August 2008

Woah!  I’m here, I’m here!

I can’t believe the summer is flying – well, has flown if like me you have never recovered from school-year time divisions – so quickly.  And spring went on forever!  I hope fall is willing to stick around for a while, we still have a bunch of work to do before the snow hits.

I’ve been working on the eternal aran, and I am almost at a point where something will have to be done about sleeves, so I’ll take a picture once it gets interesting.  Other than that, the only interesting thing this weekend has been splinting a chicken.

One of the chicks has “bendy toe” (probably sounds better in Greek) which means his toes are all wonky and weird.  The males of the black breed have a slight genetic predisposition to this – at least we’ve never had a female with it, which means this little critter is probably a boy – but anyway his feet were the worst I’d ever seen.  Annie (who is blogless, alas) is a vet who works with birds (not to mention an animal lover after my own heart) and she told me a way to splint his little feet while he’s growing to correct the problem.  So now I have a little chick with orthopaedic footwear, made out of bendy wire and foam hair curlers:

He’s walking around fine in them.  He does want to pull them off (of course) but since they’re going to have to be replaced frequently while he’s growing, that isn’t really a problem; when he succeeds in removing them (probably later today) I’ll just put ’em back on.

Today I have to go get some groceries and then bake a cake.  We have this annual party on labor day in (honor?) of our first rooster, Malfoy, who was a tough street chicken found in the back alleys of Windsor, Ontario.  We raised him from a chick, and in return he scarred everyone I know and killed a pullet.  So every year to close summer we host the Kill the Bastard Rooster party.  No animals are harmed in the execution of this party, although I do serve chicken.  This year we have a chicken effigy to burn on the first campfire, and I’ve got some baking to do because it is also an birthday party for myself and The Ed.  By which I mean, an excuse to eat cake.

Also, I need to build my plying wheel, or I shall go mad.  Not because there is anything wrong with the wheel I made last year, but because I want one a lot, and I keep thinking to myself “oh, how I want a big ol’ plying wheel, poor me” and if I just made the darned thing I could think about something else.  Like, how much I want a drum carder!

I seem to be a bit jumpy right now, so I’ll close this off.  Gonna have to be a blog flog coming though, because Lucy tagged me for the “I heart your blog” award so I’ll be passing out my own votes real soon.  After I get back with the groceries!


Ok.  So back in October we got these sheep  (wow, soon they’ll have been here a year!  Maybe they will hold a contest!)  and I made it through stable-building and lambing and hoof trimming (Blackface are susceptible to foot problems.  Not horribly contagious freak you out things, utterly not contagious but very uncomfortable spots between their toes that can easily get infected.  Think infected corns or something.  So they get quite regular pedicures.)

And of course the next challenge was shearing.  I was really kind of nervous about this.  Do not ask me why I was perfectly ok with helping to deliver a lamb, but nervous about giving a haircut.  Basically it comes down to:  Sheep are big (well, mine are) and I am not, and they have a LOT of wool and there’s no way I’m getting it off them in the less-than-two minutes that competitive shearers can do (Competitive shearers?  There’s something wrong with that somewhere, too.) Or even five.  Or a million.

The “proper” (i.e. fast and efficient, which is in fact good for everyone involved) way to shear a sheep is to flop the sheep on the ground, do all the hard fiddly bits (legs, neck, belly) and then sort of roll the sheep so you can get the sides and back.  If you can do this quickly enough, the sheep will barely have had time to think “hey!  How did I get down here!?’ when they’ll be up shaking their head and wondering why the breeze feels so cool on their butt.  It does not hurt a sheep to lie on its back, they can breath fine, but you don’t want to make them do it too long because they do feel kind of vulnerable that way, not having a way to run away from the wolf that could possibly jump out at them at any time, so it’s psychologically better to be as quick as possible.

Also, sheep are generally ‘alone’ when being sheared, because it isn’t easy (ask me how I know) to give a sheep a haircut when the others are ‘helping’, and sheep don’t like to be alone, see note about wolves.  By ‘alone’, a sheep means “can’t see at least four other sheep”.

