The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Author: Becca

Sheep Week

Good Shepherd

Oh my word. The sheep. First of all, they are so pretty out in our pasture. A group of fluffy white in the middle of all our green just feels right. They are pretty and pastoral. Their lambs are darling. And their loyalty to their shepherd demonstrates so much of scripture, lived out right in front of us. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Rory and his sheep are tight. He’s a good shepherd and they’ve got a special bond.

Flock of sheep in pasture

I, on the other hand, don’t feel quite so connected to the sheep. Mostly because I’m not out there multiple times a day caring for them. But also because sheep are pretty aloof if you’re not the one bringing them their food. The goats have big personality. The sheep seem indifferent.

Anyway, Rory is trying this rotational grazing thing that is good for the soil, good for the sheep and good for sustainable land practices. He has nine paddocks set up in our orchard for the sheep to rotate on. They’ll live in one paddock for a few days before being moved to the next one and on and on. In the end, this will be a really low-key way to pasture the sheep.

But this year it has taken some serious set up. On the advice of another farmer, we didn’t let our sheep out on the pasture until June 1, so that the grass and alfalfa could establish itself after the winter. But it turns out that this year, that date was way too late. The grass took off the last week of May, and by the time we realized what was happening out there, the grass was taller than Rory!

Grass growing out of control

Sheep like young grass, the shorter stuff. Not the tall stuff. So Rory has been out there FOR HOURS mowing down the tall grass in each paddock making it ready for the white fluffs to come and lay down in his green pastures.

Mowing Tall Grasses

And then this was the week that we finally found someone to come and shear our sheep. And just in time! These poor guys have been wearing their huge wool sweaters all spring and tomorrow is supposed to hit 99 degrees here. The shearing was eventful and stressful. We had an older farmer and a neighbor come to help us with the hopes that we might learn how to shear on our own.

Shearing the sheep with Lloyd and Gary

Rory and Farmer Lloyd wrangled the first sheep out on the concrete so the wool wouldn’t be mixed with the bedding of the stalls. They wrestled that sheep to the ground and in the mayhem Rory got his finger bit so hard that blood was dripping all over that clean concrete floor. He left to clean his wound, and I left with the children, discussing what “stressful” means on our way into the house. Later, I went back out to see how it was going and a different sheep spotted me in the window, got spooked and pulled the halter loose and began running pell mell all around the barn with half a fleece trailing behind her, through the dirty bedding. I quietly backed up and pretended I hadn’t returned.

In the end we decided that we will gladly hire this job out each year. And we will forever stand in awe of 4-H children who shear their sheep with confidence and ease. Actually, we will stand in awe that 4-H children can even move their sheep from their stall out to the arena for showing. We will watch these sheep events with much more appreciation this year at the fair!

And finally, because of the heat, and because our fruit trees are still too little to provide shade, the sheep will need shade in each paddock. So Rory worked the past few nights out in the barn building a mobile shelter. It’s pretty awesome.

Portable Shelter

All in all, this whole week has been about the sheep. They even found their way out of their electric fence and into the neighbors back yard. But when Rory called to them, they came back right away. Because he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He’s a good shepherd.


Holy Week Lamb

Baby lamb a few days old outside with mom

When we came home from church on Palm Sunday, there was one sheep going making all sorts of noise in the pasture so I told Ivar he had better go see if everything was okay. He hopped out of the car and ran to the barn. A while later he came in, “I think a lamb is going to be born! Fluffy Cloud has a very, very red butt!”

So Rory ran out to the barn, and sure enough, still in its sack, found a baby lamb and affectionate mother cleaning it.

Little lamb minutes after birth

Mama sheep cleaning up her baby lamb

He stayed to make sure everything was going smoothly, separated the other two sheep from the new mama and her baby and filled the water bucket with warm molasses water.

Other ewes outside

I got lunch for the kids and put Hattie down for a nap. I asked Elsie if she wanted to come out to the barn with me and she commented, “No, because one time I saw a goat being born and it was very gross to me.” True story. She did watch a baby goat literally come into the world and it left a serious impression on both of my kids! We didn’t make her go to the barn until later that evening…

But I went out to the barn and the little lamb was already trying to stand on it’s legs and nurse. Everything was going so smoothly, much to my serious relief. We are so new at all of this and even though we have been reading our go-to sheep book and asking questions and watching youtube videos, there are some lessons to learn that you just have to experience. But it’s scary! We really love our animals and want to care for them perfectly, even as we learn everything from scratch.

Baby lamb standing for the first time

We named the little lamb Sunday, as he was born on a Sunday and quickly discovered the lamb was a boy…just like our two goat kids are male. We’re ready for a lady! :)

The next day we found the lamb jumping around, trying out it’s legs, kicking and dancing all around the pen. All the sheep (except the ram) were let outside on Tuesday and it was so fun to watch Sunday bound around the field. It is amazing to watch how quickly these barn animals get to their feet! In human time, a kid isn’t jumping and leaping for 18 months, maybe 2 whole years. And here, on day two of life the lamb was kicking around his sturdy legs.

Easter is full of lamb imagery. Jesus is the pure, spotless lamb of God here to take away the sins of the world. These words have a whole new meaning as we behold our little, sweet lamb bounding happily around the barn.

Baby lamb a few days old, relaxing with mom


An Abundance of Maple Syrup

Abundant maple syrup

Hi everyone. This is Becca, Rory’s wife. We have decided to team up a bit more as we share what we are loving and learning about our life in the country. We feel a sweet call to share all that we are experiencing and will do that by each posting on this blog, as well as sharing more of the day-to-day on instagram and facebook. We’d love to invite you to join our farm fun on instagram or facebook, both @thegrovestead.

***

My friend Lacy came over for a play date recently and was telling me of a workshop she and her kids had attended at a local nature preserve. The topic was on tree tapping and making Maple Syrup. She said to me, “I couldn’t believe the instructor never once told of the health benefits of maple syrup! It was just the how-to, but I wanted him to explain to my kids why Maple Syrup is better than corn syrup and cane sugar.”

I looked at her from across the table and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. What are the health benefits of maple syrup?” And she went on to tell me amazing and incredible things! I told her the man leading the workshop likely didn’t know any of the nutritional side, just like me…having tapped trees for five years, and totally oblivious to the goodness of maple syrup.

Maple sap collecting in buckets

 

But it is! Maple Syrup is full of manganese, zinc and antioxidants.  And of all the sugars (because let’s be honest, we are still talking about sugar here! And sugar is not great for you!) it spikes your glycemic index the least. Your body seems to know how to process and respond to this natural sugar better than the white stuff.

Later she sent me an article from the New York Times talking about how for centuries South Koreans have gone into the woods to collect maple sap, and then sat in a hot room with a heated floor to drink FIVE GALLONS of sap in an evening as a way to detox their body of the winter and prepare it for the summer. The article is fascinating, and I kept telling Rory while we were boiling all of our sap down into syrup that we really should give it a try…

All this to say, there is so much to learn in this life! Here we had the how-to down, but Lacy helped us understand another part of the why-to.

Checking on maple trees and sap collection

 

Our actual why-to is that for us, tree tapping is just a novel and amazing way to celebrate something incredible that is happening on our property each year. God is taking all of that melted snow that has absorbed into the soil and is pulling that water up through the roots of the trees (sap flows upward!) out onto every branch. That once-snow-now-water is full of good things allowing the tree to come back from dormancy. It literally pulses new life into each branch and tiny bud that will burst into a leaf.

And there is so much sap pumping through these trees that we are able to tap into that abundance without harming the tree and enjoy the sap too.

Kids watching their dad evaporate maple sap

But tapping Maple Trees is no small task. When the trees started flowing this year Rory and I had to muster up every bit of enthusiasm because we knew what was ahead: lots of nights carrying five-gallon buckets from the woods into the garage. Lots of days standing by a fire watching water boil. Lots of late nights standing over a pot in the kitchen waiting for the sugar content to be exactly right. Lots of even later nights canning that syrup for storage.

Dad and son evaporating maple syrup

But we still do it every year because it is amazing to us. It is a wonder that all of this free sap is running up into our maple trees. Our favorite lesson on our hobby farm has been how God doesn’t operate in scarcity. If you plant ONE zinnia seed in the spring, you will be able to gather 600 zinnia seeds in the fall, off of that one shoot. If you plant ONE corn kernel, you will harvest a stalk with 3-4 ears, all filled with hundreds of new seeds for next year. If you tap one maple tree, you will soon have buckets of sugary sap, waiting for your enjoyment.

It is a lot of work. It is a lot of time. It is a lot of soot on my best kettle. It is a lot of campfire smell in all of our clothes and coats. But the things God shows us while playing in his creation is the actual fun of it all. And it is fun…just look at all of these glorious colors! The colors vary based on the time of the season you collect your sap (the lightest color is the earliest sap) as well as the rate of the boil and the temperature when it was collected. And it all tastes delicious and now we can say is slightly nutritious.

Abundant maple syrup in many colors


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