the temple on the knoll

Another outbuilding??? Much to Mr. D’s dismay, the unusual hot summer (and extreme temps) has forced me to construct ~~~ yes, ANOTHER ~~~ ADDITIONAL ~~~ sheep shed. Mr. D calls it ‘the temple on the knoll’ located on the only level high ground in the sheep pasture. While my ‘weenie’ goats relax in the comfort of the pole barn, my small flock of Shetland sheep have several small sheds to call ‘home’. They are a hardy breed and require modest housing. We make-do with temporary tarps suspended between existing sheep sheds to provide additional shade and protection from the blazing sun these past few summers.


This past week (while running back and forth to the fair) we managed to construct another structure. The new shed is approximately 10 feet X 10 feet and may easily serve as lambing jugs, if necessary.

My sheepies are so easy to please… and they never complain! It’s the least I can do to keep them happy and safe.


Rams: A Lesson in Tough Love

Why do you suppose a ram, a male sheep, is called a ram?

ram  (rm) n.

1. A male sheep.
2. Any of several devices used to drive, batter, or crush by forceful impact, especially:

a. A battering ram.
b. The weight that drops in a pile driver or steam hammer.
c. The plunger or piston of a force pump or hydraulic press.
3. A hydraulic ram.
They say a picture paints a thousand words…
The good news…neither bad boy has ever ‘rammed’ me! The shed roof is almost  5-feet above the ground. I have springy sheep! Grrrrrrr….
This is my lovely ram’s shed, a snap-shot of recent rams’ destructive PLAY… a display perhaps of boredom?  What else do rams have to do??? In spite of the best of care, their antics never cease to aMu$e me (and my pocketbook). You see, I have two Shetland rams: senior 3-year-old and junior yearling). I love my small flock of Shetland sheep and my rams are no exception. I’m guilty of ALL the sheepy pleasures of ‘things’ that are TABOO and ought NOT be done with rams… even those sweet little ram lambs! I straddle and bounce the lambs across my lap, holding, petting, playing, laying down in the meadow – to encourage trust and ‘friendship’. I know, I’m nutz! (but, I NEVER EVER turn my back on ANY ram).
Handling rams is a potentially dangerous business and it’s best to be prepared and knowledgeable before you engage in such an endeavor. Experience is a great teacher (after you’ve been ‘rammed’ a few times…and live to talk about it), but it also helps to heed the wisdom of professionals and educate yourself beforehand!
An excellent article on the subject of managing rams by Brook & Lois Moore, Stonehaven Farm Shetlands, may be found in the NASSA News (a quarterly newsletter dated Fall, 2011) and provided a few simple RULES of engagement:
  1. Rams, including lambs, must never butt or paw for attention or press their heads against you or push another sheep out of the way for your attention.
  2. A ram must never approach you with his head down, or ‘bob’ his head or back-up to feint a charge.
  3. Jumping up on people is forbidden, no matter how cute and little a ram lamb may be! YIKES!!!
  4. A ram should always move away from you when asked to do so.
  5. Ideally, a ram should not enter the shepherd’s comfort zone unless ‘invited’.
  6. Never pet a ram on the top of his head.
Also, another EXPERT close to home (and my heart) here in Michigan is Letty Klein, owner of Pine Lane Farm Karakuls and co-author of The Shepherd’s Rug. I had the priveledge of meeting Letty (along with co-author, Ann Brown) during a fiber festival in Charlevoix, Michigan during 2006. Letty was kind enough to allow me to  re-print her thoughts about the safe handling of rams here:

Raising Respectful Rams

Originally published in The Shepherd, Vol. 46, No. 2, Feb. 2001, pp 14-15.

Tragically the headline in The Charlotte Observer on November 7, 2000 read, “2 dead after ram attack”. Carl Beaver, 84 years old, and his wife Mary, 80, of China Grove, North Carolina were found 100 feet from the gate inside the pasture. Mary was dead and Carl died the next morning.

The Beavers died after the ram apparently turned on them while they were checking the flock in the pasture. The new 250 pound Suffolk ram was tame enough not to be afraid of people, but became very protective of his dozen ewes during the breeding season. The Beavers were taken by surprise. A neighbor said, “It’s hard to imagine that you can’t defend yourself against a sheep.”

But we all know better, don’t we? After all how many times have we heard, “Never turn your back on a ram”? That big ram that we have shown all summer is now turned in with some ewes to work his magic on our breeding program. His attitude changes, he has a new sense of purpose, an incensed possessiveness. He is not the same animal and we are no longer the friendly pat or handful of feed, but we have become the adversary. You can see it in his eyes and mannerisms. Being tame means he has no fear at all. Whether he’s a massive 400 pound Columbia or a 100 pound tail-wagging Shetland we should be ready, and be on guard. Never, ever trust a ram.

Looking back over the last twenty years of raising a horned breed of sheep, I realize the many mistakes, as well as the successes, we have made in our dealings with rams. Presently we have 7 adult horned rams, all of different, some very rare, bloodlines. Since we sell many replacement breeding rams, we often get the comment “Your rams aren’t very friendly.” My reply is “Good! That’s the way they’re trained.” When I enter the pen with the rams, I want to see their rear-ends walking away from me, not their faces coming toward me. Let’s talk about how best to raise a respectful ram.

Rams need two basic requirements:

  1. Lots of room
  2. Companionship

A ram can do a lot of damage if confined all alone in a small pen. With our very first ram, ‘Red Ram Oliver’ we made that mistake. His home was a small pen with a small adjacent outside lot; he was in sort of a solitary confinement. Red smashed everything. We even gave him an ‘enrichment toy’, a rubber tire suspended from the limb of an overhanging tree. He would hit that tire so hard that it would fly in a big arc, coming around hitting him unceremoniously in the rump. This infuriated him to no end, you could almost see the steam coming from his ears and his eyes flash red. His carcass was finally donated to an ethnic group.

For ten years we had a very large wethered Alpine goat, I called him my ‘ram humblizer’. While being very tame and gentle with us, this old goat was definitely the boss as far as the rams were concerned. He finally met his demise when one of the horned rams got a horn caught in the goat’s collar, choking him to death… another lesson learned.

Raising rams from lambs

Overly assertive or bold ram lambs are identified early and a well placed surprise pail of water in the face will usually do the trick. A firm pinch of the nostrils while roughly lifting his front legs off the ground will thwart the boldness of the young ram who is feeling his oats. We must teach visitors not to touch the young ram’s head, or knock him in the head for “play”, explaining that this teasing can be a trigger for aggression.

Our rams are haltered and lead-broke shortly after weaning. To work rams we run them into a small pen where they can be caught, haltered and tied to a fence for vaccinations, treatments such as de-worming, and to have their feet trimmed. They are not petted or babied. Remember the head rubbing or nibbling at your pant leg are the first signs of burgeoning aggression in the developing ram lamb – not affection. What is cute in a 40 pound lamb is totally dangerous in a 150 pound ram. Those lambs remaining with unacceptable temperaments are sold for meat.

Breeding groups

When the rams are in their breeding groups, fence line feeders are used for feeding, so we never have to enter the pastures. At least one empty pasture separates breeding groups. Or if need be, the separating fence line is covered with a couple of layers of plastic snow fence to reduce visibility between rams. If we need to catch the ram or a member of the group, they are all run into a small pen so we can safely separate the individual.

Co-mingling rams

Come time to remove rams from breeding groups, they are first shorn, then we bring all the rams into a fresh small tight standing-room-only pen for at least 24 hours. Expect much growling, grunting, pushing and shoving. Rams are territorial so these mingling areas should be ones not recently used by any of the rams. Then they are released into a larger area with some nice hay or grass. They will fight until they have reestablished their hierarchy, nothing seems to stop this process. After the period of male bonding they become good buddies again. Our ram pasture has plenty of shade, grass, trees to rub heads on or polish horns and a lean-to shed. Their feeders are close to the fence-line so hay can be tossed easily into the bunk from the outside the fence. I don’t normally grain adult rams, it seems to make them very pushy, or as someone wisely suggested, “Grain feeds testosterone”. Sex and grain can be triggers for aggression. The rams may need some supplementation by the end of a rough winter, a fence-line trough fills the bill. They always have access to fresh loose salt and unfrozen water. Never pen a ram in solitary confinement for punishment – his bad behavior will only get worse.

Here is a delightful story about the Integration of Rams as told by Margaret McEwen-King of Middletown Farm,Scotland, reproduced here with her kind permission.

Several years ago I put our rams back together on New Year’s Day in a small area and to my great distress our best white Shetland ram (lamb) had a coming together with a moorit one and the white one lost a horn. Chatting about this at crook-making class to a retired shepherd (Jim Ballantyne – now sadly deceased) who had spent all his herding days high in the Trossachs of Scotland near Callander, I was told “you didn’t pen them up tight enough”. “But I did. They were so tight they couldn’t take a run at each other – even just a few steps.” Again he responded ” You didn’t pen them tight enough”. A Scottish hill shepherd seldom minces or wastes words. “So how tight do they have to be?” I won’t print his reply verbatim, but it was to the effect that if they could stand up, then they could lie down, and the important thing was that they got each others urine, sweat and everything else intermingled so they all ended up smelling the same. This process was likely to take a couple of days. “Isn’t it a bit cruel?” I got a withering look. “They’ll all be alive and uninjured. It’s cruel if one or more get killed.”

Our pen is about 7 foot 6 inches square and accommodates fifteen to twenty rams, from the smallest Shetland to the big Texels and the giant shambling Polwarth. Two walls, a post and rail fence and lashed hurdles to make up the fourth side. Two buckets of water are placed kitty corner and replenished several times a day. Hay is put in several areas. The smell is awful after a day and a half. We let them out into a bigger enclosed area after about 48 hours to feed at the trough. If anyone starts backing up for a run, back they all go back in the pen. It doesn’t take that long and they’ve sorted themselves out.

Another important point is to integrate all the rams at once. We once made the mistake of bringing back a ram lamb which had been out on loan about a fortnight after the rest had been integrated. Said lamb was quite determined he was number 14 and not 15 in the pecking order and we had to more or less go through the whole thing again.

Seems that the vital thing is that they smell ‘communal’.

Once ‘communalized’, rams truly seem to enjoy being in the company of other rams. Seems like a period of male-bonding is necessary for mental contentment. But alas, this comradery is short-lived and the communalization step must be repeated every time a member is removed and returned.

A ram’s instincts run strong, respect him for that; but never, ever trust a ram.

A little R&R?

‘Rest’ and ‘Relaxation’ are two words that, for the most part, do not exist in my vocabulary. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word(s). I find relaxation toiling the soil and tending to my goats and sheepies. Milking (a goat) and spinning wool is something that I love to do and is very therapeutic for me! Fiber’n is also very relaxing as my mind often drifts… usually with thoughts of the yet another project. 

But, the cooler temps and shorter days brings a few more MUST-do’s on the growing to-do list of chores around the ‘farm’ – preferably before the snow flies:

  • There’s harvesting the last of the garden produce (here in Michigan anyway) – canning, freezing and drying – to get you through ’til next Spring  and a new growing season. 
  • I still have to garble my stock-piled dried lavender that’s been accumulating in the drying barn for creating sachets, moth chasers and heavenly fragrant farm-made herbal sundries. 
  • Not to mention, preparing the garden beds for winter slumber – mulching and composting, amending and turning the soil, raking leaves, planting a few more bulbs perhaps?
  • Harvesting wild rose hips, evergreens, pine cones, etc to use to decorate the shop for the XMas holidays. BTW, for any locavores, my Holiday Open House is Nov. 13 & 14.