Well, there was no bloody way I was going to be able to do this quickly.  I had manual clippers, no experience at all, and Blackie and Freyja both outweigh me by a lot.  So I discussed it with the sheep, and we all agreed that since I didn’t know what I was doing, and they didn’t know what I was doing, we’d just take it slow the first time, I wouldn’t shoot for an intact fleece, I would just concentrate on getting the wool off, and when they got bored or mad we would stop for a bit.  I did not make them be alone, and I talked to them and sang to them and told them how pretty they would look with their new summer styles.

Blackie was wonderful.  I gave her some hay, and she just stood there and ate hay and let me clip away.  Still took forever, as I was learning to manipulate these big shears, and also Monster and Linton wanted to ‘help’ and they kept trying to chew on the big shears and shove their heads in my lap.  But generally it was pretty smooth, and she even stood very still (very, very still) while I sheared around her ‘dainty bits’.

But Blackie is a people sheep, in many ways more like a dog than a typical sheep.  Freyja was less into the whole thing.  And Freyja’s wool is VERY dense – I’d clip and clip and clip and feel like I was really getting somewhere and then there’d be like two inches of naked sheep.  I don’t have a scale that can weigh a whole fleece, but Freyja’s was heavy, and her wool wasn’t even all that long.  So she got impatient sooner and avoided me for longer, and that is why Freyja walked around for a week last spring with big puffy pants.

Finally, I bethought myself “hey dummy, try the halter”.  I’d been introducing the sheep to the halter as a means of bringing them somewhere, should I need to – mostly what I do is bring ’em outside the fence and let them cut the grass for me.  So I put the halter on Freyja and she stood patiently still and let me finish her butt all in one session while she ate grass, and then she got treats for being such a good and patient ewe.

A couple of weeks ago I was picking up hay from a neighbor and he has sheep.  He actually has cattle, the sheep were kind of an accident, because his dad was interested in sheep, and they got some, and I guess the lambing didn’t go especially well because they didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t really know sheep, so they lost a couple of lambs.  (NB, they probably would have lost the lambs anyway, there were from triplets which gives you bad odds on all of them making it, especially if you’re not willing or able to turn yourself into an ewe for several weeks.)  Anyway, the loss of the lambs mad his dad very sad and dispirited and turned off on the whole sheep thing, so the sheep came to live at the son’s house.  So he hasn’t had sheep any longer than I have, and he also has things like a job and a life and a family.  His sheep need shearing, and he was going to get the local shearing-guy to come over the same day as his next door neighbor, who also has sheep.  I asked what he was going to do with the wool, because NOBODY within miles of here seems to have a clue that wool is good for anything.  This attitude is I suspect encouraged by the shearer and the mills, ‘cos then they get it really cheap or free.  He said if I wanted the wool I could have it, I just had to get it off the sheep first.

So I’ve been going over there and using my halter trick to shear his sheep too.   It’s a pretty good setup – I shear them in the barn asle, so they can eat hay and oats and they can still see lots of other sheep, because the older lambs and the ewes with young lambs are out there in stalls, but because they are in stalls they do not ‘help’ me.  It still takes me far too long, but the sheep are not stressed and not upside down, and the farmer doesn’t mind that I whisper sweet nothings to his sheep and sing to them.  The only problem I can foresee is the ram – he’s the only one so far who’s had a real problem with my halter trick.  I got the halter on him one day, and he planted his (big) hooves and said “I will crush you, little girl” and that was pretty much the end of it.  I’m hoping that the ewes will all tell him how much more comfortable they are with all that heavy wool gone, and I’m leaving him until last because I’m getting faster every time, so by the time I get to him at least maybe I will be able to bother him for as little time as possible.  But I think there may be “help”, because I have no idea how I’m going to get him out into the asle if he doesn’t want to go.  Oats might work.

So anyway, that is where I’m getting my fleeces – my sheep and other very local sheep, who I have met and sheared myself.  I know their living conditions and what they eat and how comfortable they are with people.  They are not jacketed, see note about ‘wool isn’t good for anything’, so of course I’m pulling out simply astonishing amounts of stuff.  Mine aren’t so bad, but these other sheep are fine wool, and so of course they attract and trap everything.

