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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 100............Summer 1999  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Shepherding – Sometimes Bittersweet, Always Rewarding


Today’s walk through the pasture with the goats was a bittersweet experience for me. In the distance I could hear the back hoe digging its wide trench. Molly, my neighbor’s mule, will be buried there. Yesterday was the day of her demise, the day I watched a grown man cry as he said goodbye to a faithful friend.splash dot!


Yesterday began early. I was summoned by a neighbor at my doorstep (around these parts in the southern Oregon Cascade mountain range, a neighbor is anyone who lives within 10 minutes ride by horseback.) I hopped into her rig and we drove to the wide field where her brother, a hunting guide, pastures his mules. The Molly mule was missing. She was down, laying near the meandering creek, in a blackberry thicket, breathing hard. She was scratched up badly everywhere and definitely in shock. She did not want to rise no matter the prodding.splash dot!


No one really witnessed any of the events that must have transpired early that morning while we all slept. But it was evident that it was a cougar attack (distinct claw marks were evident.) In cases of livestock predation by cougar, the Department of Fish & Game allows a dog hunt. The dogs were summoned, but the cat had already made its disappearance. The hunt lasted nearly all day. The verdict was that the dogs were able to pick up strong scent, but continued to circle aimlessly, because the cat had claimed this territory far too long and its scent was everywhere. To bring down a mule as large as the thousand pound Molly was only a sign that again we have a big cat residing in the area.splash dot!


Coming Out Ahead

Yesterday’s experience of watching a beautiful red mule slowly breathe her last, hoping upon hope that the IV in her vein dripping life-sustaining electrolytes would bring her around, left me feeling a bit dizzy with emotion today. I carried the yew wood crook at my side and followed my charges around, with Uzi, the white guardian, my shadow. The band of goats led the way, of course. We traipsed the usual area that we’ve partitioned off as "theirs" -- some 35 wide open acres abutting a forest.splash dot!


Reflective, I mused on the teeter totter of mood swings that shepherding can bring. It certainly has been that for me. I have wound my heartstrings good and tight around these goats. Like Howard who lost his Molly mule yesterday, whose eyes were misty with tears from the bitter blow dealt by the forces of nature, I too face daily the somber specter of predation that periodically haunts this land. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.splash dot!


But, we do seem to be coming out ahead these days. The guardian dog seems to have a "night job" and works what my husband would term "graveyard shift." He sleeps in the daytime, especially when the thermometer soars. But it’s very apparent that he patrols in the night watches. My husband will sometimes wake me in the night hours whispering loudly something like, "Uzi’s really going at it tonight..." and I’ll strain to hear the dog (my ears not what they used to be). Sometimes I will hear the Kuvasz barking his staccato warning that something is awry. Other times I’ll hear nothing, but I’ll sink back into a deeper sleep knowing that things will be well in the morning with the white guardian with brown almond shaped eyes keeping vigil.splash dot!


On this fine sun filled morning that dapples the pasture with sunlight and shadow, the goats do not seem to think anything is wrong with their world. Like capricious teenagers whose stomachs are forever in need of filling, they run to all the young trees on the place - young maple saplings, young cedars and oaks, as well as young wild hazelnuts, as though the tender green leaves are candy. They don’t begin to munch the grasses and clovers in the open meadow until they have their fill of browse and tree leaves, including a few gnaws on madrone bark, a delicacy like chocolate might be to us, it seems.splash dot!


Working with Mohair

I am in the "creative phase" of my weaving project. This is the first time in a long time that Stan hasn't helped me to actually design the weaving. Usually I depend on his artistic skill to help design the woven article - its color and pattern, for instance. He and I discuss at length what weave the project will be done in (whether 2x2 twill, basketweave, plain weave, etc.) After it’s all on paper, I begin in earnest to handspin mohair and dye, if necessary.splash dot!


I have chosen the correct sett for my project (which will be a mohair shawl - something I've wanted for a very long time.) I've chosen 8 epi (ends per inch) which is just perfect for weaving the simple plaid. When weaving with handspun mohair, I have learned that I must be very careful in selecting a proper reed. Mohair has a terrible habit of "snagging" one yarn on another and, as with any handspun yarn, rubbing against a "too narrow" reed opening is devastating to mohair. An 8 epi reed is about as high a count as I can get away with without actually eventually tearing the yarn in my warp. If for some reason I want to weave 10 epi, I choose a 5 epi reed and stagger the threads 2 into each dent.splash dot!


Yes, weaving with a mohair warp (especially handspun) can be a touchy matter and I’ve even heard a few nay-sayers tell me it couldn’t be done. I always smile, for I know it can be done. This knowledge has come from much trial and error over the years. I have learned to work with handspun mohair as a warp, and I rarely want to set off a bomb under my loom, like in the old days.splash dot!


The spin of the warp thread is crucial. Mohair, especially when plyed, is extremely rugged. However, if I have not carefully set the twist of the yarn (washing and properly weighting until dry to achieve an even yarn) or if I have spun like a spider for some particular reason (which I have a tendency to do) and my yarn is too thin, even when plyed, I find that breakage on the loom is the ultimate disastrous result. Mohair makes an excellent warp yarn, but if it is handspun it must be carefully tested. I usually give it a good tug with my fingers and know what I’m looking for. If it snaps too readily, it still makes a fine weft yarn.splash dot!