The flip side of gardening chores is all about the animals:

  • Drying-off my two milking goats; I take the winter off from milking (brrrr)and give ‘the girls’ a well-deserved rest. This will be our 4th ‘freshening’. Our dairy goats are seasonal breeders (similar to deer), coming into heat from Sept – Dec/Jan, approx every 21 days with ‘heat’ lasting for about 18 hours or so. Our Alpine doe, Schaherezade, was showing ‘signs’ of heat…so hold-on, drop everything and load her up to take her to our friend’s buck about 30 minutes down the road! Schaz was very ‘receptive’ and had a lovely little rendezvous with her buck-y boyfriend yesterday – boom bam slam! If she ‘settles’, our kidding season begins next April (there’s a 5-month gestation period for goats). Time will tell…
  • We hope to breed two more yearling does – Sweet Annie and Coriander. It will be their first freshening. So, we’ll keep a close eye on ‘the girls’ and watch for signs of their heat cycle too. 
  • Worming my sheep and dairy goats (the goats are done) is also on the to-do list. I usually like to wait for a ‘killing’ frost before I begin Fall worming – and hoof trimming while I’m attending to everyone and have a captivated audience.
  • Soon we’ll be changing out water buckets as necessary; I purchased an electric/heated water bucket for the goats last year that I’ll give a try this winter. I just absolutely dread busting out all the ice from way too many critters’ water dishes and hauling water buckets to re-fill each of them. While reduced water consumption in winter, it’s critical that all the barnyard menagerie has access to fresh water!

Did I mention Dennis finished building our ‘new’ recycled hay feeder for the sheep? It’s a bit bigger and better(?) than the first prototype. I don’t much care for the shingles – it adds weight & it’s heavy to lift (for me) to fill with hay – especially when my sheepies are all over my back-side trying to get the first yummy nibble of hay!

This is the ‘new’ sheep hay feeder. We reduced the spacing between the vertical slats to minimize potential stuck ‘lil lamb heads. (The initial feeder prototype is pic above.)

Finally, here’s a pic of our completed sheep shed and wind break that we constructed from salvaged/recycled wood.

Happy Day! Today is spinning day! Yeah!


It’s sheep (and goat) breeding season here on the farm. Need I say more??

Our yearling Shetland ram, ‘El Destructo’ (aka Athos) has ‘displayed’ this hormonal surge in a most damaging past-time of barn bashing…that is ‘ramming’ his nice little shed! He’s actually bashed it with such great force that he’s moved the entire structure several inches – AND even lifted/twisted the roof rafters from the structure!!! He’s making toothpicks out of the nice cedar trim. NOTE TO SELF: Do not build a low roof-line within ram striking distance!

After numerous repairs to the shed, we initially buried several guard corner posts (to protect the low profile of the back of the shed) to allay potential ramming…but to no avail. He’d bash and smash and eventually topple over the posts. So, this past weekend we’ve taken some drastic measures and created a protective corner on either side of the shed. We’ve given Athos a battering board of sorts…

Athos is the big fellow standing next to the shed – looking so defiant! He’s probably laughing at us. Aramis is in the foreground – a Spring ram lamb and Athos’ son.

Here’s a close-up of the corner detail; we used salvaged wood, the odds & ends from previous projects (we rarely throw away any wood!) to build our recycled corner protectors.


The sheep no longer have access behind the shed. We’ll just have to wait and see how well this ‘wall’ stands up to Athos and his ramming!??

Well, this little ramming issue diverted us from our most current project – an additional sheep shed for my ewes. Remember I talked about recycling my kids play fort? One fort/tower was used to construct my goat kids play fort last year…and the second fort/tower (we had a ‘his’ and ‘her’ fort) was recently dismantled and provided enough wood to salvage for our ‘new’ sheep shed.

Here’s a pic of the framing. The shed’s purpose is to provide much-needed shade (in the heat of summer)  in addition to rainfall/winter – even though Shetland sheep are a hardy breed – I like HAPPY comfortable sheepies! Note the back roofline is higher off the ground! ha ha

It’s a work in progress…but the sheepies are already ‘trying’ it out. We still need to trim and finish the interior, shingle the roof, and construct a sort of ‘wind break’ panel in front of the door.

