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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 106............Winter 2000  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Your Buck is Half Your Herd, Mohair Sales, Winter Pastures


Mid-December again? It's hard to believe – but my elderly neighbors just cut down a pretty little fir tree and dragged it on home a few minutes ago, and bright lights sparkle and twinkle along the country lanes that lead to our little ranch in southern Oregon's cascade mountains. The festive season always means a busy one for us at Singing Falls and usually finds me spending hours before the spinning wheel and loom.splash dot!


But, afterall, it's officially been autumn for awhile, and definitely a dry one. Fall mornings with their pipe-freezing and then thawing-in-the-sun cold have been warmed by sunny afternoons that come skating in with vibrant blue skies. With November's cold mornings arrived the veritable mayhem that takes place annually in the goat pens.splash dot!


This year four zealous bucks were sequestered "behind bars". In all actuality, each buck was placed in solitary confinement, his pen far from the other bucks. The bucks were vying for the attentions of the does (whose coquettish flirtations only augmented the amorous ambitions of the males.) The bucks snorted, laid massive heads low, and ran pell-mell into the fences that surrounded them, hoping, it seems, to pull out posts, wire, and any other thing that stood between them and their singular target – the does. Our fences barely endured autumn and stand now in rickety shambles. It is still amazing that the fence that Scion, the large, ringlet laden registered buck nearly disassembled, is still upright. The rites of angora goat mating season are never good for fences.splash dot!


I am always saddened to read of the loss of shepherds in our midst, for we are a strong yet dwindling breed, it seems. Tears glazed my eyes when I realized we had lost Joan Wootton. Reading that she had passed on caught me off guard, and as usual, made me pensive with the realization that this present life is fragile, tenuous, and its thread easily breakable. I'll miss Joan's words of wisdom and gentleness with her flock which was so aptly expressed by her written word.splash dot!


"Your Buck is Half Your Herd"

How many times have I heard that phrase? Indeed, it is so true. Imagine our surprise during this autumnal breeding season when we realized that one of our bucks is quite possibly sterile. Twelve of our finest does were bred to him (along with eight does belonging to friends). The dates of breeding were carefully calendared, and we waited with anticipation. Like clockwork, unfortunately, each doe we had bred to the silver/blue buck with cloud-soft fleece flagged another heat within the allotted 18 – 21 days. Not yet believing our bad luck, we again bred them to him in their second heats.splash dot!


It has been difficult watching each doe eventually come into yet a third heat. Angora goats seldom breed past the month of December (we had an early January breeding take place one year – but that is a rare enough occurrence in most herds.) It is heartbreaking to think this fine specimen of a buck is sterile, but all signs point to the fact. There is a possibility we will have him tested. Recently, in speaking with another angora goat breeder, I found that sterility in bucks occurs more often with the finer fleeced animals.splash dot!


Thankfully we had a quality colored buck as "back up", and Dakota, though young, serviced all the does that the buck of our choice could not. As I write this I am still befuddled by the three year old silver/blue buck's inability to service any of the does and a dread that some veterinarian will discover that the buck is worthless for breeding.splash dot!


Mohair Sales

Again, our website has been bringing in business, and our cottage industry has been going full bore. On any given day I can open our e mail program and find questions about the goats and the mohair they produce or an order. This November, for instance, found me: washing and sorting "Santa Beard mohair". These locks must be carefully sorted from fleeces that we have shorn at eight month intervals from our white goats. The ringlets are usually at least 8" in length and don't always need the tight crimp that a handspinner is looking for. Adult mohair is often the best fleece for the Santa beards that are placed on ceramic faces with rosy cheeks. I have absolutely marveled at the creations of some of my customers.splash dot!


On the heels of Santa beard orders came a request to fashion a kid mohair scarf for a woman who is an aspiring singer. She wanted a warm scarf to protect her singing voice during winter's cold season. Having been to Ireland in the recent past, she still recalled the mohair scarves and shawls that vendors sold in the Irish marketplace. Her words stated that the mohair garments "seemed to quite literally have a coat of fur growing from them". She asked us if we knew what she meant. I had to laugh at the description. What she was trying to describe (and did a great job doing so!) was the "loft" that mohair is known for.splash dot!