The colors of this shawl will be simple. I've decided to weave it from all natural colored yarns. Though I would love to arbitrarily throw in a contrasting dyed deep maroon or vibrant purple yarn into the scheme of things, I will relent for the sake of my husband who has often chided me that natural colored yarns complement each other, and asks that I don’t mix dyed yarns with them. Author’s Note: I’m capitulating but just found some devastating dyed mohair – a soldier red and some midnight blue. I have put them aside for another shawl project. I can just see those two colors set against some natural light chestnut brown...splash dot!


Birth Announcements

Since my last writing our birth announcements are minimal to the point of embarrassment. We have three healthy bouncing kids with color genes, two of them doelings. Bubba did not twin this year. She looked again to be the size of the Goodyear blimp, as she does each year, but only gave birth to one kid. The kid is a perfect replica of Bubba, blue eyes and all. We have already fallen quite in love with "Dolly."splash dot!


When a little doeling was born out of black Isha, she was definitely faded red, a color that angora goat enthusiasts know will fade gradually with time until it is purely white. There are color genetics to deal with when breeding your colored buck to a colored doe. Perhaps in the future the moorit colored buck, will produce rich color when bred with Isha.splash dot!


Our handspinner's flock behind the fences is still small. We have 20 goats now. Four of my does will still be giving birth sometime this month and we have taken the "plunge" and purchased a nice chocolate colored (when born) young buckling. Of course these dark brown kids usually lighten with age.splash dot!


He’s not on the ranch as yet. He’ll be ours after he’s been weaned, a couple of months from now. I’m ecstatic, as I have wanted a buck capable of producing "brown" for as long as I can remember.splash dot!


He’s out of a son of Kidoebuck Koda, a dark brown doe Kidoebuck obtained from a South Dakota purebred herd. In 1994 Koda won "grand champion doe" at the Black Sheep Gathering. The judge, Bobbie Meyer, had this to say about Koda: "Incredible fleece, very dense, very uniform, covered all throughout her body, she has breed characteristics and a very interesting tremendous fleece." Of course our hope here at this ranch is that her grandson will inherit her fleece traits as well as pass them on.splash dot!


The color spectrum I can obtain from our goats is pretty basic right now. Some lovely almonds, reds, silvers and blacks. The brown and his gene pool ought to complete the herd nicely.splash dot!


Fleece Improvement, A Constant Goal

Since I "major" more in the fleece harvesting than anything else, I am trying to narrow the micron count of my fleeces. Some of the older does produce excellent "doll hair", but their fleeces do not excite me in the way of making a fine, soft yarn. These are my grade "west Tejas" does, born in hot desert country not far from Marty Robbins’ ‘Rosa’s Cantina and old Mexico.’ They have been here on this ranch for nearly as long as I have. Some would call them "cull does." I have chosen to let them remain and procreate. Bred by Scion, an incredible registered buck, their progeny’s fleeces excel.splash dot!


I weave with mohair yarns that I have handspun from the very finest fleeces in the herd. Usually that means I am utilizing a fleece from a kid or yearling. (Second to fourth clip, usually). There are adults in the herd, though, who still produce a fine, extremely beautiful fleece that could easily qualify as "kid fleece." Both of our present bucks fit that category. Black lustrous mohair with no hint of silver or grey, covers Zebulun, our five year old buck. Likewise, the registered buck, Scion, white in color, though nearly four years of age, possesses a kid like fleece, the kind you can spin into yarn, knit into a sweater, and wear next to the skin without worry of scratchiness.splash dot!


Entering a New Market

Since our ranch website has been on the internet for a little over a year, I have been receiving more and more requests from people all around the country in regard to: (a) woven articles made of mohair (b) goats for sale; (c) fleeces for sale, and (d) doll hair. In about that order.splash dot!


Doll hair enthusiasts covet long locks from primarily white goats. They don't seem to mind it if the hair is a bit coarse (which is a great way to utilize some of that adult hair that is too coarse for wearable garments.) Most of them prefer a lock that is longer than 6 inches. 7 to 10 inches in length is the preference. You cannot obtain a 10 inch lock from a goat who produces approximately 1 inch of hair per month without waiting through a shearing. In the case of shearing Scion, or some of the grade does, Stan and I wait 8 months.splash dot!


We run into difficulties at times. Once in awhile we are too late. For whatever reason, the fiber has matted at the base and an unusable end product is the result. (Though never with Scion – he just doesn’t MAT). I always feel badly when we have "wasted" 8 months of intensive shepherding on a fleece that is unusable. If you can get away with it, it’s well worth the wait to obtain the incredible length, which is a boon to handspinners because the extra length seems to make it just that much easier to spin.splash dot!


In Closing...

I have never been to Scotland nor have I been to England or Ireland. But I have listened to the lilt of Scottish and Celtic tunes and love them passionately. When I hear the music, I see in my mind's eye green velvet hillsides that stretch forever with an azure sky forming a ceiling on nature's cathedral. There are sheep in this mental picture, grazing peaceably on velvet green hillsides.splash dot!


The interesting parallel is that our ranch looks very much like this at this time of year. Instead of sheep, of course, it is a band of angora goats. As I walk past the barnsite out to a knoll that crests the pasture, before me are vast stretches of velvety green as far as I can see, dotted like calico with wild flowers.splash dot!


With spring well on its way to summer, I’m a happy shepherdess. The carpet of green under my feet is pure luxury. Our flock is brimming with health, I’ve got a moorit colored buck on the way, and next weekend is the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon. Now, who could ask for more?splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484