Next up: I already have an order in to hubby for another hay feeder for my sheepies. Poor hubby! But, there’s too many growing sheepies to gather comfortably around the existing hay feeder. Ya know what that means – I gotta sell some of my fine, single-coated ewe lambs. boo hoo. Any interest in adding a lovely sheepie to your farm? Inquiries welcome.

It’s official! Pookie, our ‘educated’ little stray kitty — my son brought home from college this past August — is part of the family. She’s healthy, up to-date on all her cat shots and successfully spayed ($$$ cha-ching $$$$)! It’s NOT  that I don’t adore kittens around the barnyard…but enough already!!!

Pookie is our milk’n buddy. She’d crawl right onto the milk stand and latch on to a goat’s teat if she could…! She’s make a purrrrfect ‘got milk’ campaign kitty!

Aside from all the animal antics, I’ve been busy knitting-up a few woolies for the shop, finally un-packed from my last fiber show, making soap and doing some  MAJOR cleaning/freshening in the shop and drying barn for the soon-to-be-here holidays! Yikes!

Been cleaning up the gardens too. Do you know which culinary herbs retain their ‘flavor’ best by drying OR freezing? Perhaps we’ll talk about preserving the herbal harvest next time…

On the menu for tonight, barbecued pulled pork and fresh from the garden slaw. Have a good day!

Not another sheep shed…?????

Yes, I’m afraid there’s one more simple sheep shed in the making…before the snow flies that is!

The last few days (over Labor Day weekend) we’ve been busily ‘taking down’ the remaining ‘his’ and ‘her’ play fort in the backyard. We plan to recycle and reuse the lumber to build a primitive simple shed for the sheepies…to provide additional shade in the front pasture in summer as well as protection from the elements in winter. Although, Shetland sheep are VERY hardy and don’t seem to mind the weather as much as the pansy goaties! *** hee hee *** 

There will be enough housing up front and out back for my growing flock (if they so desire). Which reminds me, I really have to sell some of my Spring lambs!!!! It will be very difficult since I’ve grown so attached to them ALL!

Hmmm…I wonder if the goaties would like a slide or two for an agility obstacle?

To be continued…

The wisteria is blooming.

I wanted to share a pic of our pergola covered with blooming wisteria. We had purchased several wisteria vines through a mail order catalog almost twenty years ago. A boxful of wimpy vines arrived and hardly seemed worth the investment, but look at it today!  

I also wanted to share info on a recent purchase – a pre-fab sheep shed of sorts. With lambs, kids, adults, yearlings and everything else in-between, we are finding it necessary to dedicate pastures and areas to certain age groups…but not without proper housing. In our research (which included cost, durability, timing, etc) for an appropriate ‘sheep shed’  – to be placed in the somewhat remote back pasture – we decided to purchase a ‘double-wide’.

Here’s a popular ‘single’ calf hutch that is quite utilitarian…and popular with our critters.

And this is our ‘double-wide’. Actually it’s more like 6-feet X 5-feet and tall enough to stand in! It was delivered on the back of a pick-up truck and included the timbers to which it’s bolted. Viola! Instant gratification!

It’s a Calf-Tel, Multi-Max, manufactured in Germantown, Wisconsin.

I think the ‘mob’ approves!

Today I moved Dove and her two ewe lambs from the stall in the barn to the pasture. I’ve been tracking my lamb’s progress; the lambs average about 3 pounds weight gain per week.

The spotted Shetlands are 6-weeks old and Dove’s white lamb is 1-week old. They grow fast!

Porthos, a ram lamb, has quite the horn growth already. Shetland ewes are hornless. Did you know there are Shetland breeders who are breeding genetically ‘polled’ Shetlands?

Tink’s ewe lambs are 2-weeks old and have been moved outdoors as well. It’s amazing how protective each of the ‘mom’s are toward their lambs!

Schaherezade’s kids are 1-week old (born the same day/time as Dove’s lambs). They have survived the disbudding ordeal and doubled their birth weight in one week! WOW! That’s a lot of nutritional goat milk! They’re a whopping 13-pounds and enjoy playing in the barnyard and helping me with chores! HA HA

Happy day!