Usually when I weave my mohair garments, while the garment is still on the loom and before I advance the warp, I take an instrument known as a "flicker" and gently comb the fiber that is stretched tautly upon the loom with a quick action of my hand and wrist. It is easiest to do this while the garment is still on the loom, though one can still comb loft into the garment after it's been removed from the loom. Of course I knew the kid mohair scarf would encircle her neck (she had previously written me explaining that she usually is allergic to wools which often made her "itchy"), and I was a bit fearful that even the kid mohair would cause a problem for her. So, when the scarf was off the loom, washed, dried and combed – I completed my task. Carefully, with a pair of tweezers, I pulled any miniscule weed or hay stem from the garment. The piece, after this ministration, was magnificently clean.splash dot!


I don't always have the time to work so diligently with my loomed pieces, and must explain to my customers that the occasional weedy stem or flake of hay will often come out on its own with consistent use of the garment. And, yes, I wait with bated breath to hear what my customer has to say about the finished product I have sent on its way. When this woman wrote me immediately after receiving her scarf stating "this is the most beautiful, warm and SOFT garment I have ever seen or owned…" I wiped my brow and smiled. It is our experience that the softest and silkiest fiber next to the skin is kid mohair. First shearing is nearly silk-like. I rarely weave with adult mohair unless I am weaving a rug.splash dot!


I was commissioned to weave a Scandinavian rug by a woman who lived in Manhattan, New York. I laughed at the paradox of a weaver who lived in the back woods of southern Oregon, quite hidden in a high mountain valley within a town whose populace is possibly 50 mountain dwellers (and that includes all the dogs) weaving an item for Manhattan, New York. I knew the project was a vast one, and knew I would be spinning mohair from sun up to sun down for weeks, in order to obtain enough weft to complete the 6 x 9 foot mohair rug ordered. Plush and thick with mohair tendrils, the weft would have to be spun from washed, yet uncarded, mohair.splash dot!


I sat at the spinning wheel treadling carefully, watching tendriled yarns move into the whorl and pile onto my bobbin. Bringing large portions of white fleece into my hands from bags of clean mohair at my side, I purposely spun rather cumbersome single-ply yarns from the curls in my lap. Finally, when I had approximately 20 pounds of mohair weft skeined up, I had enough for the tightly packed rug. The warp, Irish linen, was in place (with a 4 epi sett) and I began my "double width weave"** project.splash dot!


After we had shipped the very large rug to New York, I received an e mail thanking me for my "diligent and careful work" with the following additional words: "The rug was just TOO LOVELY to put on the floor. I decided that the woven masterpiece just had to be a bedspread." I shook my head a bit, knowing that I had woven yards of adult mohair into that "rug" and I winced a bit to think that there was still the odd "weed seed" or grass stem embedded in the thick weft. Especially, though, I thought about the fact that adult mohair is always a bit "scratchy" next to the skin. I drew the conclusion that these Manhattan folks were a hardy breed after all!splash dot!


Winter Pastures

Everything is green out there but I rarely shepherd the goats these days. Only when I have needed a break from the tedious and sometimes repetitious task of weaving do I wander into the goat yard, open gates, and herald them forth. At those times we, a line of colored goats and their shepherdess, meander past the historical Indian graveyard whose sign reads in old west script "Thomason Cemetery" into an adjacent field where the venerable, old oaks stand. Often enough the goats are content to browse nearby, which gives me time to search out a rock bench in view of my charges. If the seating is halfway comfortable, I pull forth the book I've brought along with me.splash dot!


Winter's doleful skies are only now beginning to pellet us with the long-promised rains that I'm so accustomed to by now. While the rest of you build your snowmen, ice fish, ski and sled, we in Oregon's southern reaches will be content to watch our herds as they unfurl upon verdant green runways and pastures. Indeed, that's always an idyllic and pastoral vista to behold throughout the long winter months.splash dot!




**Note: Double width weave is a means to obtain a weaving wider than the span of one's loom. It is a fascinating technique, but I do suggest you obtain a lesson before attempting it, if you are a novice.splash dot!


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