Head of the Class


Every morning starts with heading to the barn to throw down some hay for the sheep and goats. Annabelle’s always right on me.

Good morning, Annabelle.

She wants some lovin’.

And a good scratch. MinnieBelle isn’t quite as friendly, but she’s not unfriendly, either. Mama likes me, and babies take their cues accordingly.

She’s got her mama’s face, but she’s a Cotswold through and through in her body type and coat.

Mr. Cotswold was always in fine form with his skill at passing his long, curly coat onto every lamb he fathered at Stringtown Rising. We never got a pure Cotswold as neither of the Cotswold ewes we had ever lambed, but with all the crosses he produced with the Jacob ewes, they all had their mama’s coloring in the dark wool, but the wool itself came out long and curly.

Miss Crazy, on the right, is a 50/50 Cotswold-Jacob cross. She was one of Jester’s babes. She was the lamb that was constantly in the road at Stringtown Rising. She hasn’t escaped here once, so I’ve just about decided to keep her!

Junior there on the left is her ram lamb. Notice he looks just like her. The Jacob ewes all produced lambs with Mr. Cotswold’s curly coat, their coloring, and also their body type. Crazy was bred back to Mr. Cotswold, but that didn’t change the dynamic. Still no Cotswold heft–just the curly coat along with the dark coloring and the lighter Jacob body type.

I’m keeping Junior around long enough for a breeding, just because he’s handy at the moment, then he’ll have to go. Crazy’s offspring from him will be a sort of convoluted second/third-generation breed-back and I’m not going any further, plus his body type just isn’t what I’m going for. I’ve had people inquiring into purchasing lambs, but around these parts, the interest isn’t in the exotic wool. It’s meat. Besides being related too closely to both Crazy, his mother, and MinnieBelle (half sibling), he doesn’t have the body type for my purposes. He isn’t related to Annabelle at all, of course, so I’m hoping she might produce a ram lamb from a breeding with him that will have some heft, but we’ll see. I won’t keep a ram lamb from either MinnieBelle or Crazy next time because of the relation combined with my desire to breed out the Jacob genetics. If I don’t have a ram lamb from Annabelle that fits the bill, I’ll probably go looking for an “outside” suitable ram lamb and bring in something fresh.

I’m not sure about whether or not I’ll keep any ewe lambs, either. I’m not particularly looking to increase my sheep, but it depends on how sales of lambs go and how the pasture works out. I have a lot of pasture here, and plenty of rotational fields planned for the four sheep I have, but sheep eat a lot and I don’t want to devote any more space to them than I already have planned.

Crazy was mama-reared, and like most mama-reared sheep, this means she thinks I’m out to kill her, and so of course Junior thinks I’m out to get him, too. Well, actually, eventually…. NEVER MIND. They watch me curiously as I enter the front barn yard to head for the hayloft and the morning ritual, but they are quick to run when I pass by too closely.


Barn cats run toward me.

Then back to the barn door.

I mean, what if I forget the way? They have to lead. They know that hay time also means that while in the loft, I’m going to dump some cat food in their pan. They don’t keep the mice under control for nothin’, you know.

Once I get to the hayloft (after escaping Annbelle’s clutches–she’d like some cat food, too), I roll a bale over to the loft door.

This whole process makes me feel like I’m on vacation. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to get a bale of hay to anyone anywhere at Stringtown Rising. (Though I tried. Sometimes it could be quite ridiculous and exhausting and a total production.) All I have to do here is push down a bale from the towering stacks in the loft, roll it end to end over to the loft opening, and push it out.


There’s MinnieBelle!

Notice the rest of the sheep have positioned themselves at a reasonable distance from the drop point.

Sheep brain cells are limited. Apparently, between the four of them, MinnieBelle doesn’t get to have any. OR she’s the smartest one! The head of the class! She’s gonna be first!

Either way, one of these days, she’s going to get her head taken off by a bale of hay.


I hang around the loft, petting the cats. Sometimes I hang out the window to the rear barn yard and talk to BP and Glory Bee, or Jack and Poky, whoever is out around there. Then go back to check on MinnieBelle again. And admire the view. I moved here on the brink of winter, and I stand here at the loft door, staring out over the pastures and hills and trees and imagine what it will all look like in the spring.

Note that the goats are clumped over there at the fenceline. They’re bawling their heads off, annoyed with their waitress at the breakfast service delay. I yell to them, “YOU NEED TO TALK TO MINNIEBELLE.”