Oh, spiralling off from some of the comments yesterday… you may or may not have noticed that I was able to give Chloe her stylish poodle tail because she has a tail.  I did a bunch of research about docking when the lambs came.  Freyja hadn’t been docked but Blackie had.  Generally, sheep’s tails are docked, no questions asked.  It is only just starting to be even questioned, and the older farmers will still say it’s better to do so.  The guy whose sheep I’m shearing has decided that he’s not going to either, which I’m really happy about.

The reasons given for docking are, in any order:  It’s easier to shear them without the tail in the way.  The tail traps poo.  The tail makes it harder for the ram to knock up a ewe, and the tail makes it harder for a human to help, if necessary, with lambing.

Most of those reasons, you will notice, have nothing to do with the sheep.  The only one that does really is the one about the ram, and that’s just silly.  Sheep’s tails look big because of the wool (which is less wooly and more hairy) but they’re really skinny and not at all ‘in the way’, and why on earth would they be, most animals have tails, and seem to reproduce themselves just fine, thank you very much.

As far as helping with the lambing, docking the sheep helps up the odds that you’re going to have to help with the lambing.  Docking can cause prolapses, and it messes with the butt muscles of the sheep, which are designed to control and lift the tail (like when they poo, it does NOT trap more poo).  I read this, but it was coincidentally supported by my own experience, when Freyja who had never lambed before dropped two so fast I almost missed it and needed no help at all, and Blackie had a horrible awful time and lost one lamb.

There isn’t any wool at all on the underside of  the tail until the very end, so there isn’t anything to shear (or trap poo) and no sheep so far has ever complained when I sheared their tail.  It is a little rough on the clippers, because of the harsh hairy wool.

But docking HURTS.  A lot.  And there’s a huge risk of infection, which yes you can vaccinate against, but there isn’t any risk if you don’t randomly chop off significant bits of sheep!

My final thought, which came up when neighbor-guy and I were talking about it, is that given the amount of controlled breeding that has gone on for centuries (ref yesterday’s post) controlling the appearance, shape and size of sheep, if there were really any benefit to sheep having short or no tails, shorter tails could and would have been bred for.  But since it’s a human convenience thing, nobody has bothered, they just chop ’em off.  It’s easier.  So my babies will continue ‘wagging their tails behind them’ thank you very much.

“Shut up!  Enough with the sheep and chicks, talk about important things like geese and cats!  And go spin something, your cat is bored.”

I don’t know why we (by which I mean “people in general”) seem so driven to make a big fight out of everything. It seems like there is always a cause or two, and forgive me if I point out the faddish nature of these causes, for which people are prepared to make all manner of illogical blanket statements condemning or belittling anyone who doesn’t sit in the same sometimes rather leaky rowboat. Did I mix a metaphor there, or just toss one in halfway through? Sorry. The fact is that this post is being rather difficult to write.  (EDIT  I was going to delete this opening because it sounds kind of abusive and inflammatory to me, but this post IS being difficult to write and I don’t quite know what to replace it with.  So let me just throw in that I know there is no one way of life that is perfect for everybody, and I support individual choices, I just get upset when those choices are either badly uninformed, as sometimes happens, and/or when people attempt to impose choices that are really very good for them onto people that they really aren’t good for at all.)

The current faddish cause is, of course, environmentalism. Now before you jump all over that statement, let me rush to say that although I hate the ‘buzzwords’ that have evolved out of this concern for our planet (‘green’, ‘organic’ to name two) I completely and utterly believe that it is good and right to live in harmony, as it were, with the planet we live on. I will go further. I think it is a long standing tendency for humans to treat their environments as enemies, to try to subdue and control the land and the creatures on the land, and even other human beings if given the chance, and I think that tendency is sad, reflects badly on us as a species, and may very well be immoral. I used to be more definite on the immoral thing, but at the moment I can’t decide whether the fact that the concept of immorality originates with us makes it irrelevant or whether it just makes our behavior worse, given that we violate standards we created in the first place. So whether it is a fad or not, I can’t help but support those who are making genuine efforts to reduce their negative impact on their environment, and to realize that just because we moved into it, doesn’t mean it isn’t an ecosystem, and it is better to find ourselves a place in that ecosystem than to stomp all over it, kill off half the indiginous species and then start a crusade to save the cute ones.

I also believe in responsible decision making. Not so much in terms of “should I cast on another sweater when I already have three sweaters and two pair of socks on the needles” – my idea of “responsible” there ends at “would I have to buy another set of needles to do so?” in which case I won’t, otherwise I’m all for irresponsible crafting abundance. But I have my limitations there too, in terms of the materials I’m willing to use, and like it seems half the world, I have some very strong opinions about those materials and the way they are manufactured and marketed.

I was kind of excited when I first learned about corn and soy yarn. They are advertised as using the “waste” products of these crops, and while I was a little confused about the bean plants, it seemed to me like corn is a big fibrous stalk and if they were spinning yarn from those fibres it would be really cool, and also maybe I could try it at home, being as there are corn and soy fields all around me, and once the crops are collected the actual plants are just ground back into the soil as mulch, and maybe the farmers would let the crazy chick up the road score a few plants before they brought in the plows. So because I am me, and research is what I do, I looked up how these yarns are made.

Yeah. So what they do (greatly simplified) is they take the fruit – yes, the same stuff that would otherwise be fed to animals – and they put it in a huge tank and squish it all up and ferment it, and extract or transform (my chemistry is not so strong) it into a plastic soup. And then when it is reduced to a tank of smooth goo they super-cool it by pouring it onto a spinning top full of frozen chemicals, making a mono-filament, which is then plied into yarn.

This is a process involving a huge pile of chemicals, machinery, heating and uber-refrigeration. It can not be done in my kitchen. It should not, in my opinion, be done at all.

I don’t know what they mean by ‘waste product’, but I have two suspicions. One (the most likely) is that the carbohydrate soup they use is actually a waste product of the ethanol industry. The only things I know about ethanol production are a) the price of corn has skyrocketed, which has a direct effect on my life and the life of my animals, all of whom eat corn, and b) corn which cannot be fed to animals because of fungus or mold or some other icky thing also cannot be used in ethanol production. Found that out a couple of years ago when there was a “pig vomit” bactillus on a lot of the corn and nobody could sell their crop anywhere. Which is my other suspicion: maybe the pig vomit corn got made into yarn.

If the latter thing is true, I would feel a bit better about it – but only a bit, because they won’t only be buying moldy fruit now that the market for these fibres is so huge. So summing it all up, I find myself unable to think of anything that is mass-produced in a factory (or factory-farm) environment as “ecological”.

I tossed that little “factory farm” thing in there, because my choice, for a number of reasons, remains wool. I would be happy if the people who are campaigning for ‘organic’ cotton crops would win, because cotton is another good fibre that just is what it is and while it requires a vast amount of effort to turn into workable fibre it doesn’t have to be turned into some weird petroleum simulacrum first. But North American cotton crops do have an awful lot of baggage attached to them, and I’m not sure if we can handle cotton responsibly. (Insert your personal definition of ‘responsible’ here.)

I don’t have an opinion on whether or not other people use wool. I don’t much care. There are pluses and minuses for each individual and each project. Some people are allergic to wool, and having allergies myself I sympathize with their discomfort and suggest they shy as far away as possible. I would not, myself, purchase expensive wool even if I could afford to do so, because I don’t trust that it didn’t come from some factory sheep farm where the poor sheep are jacketed and confined (jacketing is a whole other problem I’ve got) and mutilated for human convenience, and I think it’s mean. Environmentalism completely aside, I can’t grok being mean to animals, no matter what you’re raising them for. Stewardship is a responsibility, and someone with a better grasp of language evolution (Emily?) might have a learned opinion on the origins of the word “husbandry”.

But for the love of knitting, can we please get it straight that shearing sheep is NOT MEAN?! It does not hurt, they do not mind. Sheep have been domesticated and bred for their wool – which was originally a warm undercoat like your dog and cat shed every summer – for thousands of years. Wooly sheep have not been around as long as housecats – quite – but almost. They were bred and bred to amplify the amount of undercoat and reduce the amount of hair for the sake of human usage. They will not shed their wool in any useful (i.e. temperature affecting) quantity. They will, if the wool gets long enough, rub or bite it off. This is because they want it gone. It is itchy and hot, it traps the ever-unpopular ‘vegetable matter’, it catches on things and it hurts – a lot – when it is pulled. Grab a handful of your own hair and yank.

