram lambs for sale. Contact us for more information. 802-434-3953.

Tamworth Sows and Piglets Move to Pasture

We moved the sows and their little piglets from their farrowing pen to pasture. It's not easy moving pigs. They're big, they're slow, their piglets are milling about like mice and, with all the rain we've been having, they want to stop every time we hit a wet spot and wallow!

Brixia went first with her three piglets plus the two from Orange that adopted her (we figure it's cause there was no line at the teats!) We finally got her moved the 1/4 mile walk with lots of coaxing, pushing and maneuvering.

That included moving her across a deep fast moving stream...several piglets fell in but we scooped them right back out.

Next it was Orange's turn. She turned out to be a lot easier as she is generally an active, curious and high energy pig.

We use a small cage built from a welded wire hog panel, with a covering on three sides so that they can only see though the wire in a forward direction. This allows them to see forward as they walk without getting distracted by what's behind them. The piglets were mainly pushed and rolled along.

Here are the happy pigs finally on pasture where they will rotate around in large meadow and woodland lots through the growing season. Here they are in a paddock designed to train the little ones to the electric fence.

Tamworth pigs on pasture!

Tamworth Gilt Farrows Her First Litter

Our beautiful Tamworth gilt Orange farrowed her first litter of piglets last night. Not only was it her first litter, but ours too! Seven little piglets, one after the other came out and immediately began searching for mama's milk. Many of these little beauties are already reserved, but we still will have more available when our second gilt farrows.

Orange nursing her piglets

Brixia - imminent farrow!

Two very pregnant pigs (2 days from delivery)

Piglet warming box

Homestead 802 - Recent Article about Stark Hollow Farm

Check out the article about our farm in the Spring 2013 Edible Green Mountains magazine about our holistic farming approach and our healthy and delicious product offerings. Copies available locally here in Vermont.

Homestead 802 Stark Hollow Farm

Spring 2013 Issue

Tamworth Piglets For Sale

Our Tamworth breeding sows are a few weeks away from farrowing. We will have pure bred registered breed stock as wells as feeder piglets and roasters for sale. If you are interested in piglets, let us know so we can add you to our list.  We always had a hard time finding Tamworth piglets, having to reserve months in advance...which is why we decided to try breeding them ourselves! Piglets this year should be ready to go by late June/early July. Visit our farm website to see details on currently available gilts and feeder piglets: www.starkhollowfarm.com.

Vanessa with Tamworth Sows
The Tamworth is a heritage breed, considered quite distant genetically from commercial swine. With their extra long snouts, they are very frugal when raised on pasture and in forests, and produce exceptionally delicious meat. The Tamworth is known as "the bacon pig" for its ability to achieve high body mass without too much fat. They do very well here in Vermont. We have used our pigs to amend difficult patches of weeds from the pastures, such as ferns and dogbane.

Compost: Vermont Black Gold!

Vermont Black Gold!! Stark Hollow Farm compost consists of sheep poop and other organic matter from our winter paddocks. It is composted for two years and therefore is a beautiful, nutrient rich compost without a manure like smell. Easy to transport, spread, and work with. $3.00 for approximately 2 cubic feet bagged. Contact the farm if interested 434-3953, farmer@starkhollowfarm.com.

Vermont Black Gold

Approximately 2 cubic feet bagged

Bulk Purchase

Chickin' Pickin' In Here Game

Lambing is over and after an over 30-days hiatus of sleeping in 2-hrs blocks, or less, I finally get to sleep and take a little "vacation" -- well a farm vacation, which means I still get to do chores and a couple other things here and there for a few days. Today in my drive to chill and relax, while doing the chicken chores, I thought up of a new game. So here it is for all to enjoy:

If you have 2 or more chickens, which I would assume you do since I would never approve of having just 1 chicken, or just 1 sheep, or... well you get the point. So assuming so, and if you have children or want to enjoy some children like playing, which I highly recommend in today’s day and age of great responsibilities, then here's the game. 

This is a team game and each team consists of a human and certain a number of birds (a.k.a. chickens). Each team should have equal, or close to equal, number of chickens. However, in cases where certain birds are more like hogs than chickens, you might want to make the team equal on an ability level rather then a number level -- this is up to you of course. When the number of chickens is higher, an easy way to divide up the birds is by colors, breeds, etc. -- use your imagination... children by nature are very good at this, well at least before they get into TV and/or video-games. 

Next you'll need some treats for your chickens. Something like bread -- in small bites of course.... as we don't want to make the poor birds explode (I'm serious on this) -- works great.

The object of the game is to have your team get, I mean ingest, as many treats as possible. No, humans are not allowed to ingest... and no, not as quickly as possible. The other objects of the game are to increase patience -- by waiting for one's turn, to understand the value of time -- by appreciating quality of time with slowness rather than quantity with as fast as you can, and to be honest -- by playing fairly waiting your turn to throw the treat and keeping your own scoring.

Each team's human takes turn throwing a treat with the goal of having one of his/her bird ingest the treat. If the bird from the same team gets the treat, I mean gobbles the treat, then that team has a point. If a chicken from the opposing team gets and ingests the treat, or snatches the treat from another bird -- as sometime (yeah well often) chickens steal from each other -- and actually ingests it, then the point goes to the opposing team.

Spring Approaching at Stark Hollow Farm

Spring is here, though you wouldn't know it with the sky spitting snow up here on the side of Vermont's second highest peak, Camel's Hump.

But down in the barn, Icelandic ewes are bringing their beautiful lambs into the world, the new heritage breed chicks are feathering out in their nice, toasty brooder and our two pregnant Tamworth Pigs are starting to nose at the slowly thawing earth.

It's only a matter of time before the crocuses show their lovely faces and the pastures start to green.

Local Writer on The Complexities of Being an Omnivore

The Vermont Epicure
The Vermont Epicure: The Complexities of Being an Omnivore
Stories About Food, Place and Family
Shelia McGrory-Klyza

Check out this great article on the Vermont Epicure. If you haven't tried our Icelandic lamb, or our other heritage breed meat products, this article will tickle your taste buds as well as provide salient information on the importance of choosing locally and sustainably raised animals from farms you know and why purchasing meat products from farms who specialize in heritage and primitive breeds is so important for our planet!

Image copyrighted and used with permission from S. McGrory-Klyza

New Heritage Breed Chicks Arrive

New Chicks

New heritage breed chicks have arrived at Stark Hollow Farm.

These will be raised to about 16 weeks and sold as pullets for folks who want laying hens. Each year we purchase 25-50 chicks depending upon our own flock needs, selling the rest to small, back yard or "urban" farmers who like to keep a few laying hens for their personal use. We provide healthy, fully feathered pullets that are on the verge of laying their first eggs. The hens we raise are heritage breeds, purchased as part of our on-farm heritage breed conservancy program. This year's chicks are comprised of all heritage breeds as follows:

Blue Andalusian (Threatened)
Black Australorp (Recovering)

Plymouth Barred Rock (Recovering)

Buff Orpington (Recovering)

Rhode Island Reds (Recovering)

Sivler Laced Wyandotte (Recovering)

Chicks arrive at 1 day old and immediate care must be given for hydration, food, electrolytes and heat. These little gals need to be maintained at 95 degree Fahrenheit. The temperature is reduced gradually over a number of weeks until the birds feather out.

Keep us in mind if you are looking for a small backyard flock this year!! Chicks will be available in early summer.

Breed photos courtesy of Murray McMurray Hatchery.