Sunny Lea Sheep

Growing wool on a small farm in Kentucky

Lambs 2018

Welcome to Sunny Lea Sheep Hotel! Parking reserved for expectant mothers.


I had to go out on a limb-I mean a beam- to get some of these pictures.


No vacancies currently available.


Mr. Collins came on the scene Monday morning, Sir William Lucas (below) that night, and Bingley this morning.


Twelve to eighteen lambs are expected to arrive this Spring, stay tuned to meet the new guys, there could be more any minute.





Grazing For A More Self-Sufficient Future

We have an on-going project, a never ending quest to improve our pastures, and learn as much about the subject as we can. We have been rotational grazing for a few years now, and it has improved the forage immensely, without our having spent a penny on fertilizers or grass seed. By dividing pastures up into small areas and moving the animals every few days, we have helped to prevent over-grazing, and encouraged new growth.


The two pictures below were taken last summer, one from an over-grazed area of the barn pasture, another from the part we rotated. The entire barn pasture used to look like the picture on the left, the picture on the right shows how much it can improve just by a few years of rotational grazing.


A distant far off goal, a dream for the future, is to have enough pastures cleared, and carefully managed to stock pile grass, even for winter (Mom’s and my dream) or make our own hay (Dad’s). This would save us a huge amount of money; buying hay in the winter is expensive, and inconvenient, because we do not have a big truck or trailer for hauling it, and must either get minuscule amounts at a time or have it delivered, another expense.

“Pasture in a conventional grazing system, is often a limited polyculture, fields seeded to forage species that farmer, or more likely the extension agent or seed salesman, says are best for that area…Where prolonged, unlimited grazing inhibits or kills the existing ground cover, to the point where it will no longer support livestock, pastures must be reseeded, usually with one or a very few plant species, which will in their turn be grazed down and planted over. Grass, in this picture, is a conventional crop sown for harvest with ruminants, the profit on whose sale being hopefully sufficient to pay the cost of the grass seed and drill and finance the resowing of the pasture next season.

In pastures under intensive rotational grazing, on the other hand, native species are preferred and are generally not sown but rather encouraged…Many respected graziers, including Allan Savory, Joel Salatin, and Greg Judy, encourage a wait-and-see approach to pasture forage composition, noting that biodiversity  is favored by this hands-off attitude. Fertile soil is by definition richly diverse in soil biota, and the diversity belowground will be reflected in diversity above. If we trust our pastures, trust our ecosystems, we can put our animals on grass and watch the array of forage species unfold. “   ~from The Independent Farmstead by Shawn and Beth Doughetery

We are just beginners at this rotation thing, but to quote the Doughetery’s again,

“There is no such thing as bad rotational grazing; only good and better”

We are constantly working on this project, the type of work varying depending on the season. In the summer we are moving portable fence around, and trying to keep the weeds off the electric fence, in the fall and winter we are clearing old permanent fence rows,  cutting posts, and clearing existing pasture,  in the spring building new fence for more pasture.

The goal of this entire project being to make the farm more self sustaining. Right now we put a lot of money into keeping our livestock. Until we can grow all the food needed for them,  we just have an expensive hobby.

I don’t entertain any grand ideas of this farm ever making a lot of money. That’s not the point. I do dream of it someday producing most of  our food, without requiring  outside inputs.

“The language of artisanal farming is that of all the other arts. It is nice to make a lot of money from a book, or a painting, or a song, but that is not why real artists do it. If they can just make a modest living from their work, they are satisfied. If they can’t, they still keep on working on their art and do something else for necessary income. New garden farmers are the same. They talk about soil enrichment just like artists talk about paint. It is not about money but about beauty, inspiration, taste, and timelessness…The real reward is looking out over our gardens and farms and know that we are adding real value and beauty to the world, or at least doing no harm.”  ~Gene Logsdon













The Web Collector

It’s the best part of the day, a time to think and slow down, and remember that this is a beautiful world, too often wasted by hours spent in buildings, toiling away to make money so we can buy food, instead of toiling away in the beautiful great wide outdoors to grow food. The ultimate irony. We purchase food that wrecks our health, and pay (!) to work out in gyms, when we could grow better sustenance, and get better exercise simply by doing what we were created to do.

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”  Genesis 2:15

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

 ~Wendell Berry

I am bringing up the sheep from the back pasture, herding  them up near the barn to keep them safe from coyotes, bobcats, and dogs.  The long path passes through a stand of forest, huge cedars along one side, a mixture of trees and underbrush on the other. It is growing dark, and the shadowy sentinels rustle softly, green light glowing like emerald gems through their branches. Crickets chirp and birds sing. This is where I belong. In the great wide world, where one has only to look at the detail in each living thing to know that a creator exists.

Along the path spiders spin their webs, great swaths of delicate sticky strands that drape me one by one, clinging to my arms and face, stretching out behind me. They are like the little worries of life; the first  you brush aside, not much disturbed, but soon they pile up, a hopeless entanglement that sticks with you long hours after they first take hold.

The sheep are sometimes waiting by the gate, sometimes away back in the trees, but always they come when I call, with the exception of a rainy night last week, when they were convinced that to be soaked by the down pour  was a worse fate then to be eaten by coyotes.

There have even been a few occasions when they have come up of their own accord, the gates having been left open. I believe sheep can be trained to certain patterns with patience and consistency. In this case, their minerals are at the barn, and they come for this reason. The lambs especially gulp  them down, leaving an amusing reddish stamp on their mouths, which appears ridiculously like lipstick.

Now I take time, though it is growing late and I must be up early, to pet the sheep and look them over. Who has foreign material tangled in their precious fleece? Is Martha any closer to having her baby? Can I convince the lambs to let me scratch their chins? Tommy is friendly, perhaps overly so, and Nutkin is getting there. Thomasina wants to be, but must keep up the pretense of not wanting to be.

The lights of the house glow warm and friendly beckoning me in. My day is much better for ending this way, a little time spent in nature to refresh and calm.  Good night sheep. Life is good.





The Bert Sweater: Chapter Two

In chapter one, you saw how a fleece is sorted, washed, and carded. All that work merely sets the stage for the magical process of spinning. Preparing the fiber is  a huge task, but in the end it  is only the work that prepares you for more work. (Which prepares you for more work, because after spinning comes knitting.) It is really a simple thing, twisting fibers into yarn, but it seems magical, and wonderfully old-fashioned;  all wrapped up in princesses and fairy tales,  pilgrims and pioneers.

Spinning is very satisfying once you can make a decently consistent yarn, and relaxing, a steady beat that reminds you the world is still turning and life goes on.

Bert is lovely to spin, very soft, and because his locks are different colors along their length, grey closer to the skin, turning to brown in the middle, and fading to fawn at the tips, the yarn is not a solid color, but a lovely heathery brown.


I made  3-ply yarn with all of Bert’s fleece. When spinning, you take a length of carded fiber, and pull it out to the thickness you want the yarn to be (called drafting) and allow the wheel to add twist. This is called spinning “singles”



You then twist two or more singles together in the opposite direction (this is called plying);  in this case three singles are twisted together making a “3-ply” yarn.

102_5274Last year while spinning all my fleeces up for knitting into mittens and hats to sell, I found that while my fiber felt soft, the yarns I spun were stiff, and the things knit from them had little drape, and were not as soft as I wanted. Research in books and on the internet revealed I was spinning  “worsted” style which produces a strong, smooth,  hard-wearing yarn, and that  “woolen” style spinning makes a   fluffier yarn. It incorporates more air into the fibers, so that it is warmer, and makes a softer finished garment.  How you prepare and draft out the fiber determine whether you are spinning “worsted” or “woolen”. Currently, I spin a “semi-worsted” yarn in which the fiber is prepared for woolen style, but spun with a worsted drafting  technique. This is because I have not yet mastered woolen (“long draw”)  drafting.

Also, I was simply putting too much twist in the yarn. To help with this, I dug some commercial 3-ply yarn out if my stash, snipped off a little piece, untwisted the plies, and used them as a reference while spinning, trying to match it as closely as possible. When it came time to ply I referred to the commercial yarn again, comparing it and my yarn to see if I was plying to much or too little. This also helped me to spin the thickness of yarn I wanted, because when spinning singles, it is hard to tell how thick a three ply made from them will be.

Between these two discoveries, my yarn is now much softer and drapes nicely, although it is still not completely consistent.

After the yarn is spun and plied, you take it off the “bobbins” (spools) and make it into a big loop, called a “hank”. You can do this using  a kind person’s hands, the back of a chair, or  a “swift”,  an umbrella-like tool that makes the process quicker.

To keep the hanks neat, they are twisted into “skeins”:



All of Bert’s wool is now spun, and the knitting has commenced. Stay tuned for an update on the progress!



High Tensile Fence Building Tips, and How to Estimate the Cost

High tensile fence has several advantages over other types of fence. It is easier to work with than barb wire, (something I consider a curse upon the earth after having wound up what seemed like miles and miles of it) and easier to construct and maintain then woven wire. It is also cheaper to  build.

There are a couple things to consider before beginning with your own fence. One pertains to fencing in general, the other to high tensile in particular.

1. While a fence may appear to be made of metal and wood, with a little plastic thrown in, it is mostly  made of blood sweat and tears. And I mean that very literally . In my fencing career I have gained scars from the wounds, lost  weight while still eating huge meals of very fattening foods, and sat down on the dirt and bawled out of pure frustration. Unless you are paying someone else to build your fence , plan for these three things to be a big part of your life. Do not undertake this if you are not willing to work very hard. You will go to bed at night with every bone and muscle aching, only to wake up and do it all again the next day and the next.

Enough with the Johnny Raincloud though. It is very worth it in the end. You’ll be glad you did it.

2. High Tensile  is a mental  barrier not a a physical one. This fence will only keep your animals in if you keep it properly maintained. Trim weeds regularly, tighten wires as needed, and walk the fence often to check for shorts like trees branches. Test it to be sure you have a strong currant. The animals can easily plow though the fence if they want to. Make sure they don’t want to. And put them where the grass is. They’ll stay in much better if they have plenty to eat. We had a sheep who could not be kept in the fence because when she was a lamb, we put her out in a field with fence that was not hooked up to the electric. She got so used to going through, that even when the electric was on, she continued to be a nuisance. You will need to train the animals by making sure the fence is very hot their first time out.

So while high tensile is the most affordable option for fencing, it does require quite a bit of time both while building and throughout it’s lifetime.

Now to meat of the matter.



We use metal t-posts in between the braces. In flat country, you can go great distances between posts, but here in the hills of Kentucky we put them closer together, about seven or eight steps (12′-15′)  apart. You don’t want them too close, because one of the advantages of high tensile is the “rubber band effect”. If a tree falls on the fence, the wire will stretch down to the ground, but spring back up, unbroken, after the tree is removed. If the posts are too close together (or if the wire is over tightened), you lose this handy trait.

There are some points we have discovered along the way, that make for a straighter, stronger fence. It is sometimes hard to remember them all, and so not every brace we build is perfect, especially at the end of a long day.

Helpful Tips:

  • Build the braces two at a time. Set the corner posts, then stretch one of the lower fence wires, complete with insulators and a wire strainer, and tighten it just enough to get a straight line, but not so much much that you can’t pull it back out of the way while the inside post holes are being dug. This way, you can be sure the inside posts are set in the right place, so that the brace is pointing the right direction, and the wires will not be putting pressure on the inside post once they are tightened. example2.png
  • Set the posts with gravel. We used to use the dirt from the hole, but gravel is much faster and much more secure. Dirt must be carefully tamped down with a thin stick, gravel can simply be shoveled in.
  • Don’t set the inside post until the horizontal brace is up. This way you have more wiggle room to get everything to fit.
  • Staple all the insulators down before you tighten the wires, or it will be hard to position them, and they may split.
  • Make the cross wire run in a figure eight. This way it interferes less with fence wires. Make sure the strainer ends up on the back side of the brace for the same reason.
  • Slide on extra sort insulators in case one breaks or you need to slip them between the cross-wire and fence wire to keep them from touching. This happens most often on the top and bottom wires, as the figure eight is wider at these points.
  • Use a “Story Stick”, a stick with the desired position of the fence wires marked on it, to figure out where to drill the holes for the brace pins. The horizontal brace should sit between the top two wires. When using the story stick, make sure it sits on level ground. This may require digging away some of the dirt or gravel around the base of the post.
  • Make sure the cross-wire is slanted the correct way.  We once did several incorrectly, so that they were pulling the corner post over, instead of bracing it back! Oops. Just remember it should be UP on the inside post, and DOWN on the corner post.
  • When you pound in the metal t-posts, start in the middle of a stretch, not by a brace. This will make it straighter. If you work end to end, its is more likely they will get slightly out of line. Start in the middle, then go to the middle of each half, and so on.
  • PUT THE WIRE STRAINERS  IN THE MIDDLE OF A STRETCH, NOT BY A BRACE. That way, the tension is equally divided on each side of the wire strainer. Also realize, the fence will stretch over time, and every year you will tighten it more, so leave room for the wire strainers to move quite a bit. Don’t pound in a metal post right by them.

Required tools:

  • Wire cutters
  • Hammer
  • Strainer handle for tightening all wires
  • Post hole digger
  • Fencing pliers for pulling out staples that were nailed in wrong. Believe me it will happen.
  • Cordless drill with 1/2″ bit long enough to drill through the 6″ inside brace post.
  • Chainsaw. This will only be needed if you have to adjust the length of the horizontal brace. If the hole for the inside post is carefully dug, you should not need to trim the horizontal brace.
  • Shovel
  • Spinning Jenny,  for dispensing the roll of wire

How to estimate the cost:

Each corner brace will cost about $105.20

3   6″x8′ posts, $42

2   4″x8′ posts, $14

8 wire strainers,  (one for each cross-wire, and one for each fence wire)  $24

12  long insulators, $12

24  short insulators, $2.40

18  Staples, $1.80

2  10″ brace pins $2.00

2  5″ brace pins, $1.00

Each end brace (for gates) will cost about   $87.50

This is assuming you buy the wood posts. We save a lot of money, (and have a rip roaring good time!)  by cutting our own cedar posts.

Now, what is a little more difficult to figure; wire will cost about $ .03/foot.

So, figure out how many feet of fence you need (x), and  multiply that by 6, since you need six wires:  6x=a    Multiply a by .03:    .03a =b

You will also need  one  6′ metal t-post and six clip-on insulators ($5.21) for every 12-15′ feet of wire. We’ll say 12, to make things simpler.

To figure the cost of t-posts plus insulators,  divide x  by 12:   x/12 = c

and multiply  c  by  5.21:                                 5.21c  = d

So the wire, t-posts and insulators  will cost    b + d = e  (for Exhausted. That’s how I feel after all that math. Yuck.) The last time I had to use Algebra was for  learning how to knit a custom heel on a sock.  When in school, I firmly believed that crap would never be something to use in (my) real life.

Okay, to estimate the whole total cost of the fence (drum-roll),  you need to draw a picture, so you know how many corner braces and end braces you need, and then figure out how many feet of fence you need, and just add up the cost from there. Let me refresh you on the numbers:

Corner Braces,  $105.20 each

End Braces, $87.50 each

Wire,  $.03/foot  times 6

T-posts and clip-on insulators,  $5.21 for every 12 feet of fence.

So this example, which has four corner braces and one end brace:


would cost $802.77

A handy tool you can use is Google Maps. Here you can estimate how may feet of fence you will need.


This is the new pasture we just finished building last week. Using the numbers I gave you above, a pasture this size (and shape!) would cost  $2335.93   if you bought the posts, and $1663.93 if you cut your own posts. This is reasonably  close to what we spent, so I think my calculations are pretty accurate, and you can use this info to be sure you are prepared for the expense of building. Happy fencing!

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On the Lam

The barn is quiet and dim. As I enter the pen, the lock clicks behind me, and there is a nervous rustling of bedding  as the sheep take notice that a threat is near.  It is time to be sure everyone has water, hay and minerals, but first I want to pet a lamb. This is not as easy as  it sounds. When they see boots approaching, away they go. Here is the shepherd, out to grab them, and they are on the lam. The key is to get one in a corner.  It is the perfect opportunity, just stoop and swoop. If I’m lucky, I come with a lamb and not air.  Once in hand, the lamb may go very still. This does not mean it is happy and content. Not yet. In time maybe. Now it is terrified, frozen with fright.  Or it may struggle, trying to leap back to ground, and those little hooves are quite sharp! So I hold on tight, scratching behind  ears, and cooing, and pretending they love it. They’re  so darn cute! The feeder is a favorite place for them to sleep, and sometimes makes it easier to catch them.


The older ones feel surprisingly  heavy. How can they be so big already! It seems like we just started lambing yesterday, but in realty it’s been so crazy around here time has flown by while seeming to stand still.

The smaller lot are so light, and their hooves so perfect and tiny!

Beatrice is friendly, and lets me pet her, so her ram lamb is curious and will sometimes come up too. Jemima, although not completely averse to a scratch now and then before she had her lambs, is now a dignified queen. “Do not touch me, minion, thou menial carrier of water buckets. And stay away from my babies.”  She wants no attention, and butts those who try to give it.

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, a little white lamb with brown spots, is especially cute, so I pick on her a lot. Sometimes it pays to be less good-looking.DSCN9636

A new lamb entered the scene today;  a yearling ewe  had  a big, healthy black lamb. She doesn’t have as strong an instinct to keep her lamb near as the experienced mothers, so we had a bit of a fuss figuring out who the new guy belonged to.DSCN9633

Last week Bianca had two lambs, an  interesting combination, as one is large and white, while the other is the smallest lamb I’ve seen yet, black, and (surprise surprise), has a white splotch on it’s head.  Good grief!  Our ram Bert must have  some skunk in his background.


The Arrival of the Lambs

It has a been dizzying whirl of activity here at the farm lately. We are working on building a new pasture down by the garden, and this past Friday, the lambs began to arrive. Jemima had her’s first.  I went out to do chores in the morning , and there was a little black lamb at Jemima’s side.  The day before, I had cleaned out the ewes’ pen and set up some of the wooden panels we built several weeks ago,  so thankfully there was a lambing jug all ready for Jemima and her baby.  I ran  to the house to let Mom and Dad know about the baby, then went back to put the tiny thing in it’s jug. There in the large pen  was another lamb, black with a white spot on the head, curled up against the wall. Good job, Jemima! Into the jug they went, Beatrice almost going in too, as she wanted to claim one of them.  We got Jemima a bucket of warm water and a snack, and Mom held the lambs while Dad dipped their  little belly buttons in iodine, to prevent infection.


That night between 11:00 and midnight, Mom and I went out to check on everybody, and there was a Cheviot with a lamb. She had gone into one of the jugs of her own accord, so all we had to do was shut her in. While we got water and food for her, she popped out another one! This one had the cutest little reddish-brown  spots, legs and tail.  They are doing well. The spotted one is bouncy, and very vocal, opening it’s little mouth wide so you can see its tiny pink tongue and meh-ing until all the other sheep get excited too, and there is quite the racket!


The next morning while I was at my job in town, another lamb came to call. The mother, one of the Cheviots, seemed to be doing all right, but later in the afternoon, while Mom and Dad were gone shopping, I discovered another lamb, laying still, and not licked clean by the mother. I didn’t know if it was dead or alive, but thankfully my friend, who is a vet tech, was visiting to help with fence building, and she came to the rescue, checking for signs of life, and wrapping it up in a towel. The poor thing was dead. We do not know if it was born so, or was smothered  because the mother was too busy with her first lamb, and did not take care of the next. Perhaps this could have been prevented if I had been there right away when it was born, or perhaps there was nothing to be done. It is a horrible feeling to  lose a lamb, and wonder if you could have helped it.


So, as of now there are five lambs, and four more ewes that have yet to give birth. Today we are sawing lumber to build more lamb jugs, and to patch up the large pen so that when the new families are let out of the little lamb jugs, the babies don’t get hurt trying to escape through gaps in the walls.