You are welcome to have a negative opinion on the breeding of sheep for the sake of human convenience. I will share it. I will help you make a banner, out of organic cotton, decrying the arrogance and lack of foresight of the many many many generations of shepherds in all nations whose selfish breeding habits led to the fact that we now have hundreds of breeds of sheep who must be sheared or suffer. (And even that is leaving out the whole flystrike problem!) I will not, however, advocate that the sheep who are alive now, and who had nothing to do with any of this and just want to eat weeds in peace and maybe a bucket of grain now and then please, should be made extinct or forced to scrape themselves raw against trees because humans now resent and disapprove of the activities of humans long dead.

This stuff has been on my mind for a while, and of course the issue is much larger than just fibre, animal vegetable or plastic, but I’m running awful long here, so maybe we can expand through discussion?   I was going to post before, but then farm-witch said something at shearing time, and said it so well that I didn’t bother. If you hadn’t read that post of hers before, it’s a really good one. So for a while I just went “Yeah! What she said!” But I don’t think something as important as how we live and how we treat other living things – any of them – is an issue that can be settled with finality. We tried that before, and the final decision was that man is evidently superior to everyone/thing else, and should therefore do whatever he wants. And look what happened! I think we need to share our opinions, and our information, and our experiences. What choices have you made about how you live and interact with life? How has it affected your craft? What are your ideals, and are they obtainable? I’d really like to hear people’s comments on this stuff – and you’re welcome to disagree with me and with each other, as long as you don’t get abusive and make people cry.

If you’re interested, I will elaborate on my own wool sources plus my own means of getting the fibre off the sheep in the least intrusive manner possible.  Because I assure you, my sheep are the boss of me.  But like I said, this is really long and I would really like to hear what other people have to say.  So please:  discuss!

…but it’s almost craft! I’m getting closer!

Today was a good day. I did clay stuff that entirely failed to fall apart on me and actually has a shape other than “round lump”. I’ve been practicing all week, and I’ve managed both those things before, but not at the same time! This is a definite sign of improvement. (Yeah, yeah, it’s still kind of ugly, but at least it’s there!)

Then, today was also the day to open the magic chicken-making box!

thirty two cute little balls of chirping fluff.

It is also the three-week birthday of the first six baby chickens. I got two babies – one from each clutch – to pose together:

Is that amazing, or what?

Also, I sheared Chloe. It went pretty well, she even lay down for me so I could do her very wooly belly. The only real slowdown was that it turns out Chloe is very ticklish, especially on her sides. So by the time we were done we were feeling kind of frivolous, and I left her a stylish puff on her tail.

Now I’m going to go check on baby chickens again, and stand in the yard enjoying this really spectacular sunset we seem to be having, while a goose chirps at me.   I hope your days all go as well for you as today did for me!

You know, it isn’t actually much use having a pretty darned good camera that you spent a bunch of money on if your batteries are old and crappy and won’t hold a charge.

Pictures that are thus not included with this post:

  • Me, shearing a bunch of very patient sheep.
  • The really big ram I’m going to have to try to shear soon.
  • Combed Rambouillet top. (drool)
  • Ditto silk alpaca blend (drool droool drool)
  • The great blue heron that was just now standing calmly in my backyard
  • Any of my recent clay disasters (I’m getting better!)
  • The hen who, with impeccable timing, decided to go broody the same day as the most recent bunch of eggs started hatching.
  • knitting (yes, there has actually been some knitting)

Pictures that I did manage to take while the batteries would let me:

Unrepeatable experiment wool:

That was dyed with a gallon of home made wine that had gone to vinegar, which I’d been keeping around in case it was good for something, even though I knew it wasn’t. Except apparently it was, because the yarn is really quite pretty.  I couldn’t get the colour quite right in the picture, this looks a little gold to me, probably because of the wood, and it’s actually more of a purple-grey.  I’ll try again when it’s off the wheel.

And of course, baby chickens.  The really cute close-up from a couple of posts ago of the little yellow chick?  Same chick:

This is the first one hatched, definitely a male.  Raven calls him “Tiger” for obvious reasons.  I call him “ThunderFoot” because he’s huge.

So far, the black ones are staying mostly black, which makes me so happy I can’t tell you – until . this lot, nearly all the black chicks have grown up stripey.  I love my pretty stripey hens, but the black hens are gorgeous and I want more!

This one, I think, is going to look like his daddy

So yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve got this week.  Have to move these chicks into their new less-heated and closer to the Big Chickens house (they will be thrilled, they love watching the Big Chickens.) and clean out the warm space for the new babies.  The box is chirping loudly even as I write this.

I promised you dirt, so here we go.

Prologue: The things I have (except for the Weeble Treehouse, long story) generally always tended to want most have been tools. Even before I was really able to make stuff, I always liked the idea of doing so. When I was very small, I used to turn my tricycle upside down in the driveway and pretend it was a spinning wheel. CK claims not to remember this, and probably doesn’t, because I was always kind of a secretive kid, and deep down perhaps I knew that it was maybe a little weird to have more fun with your trike upside down than rightside up, so I usually made sure nobody was paying attention when I played that stuff.

I had a little holly hobby sewing machine, and a fisher price loom. But I never had a pottery wheel. I never even had the chance to use a pottery wheel until briefly in high school (it was a disaster, but I still had the feeling I could get better if I had a chance to practice). I loved playing with clay, and I remember being ridiculously excited when I climbed a hill at a campsite one time and discovered that the soil in that spot was yellow. I couldn’t seem to convey why this was so thrilling to the rest of my family, although I think my brother was at least interested. (Probably he knew already about chrome and stuff in soils, precocious little brat.)

Anyway, I tell you all this Trivial Stuff About Me as a prelude to admitting that I now actually have a pottery wheel, have had for almost a year now, and have not yet used it. This must change. Most of the reason I haven’t played with it is that I haven’t got a place for a wheel here. The ‘messy corner’ of my studio is really not equipped to deal with more mess than some glue, paint and maybe sun printing, and I’ve already spilled over into the guest room with stash and random assorted “things that might be useful someday”, plus I dye in the kitchen. Raven hasn’t got a workshop at all yet, so it might be kind of taken the wrong way if I tried to sneak a clay studio into the kitchen as well. So the wheel lives over at The Ed’s house. It has it’s own little room (CK and I converted The Strange Little Room You Go To If You’re Bad in the basement into a messy craft workshop) and I can go and play with it whenever I want – but you know, it’s over there, and I’m over here, and sheep, and life, and… I just haven’t yet.

As I said, this must change. Step one is: Acquire Clay. There are a couple of ways to do this – the relatively simple ‘go somewhere and buy clay’ method, and the slightly more labour intensive ‘stuff I found around the house’ method. Guess which one I picked?

The soil here IS clay. In most of the area it is well tilled, well mulched yummy fertile clay-y soil. But on our property, it is uncultivated, unmolested, and trampled by 100 years of schoolchildren solid packed clay, with a light coating (very light) of topsoil. The first year we were here, we dug a pond. By which I mean I made a lot of coffee, and Raven and our friend Aaron stood around in the cold drinking coffee and watching The Ed play with a backhoe. The Ed also drank coffee, and I am told he had a pretty big grin on his face most of the time. This was probably because he had a chance to dig a really big hole, I don’t think the coffee was that exciting. It was Maxwell House.

Four years later, the reeds have moved in, the frogs have moved in and would have taken over the yard if the chickens didn’t provide a level of population control — you’ve got to see five hens fighting over a frog- or then again maybe you don’t — there are fish breeding, and now handily enough it’s a place for Phil to play and hide. It is also a really good way to dig up a bucket of sticky murky mud.

Once I had my bucket o’goo, I topped it up with water and started to mix it. This is totally mud pie territory. The goal is to dissolve as much of the mud as will dissolve into the water, so you have a thick sloppy sludge with a lot of crud in it. Once the sludge has reached the point where it’s really super oogy and you’re finding yourself tempted to declare that this is what you’re serving for dinner tonight just to make people turn green, it’s time to strain it. I poured it through a window screen (yup, found one on the porch) into a second bucket. The clay particles are really small, so even though the sludge feels thick, it will go through the screen – but all the yucky stuff that you probably don’t even want to know what some of it is, will not.

I actually poured it back several times – strain it, dump it back into the bucket and mix again, strain again – each time getting more sludge in the water, and more crud out. (Doncha love my technical terms? “Sludge”, “crud”?)

At the end, I had a big pile of clay covered vegetable matter and assorted Other Stuff on the ground, and a lovely smooth gooey slip in the bucket.  I was also covered in clay.

I also had, you should note, about a 1/3 volume reduction from the original bucket. This will go down a bit further as the water evaporates.

The bucket has been sitting outside settling for a couple of days now. Every morning I go out and dump off about 3/4 to one inch of clean clear water, and the remaining sludge is that much denser. Tomorrow I am going to spread my sludge on cafeteria trays (of which we have an inexplicably large number in our attic, we use them for all sorts of silly things) which will speed up the evaporation process. Once the clay is in the trays, keeping it wet enough will quickly become the issue. I will cover it with wet rags, and damp them down occasionally until the clay is a nice workable texture. I will then cut it, bag it, and in the case of the chunk I want to try and turn, beat the living snot out of it in order to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles or dry bits or anything at all that will, when firing, shatter my second pottery disaster finished piece.

So there’s my dirt.  All the critters are doing well, baby chickens are fledging nicely and growing fast (batteries on the charger today, no new pictures) Phil has actually been spotted flying a distance of a few yards, but hasn’t got any height yet, and Blackie has decided that actually, having to wear the halter isn’t so bad at all if it means she gets to come out of the yard and eat grass in front of the house.  (Why mow the lawn when I can knit or read and chat with a sheep?  We have a new lawn chaise and I needed to make sure it was comfortable, you know.  It is.)  Raven is in the city again because his grandmother is having an operation to remove skin cancer later today – poor lady is having a rough year, and if you felt like sending happy “please don’t have a stroke during the operation” vibes her way, that would be awesome.  Thanks.

The chicks are now a week old, and I’ve finally got my act in gear to post the pictures of them coming out of the incubator.

One of them was thoughtful enough to hatch right in front of the little window. This is a picture of the egg cracking. You may have to use your imagination, Raven says this looks like a grainy horror film image:

We were a little concerned about who exactly they might be going to imprint on. Velcro was very involved in the hatch. I don’t know if you can make it out or not, but she’s nose to beak with a baby here:

Finally it was time to take them out. Out of 27 eggs, nine were fertile and six of those managed to hatch. Those are fine odds on the hatch, not so good on the fertility, but we’ve got both Patches and Crowley jumping on hens, and Patches is just now coming into maturity, so it isn’t surprising that the fertility was low. I believe Patches may be the daddy of some of the eggs currently in the big magic box (I put a new lot in right away) – there are a lot of fertile eggs this time around, but of course they won’t all hatch either. If the germ is weak, or the shell is too porous, or the hen was having a bad day, or the temperature mucks up again… there are lots of reasons for failed germ or failed hatch. But we’ll get some!

There are four black and two yellow chicks. (One of the blacks was hiding underneath the tray, and so is not pictured here!

We brought them out to the brooder – we’ve got a nursery set up in our smaller coop, which unlike the big coop has no openable windows and gets very very warm in summer.

They’ve got that huge tray of food so they can’t help but eat it – for a while (like about six years) they’ll try to eat everything, so some of what they try had better be edible! I also dipped their little beaks in the water to show them where that was and what you do with it. They caught on to the water drinking right away, especially the smallest yellow one. Water drinking is her Best Thing.

Here they are at day three, looking considerably fluffier and more traditionally chick-like:

Now they’re old enough to handle slightly lower temperatures, and so when it gets super hot we bring them outside to learn about the world. If you look close, they’re getting lots of little feathers already. The wing feathers come in first, and it’s my favorite stage because they’ll be all cute and fluffy everywhere else, but they’ll have perfect tiny feathered wings. I love that.

Ok, are you saturated with “cute” yet?  Next time I’ll post something dirty.

Meantime, here’s Blackie, dressed as The Queen of the May… you’ve got something on your head there, darling…

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