Advent: December 1st

So Advent has begun… Well technically the true season of Advent started a couple of days ago on Advent Sunday but for the purposes of both the BarberBlackSheep Spinner’s Advent Calendar (BBSSAC for short!) and for the photo blogs we start on December the 1st.

So for today’s picture I’ve gone back in time. To 2005/2006


This is sort of where BarberBlackSheep started really. These are some of the commercial meat sheep we had before I got into the general spinning fibrey fluffy knittingness of life… and we all know what kind of a rabbit hole that turned into!!

These 9 blackfaces ewes were bred by our neighbours. They’re my favourite commercial sheep – Suffolk x Welsh Mule. Easy to look after and good at their job. We had them as 6month old hoggets and brought them on. The first year was hard work. When we moved here my parents bought 20 ewes of various breeds that came with the farm so they were experienced at lambing even though we weren’t and I learned as we went along with these old timers who knew the score. Eventually they got to the end of their lives and we bought in fresh breeding stock of my favourites – Suffolk/Suffolk x – just 10 ewes from next-door. These young ladies had no experience and were just under a year old when they gave birth (this is normal for commercial farms but not a practice I would chose to do now). The new lambing issues I faced that year were enormous, my father and I struggled with the presentations, the new  veterinary problems thrown up by young inexperienced ewes bearing large single lambs as well as the annual curve balls sheep throw at you generally just to keep you on your toes. Our lamb mortality rate was unacceptably high; our morale devastatingly low. We lost one of the ewes as well.

My neighbour had suggested at the time we bought them that rather than purchasing commercial ewes from him I should specialise in a rare breed or a fibre flock given that we had little land and didn’t keep sheep as a viable income source. He suggested Wensleydales as his partner is a weaver and is a fan of the fibre plus the wool commands one of the higher  prices from the British Wool Marketing Board. After our disastrous first season with the new ewes I wondered if I should have taken his advice especially as 2006 was the year I learned to spin and wool suddenly became a very interesting subject indeed and the previous year I had returned to knitting when my mother formed a small Knit n Natter group with our neighbours.

I gradually turned over in my mind what I should do. I looked at different sheep breeds and dismissed them one by one although for a time Wensleydales and Shetland were both strong contenders for the replacement breed. Finally in 2006 I decided I wanted Gotlands, sold these what we in the UK call shearlings and the Australians and New Zealanders call two tooths (2ths) back to our neighbours and I bought my first 4 Gotlands.

Lurking in this group of blackface ewes, the eagle eyed will spot 3 white faced sheep. These were Nell, Nelson and Napolean who were BFL x Charollais sheep from some of our original sheep. These three lovely sheep stayed with us till ripe old age and died a few winters ago one by one – Nelson and Napoleon only a short time apart, as devoted as they were to each other in life they wouldn’t be separated by death. I still have some of their fleeces which I can’t bear to sell. It’s lovely bouncy soft spinning fibre and one day I hope to have some more of these sheep in my flock.

And the pony at the back is of course a much younger Cobweb – now 35 years old and a little crumbly around the edges but still a very game old bird for all that!!

To add to my Advent season this year I’ve decided on an extra small discipline each day. I’m one of those paradoxical people who doesn’t like mess but seems incapable of remaining organised so I lurch from chaos to blitz in terms of tidying up. I actually find housework quite therapeutic but even so, I wish I was a neater person in daily living – I don’t like clutter even if it doesn’t look like that to others! It’s surprising how much mess one girl and two dogs can make really…

So today I had a little idea – Teatime Tidying! I thought that for every time I put the kettle on I would put the time it takes to boil the kettle and drink my cuppa to good use. I would pick just one small area, one work surface, one smeary dusty window, one drawer or shelf and tidy, sort and clean it. I’ve also loosely extended it to dealing with piles of paperwork waiting for attention and odd mending things like sewing a missing button on or fixing something that’s broken. The reasoning goes that come Christmas my house will be a nicer place for me to live in and presentable for visitors.

So far it’s working!


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