Sheep Day

Sheep Day

We have less than 10 hours of daylight now, as we slip deeper into the Dark Days of the year. The cold and wind of November has finally caught up to us here in western Maine. The window of time offering reasonably comfortable working conditions is only about 4 hours at midday. Still wrapping up winter preparations, I’ve taken to working straight through lunchbreaks, pushing hard to get everything crossed off my list. I’m sore and worn out, but honestly loving every minute of it (even if the experience is better appreciated after the moment has passed, lol.)

sheep day at runamuk
Gearing up for “Sheep Day” at Runamuk.

Included in my former CSA program, was a weekly email farm-update that my members absolutely loved. I received so many wonderful notes about how much these households enjoyed my stories from the farm. Since my CSA is no longer in operation I’ve been missing that weekly outlet, so I’ve decided to post those updates to the blog from now on. Be sure to check back weekly for a new farm-update!

LAST WEEK

Our primary focus over the last week, has been the annual mucking of the winter ewe-shed and nursery. Partly because we use the deep-litter method and partly due to the time and labor involved in the project, mucking is something we only do once a year. It’s a dreaded task, but with much reward.

mucking the sheep shed
We removed 68 wheelbarrows of “muck” from this shed!

As a bootstrap-farm, we primarily use hand-tools for everything we do here at Runamuk. What’s more, the winter ewe-shed isn’t built to allow a tractor to move in and out of it, though the neighbors did offer to bring theirs over. So the wheelbarrow and spading fork are the tools we use. It is an arduous and back-breaking task.

The muck in the ewe-shed (for those who have never had the privilege of the experience) is comprised of a combination of hay refuse and bedding straw. This is trampled to the ground by the many hooves of our sheep, peed and pooped on, and trampled some more. Layers upon layers of this material gets packed down over the course of our long winter. It piles up several feet before I am able to turn the sheep out on the field in May.

Sometimes the digging goes easily and steadily. Other spots are so tightly packed that you’re literally prying these flakes of muck up off of the mound. It’s a miserable task and both BraeTek (my 16yo son who works with me) and I have pulled muscles in our own turn during the process.

Yet, every wheelbarrow full of this precious muck going into the garden is a huge asset. The organic matter and fertilizer will improve our poor soil in the best way possible. Then, if we calculate the monetary value of this organic material, we can further validate the keeping of livestock on our small holdings. By providing such material, the sheep are contributing to the farm that supports them.

Opening Day at Sugarloaf

Aside from the mucking and the ongoing winter preparations, the other notable thing that happened last week was that the Mountain had their opening day for the 2023-2024 ski season. When I was up there for the Farmer-to-Farmer Conference, they were busy checking lifts and regrouping their snow-patrol. According to their social media, they’ve been making snow these last couple of weeks and their website reports 8 trails open.

birthday cake
We celebrated my sister’s birthday last week, too! Check out the cake I made for her!

This is good news for Runamuk, and our farmstayBnB is already booking into January. I’m looking forward to the influx of visitors. It’s kinda fun meeting people from all over the world, receiving them along their travels and welcoming them to the safety of my little farm. I like feeding them up and sending them off on whatever big adventure they have planned for the day.

Admittedly, New Portland is in the middle of no where, but that actually makes us a good jumping point for outdoor recreational activities in every direction. Skiers in particular love that we serve breakfast as early as 6am because that means they can eat a fabulous meal and be out the door early enough to make first chair on the mountain. If they only have 1 day to ski before they have to head back home, they want to make the most of that day.

I’ve been having fun, too, playing around with some “Seasonal Specials” in addition to my regular menu. I did apple-cinnamon muffins in September and pumpkin-spice pancakes in October. I’ve done an apple-ginger oatmeal using steel-cuts oats and finely minced crystalized ginger. For December, I’m thinking of incorporating gingerbread somehow, but I’m still mulling it over.

To book a stay with Runamuk, you can contact the farm directly (email recommended) OR find us on Airbnb to book through their site.

THIS WEEK

Aside from our Thanksgiving preparations and festivities, this week is largely about “Sheep Day”. The day in which I have to take my annual “harvest” off to the facility that will process that harvest into meat.

It’s hard to even write about this event in such cold and clinical terms, when every one of my animals have names and personalities that have my heart. It takes about 18 months for my finnsheep to reach their full size. That’s more than enough time to fall in love with someone five-times over (especially an animal!). And then there are those who are with me for several years as breeding stock.

This year I am sending my prized ram, Pippin.

pippin the ram on sheep day
Pippin the Ram. Leave a comment if you know where his name comes from!

One of my founding flock-members 4yrs ago, Pippin has always been the sweetest, most lovable guy! You hear stories about aggressive rams, but I have been fortunate to have rams who act more like dogs and simply want love and attention. Which I am happy to give, lol.

Pippin is a big animal, and with other rams available, I should have sent him last year, but I wasn’t ready to part with him. I knew then that it would only make it harder this year, and here I am…sniveling as I think about the way this woolly animal presses his hard head against my thigh, and the way he leans his muscular bulk against me when I hit that itchy spot.

This is that 1 bad day that we talk about. That day that we dread as farmers…

What are they for?

pippin smolder
The Pippin “Smolder”…

This is one of the frequently asked questions I receive about the sheep. Visitors want to know if we use them for wool, milk, or meat. The answer always surprises them.

I actually keep sheep for none of those reasons. I keep the sheep for the services they provide the farm, using them as part of my strategy to remediate and manage our 10-acre pasture, as well as utilizing their manure to improve soil conditions in the farm’s market garden.

I allow the sheep to breed so that I can sell a few lambs in the spring to pay for their hay. And because we can only overwinter 10-12 of them, few are sent to processing. Some of that bi-product is sold to local customers, but mostly it feeds my own household.

Sheep Day

selfie with pippin
Pippin and I, summer of 2019.

I feel good, though, about the quality of life I’ve provided for my sheep. Better than good, really. I’m damned proud of the work I do to manage this flock. Their good health and good nature is proof enough of the care they are receiving, I think. That’s reward in itself for this humble farmer.

So tomorrow on Sheep Day─with the help of my neighbors─I will load Pippin and the other designated sheep into the back of a truck. I’ll make the hour and a half drive to Maple Lane Farms in Charleston, where I’ll have to unload them, bid them farewell and walk away from these sweet animals.

I pray for strength…

Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Thank you for following along with the story of this lady-farmer! It truly is a privilege to live this life serving my family and community, and protecting wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook!

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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm