Adjusting to winter on the farm

Winter is my least favorite season on the farm (actually it’s my least favorite season for anything!)  A number of things have to change and be done to prepare for the snow and cold for the animals.  I’ve gone through several winters with the goats now and feel like I have that dialed in pretty well.  It’s a first for me with the rabbits and I continue to learn and make adjustments.

I lose some of the conveniences, like the running water faucet we installed in the barnyard last year.  I switch over to a heated bucket for the goats and each of the rabbits and bring water out from the house twice a day.  Fresh water is very important for all of them.

Not much else changes for the goats.  They’ll huddle up more in the barn or on the porch together.  They go out in the snow and are much more open to that vs. rain, which they typically hate.  The big change I notice with them is their coat.  The cold spurs on the growth of their fleece very quickly, with my spring shearing typically being more productive than in the fall.  The cold doesn’t bother them once their coats begin to grow in.

 

The rabbits on the other hand required a number of changes.  Angora rabbits tolerate the cold much better than the heat and with a few winter tweaks to their environment, they are quite happy.  We made little wooden boxes, a hutch within a hutch, to keep them cozy.  And I provide bedding of hay within, although I should really switch to straw so their bedding lasts a little longer, they keep eating it.  And I have heat lamps in front of their wooden hutch and turn those on anytime it’s 10 degrees or below.

As you can see, my rabbit yard is built into a corner of the barnyard and is generally well protected.  I added extra canvas to close off one side.  But the big improvement, completed yesterday, was truly closing  off a portion (8′ x 8′) of the yard.  Rabbits need exercise and normally enjoy time out in the large exercise yard almost daily.  I originally bought some baby gates and was going to bring them into our kitchen to run around for exercise during bad weather.  Aside from the pain this was going to be, I realized that it would be unhealthy for the rabbits, due to the constant changes in temperature.

 

So now I have a convenient, outdoor exercise area that I’ll be able to use even when there is snow on the ground outside.  And this got finished just in the knick of time given the storm that rolled in overnight.  It’s built in a way that still allows a lot of light through during the day and is semi-temporary, easily brought down and put back up for next winter.  Lily was the first to try it out, and she approves 🙂  All thanks to my handy husband!

 

 

Fluffy bunny to bare bunny

Every 90 days the German Angora rabbit needs to be clipped.  They don’t lose their fleece naturally.  Letting their hair grow too long is actually a health hazard.  This time frame also coincides with the perfect fleece length for spinning.  The average amount of fleece from a German Angora clipping is 10 – 16 oz.  Comparatively, the little rabbits actually produce more fleece than my goats do over a year.

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This was my 2nd time clipping Lily and much different than the first time when I sat outside with scissors and her jumping off my lap every 10 minutes or so.  We’ve wizened up, and with the help of my husband we bring her inside where there are no distraction and trim her with a combination of scissors and electric clippers.  It took just about an hour.  At the same time, we clip her nails with little cat nail clippers and then she’s fully groomed!

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From wool roving to my 1st skeins of yarn

After I got the rabbits I realized I could make my own yarn.  There’s no need for a mill, because Angora rabbits’ fleece is soft and ready to spin right off the rabbit. With the goats, there is a guard hair layer that must be stripped out to leave just the soft fiber, so I will send their fleece to a mill for processing. At the CT Sheep and Wool festival in April I bought a drop spindle and various kinds of roving (merino wool, alpaca, baby llama blends).

I chose a drop spindle over a wheel for a couple reasons:

  • It’s cheap to get into and see if you like it – cost me $14
  • It’s ultra-portable – I’ve seen people walking around fairs while spinning yarn – maybe one day I’ll get there.

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I was given a quick lesson when I purchased the spindle and I was off to a pretty good start. But I wanted to be sure I wasn’t learning any bad habits and had several open questions. After a 1 hour lesson at Madison Wool, I felt much more comfortable. I also supplemented my learning with the book “Respect the Spindle” by Abby Franquemont which I also recommend.

And here is my first ball of yarn. I ended up making two of these single ply yarns and then plying them together with my drop spindle to make a two ply yarn. From there I used a Niddy Noddy to turn my yarn into skeins.

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My next adventure will be to learn about hand dying, I’m almost ready to try it out. I’m kind of nervous trying it out on these, I don’t want to potentially ruin all of my first time hard work. But I’ve gotten this far with learning as I go, so I’ll take the chance and report back!

Introducing Leftbendfarm.com

I’m excited to put up this site and begin sharing my barnyard and related (i.e. knitting and fiber) adventures!  As interesting things happen here on the farm, I’ll be sure to post.  Thanks for following!