It reminds me of the quiet time you get at a cow’s udder when you’re hand milking in the morning. Nothing to do but what you’re doing, nowhere to go but where you are. Sometimes MinnieBelle eventually forgets I went into the barn at all and wanders off. Other days, she sticks right there and just won’t budge. If I have other things to do, I give up and hone my aim as I push the bale out in a new game in which I attempt to avoid striking the target.


I toss down more hay to load up in my handy little cart and take to the goats, who never believe it was all MinnieBelle’s fault. They never leave me a tip. I’m the worst waitress ever.

I go back to the house with visions of spring pastures still dancing in my head. This is a beautiful farm, and I have so many plans. There are difficulties and worries, and more difficulties and more worries, but every morning I get to go out to the barn, scratch a sheep’s head, admire the view out the front of the loft, lean out the back of the loft to say, “Glory Bee Bee! Glory Bee Bee!” then toss down some hay and walk back to the house with a trail of chickens on my heels like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown with my own poof of dust (er, feathery bodies) billowing from behind.

A reader emailed me recently asking me if the farm life was really worth all the obstacles and money drains and nights up with worry.

Oh, yes.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on January 25, 2012  

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30 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 1-25

    Beautiful sheep.Junior doesn’t seem to be as dangerous as Mr Cotswold was at this point.I love their wool. What have you been doing with their fleeces?

  2. 1-25

    I love cotswold and jacob wool too. Makes some darn sturdy, warm socks. You might consider finding some metal clanky things and tying them to a rope and fastening it from the loft. When the sheep won’t move, toss it over the edge a few times, that should teach them to get out of the way. It only took our ponies one or two days to learn, but of course, make sure the rope is short enough that it’s not going to actually reach them. Or you could panel off a target area to aim for if you don’t like the clanky thing idea.

  3. 1-25

    Hey Suzanne, I wish I had some of that wool from those sheep! I have been knitting all winter, and making wool slippers! :)

    Suzanne, I read your blog every day, and awhile back you mentioned getting a herd of cows. IT seems that most people now days stick to getting angus cows, and I wanted to tell you (if you didn’t know already) that they tend to be on the mean side. I have had lots of them and lots of herfords as well. I suggest that you get herfords, since you are alone there on the farm. They are more calm and easier to handle. I have been a farmer all my life and I would never consider raising angus by myself.

    If you have a place where you can keep the chickens in where it’s warm, you WILL get eggs. I never had a problem getting eggs all winter. I kept a light bulb on, for heat, about 16 inches above the floor, in the middle of the chicken house. It always worked for me and I got the same amount of eggs in the winter that I did in the summer. Some hay on the floor helps too.

    Your new farm is beautiful! Good luck with everything there!

  4. 1-25

    Have you ever thought that all of the troubles you have went thru in your life has brought you to where you are today? And for most of us we would say…life is good.

  5. 1-25

    Thanks, Brenda! I was thinking Black Angus because they are common and easy to find here. I’ll look around for Herefords. Do they throw smaller calves, suitable to a Jersey, do you know?

  6. 1-25

    A beautiful post! I love the part about hand milking. :) It sums it up well. A time to just be and do, And yes, it is all worth it.

  7. 1-25

    There is a huge herd of Hereford cattle up the road from me. The first year they were there, they used a Hereford bull. The next year a few Angus bulls. Most of the calves were black. I like colored cows so I think the Herefords are prettier. And they are some meaty animals too. Those calves seem to grow really fast. And they grass feed them with some hay. Big chunky cows. And I have never seen a dead calf anywhere. They are breeding later now too. They did breed where they’d calve in Jan. or Feb. Now they do fall calving.

    And that little MinnieBelle is adorable. I love her little face. So sweet. I have 3 Katahdin ewes that will lamb in March! I will be selling the lamb per pound in the fall. I think I will make way more money that way as opposed to just selling the live lamb. And I have 2 Finn ewes that I am not sure are bred yet. They will be kept for their wool and probably the lambs for meat too. Depends on what they look like. But I think 5 ewes is a good number and easy to manage.

    And I would say the same thing about my farm. I have 95 less acres and probably worry just as much as you do with all yours. But I say yes, it is worth it. I cannot see myself anywhere else but here. Well, maybe a bigger farm some day. But I love this. And I do it myself too. So keep on doing what you’re doing.

  8. 1-25

    Thank you the wonderful post. I look forward to them every day!! :sun:

  9. 1-25

    MinnieBelle is still the cutest lamb!

    Have you ever considered Kyloe (Scottish Highland Cattle)? I saw my first one up in Scott County, TN a number of years ago. Leaner meat, very hardy. There is an association: http://www.highlandcattleusa.org

    Part of my long term farm dream . . . :)

  10. 1-25

    Oh yes…living on a farm is definitely worth it! :sheep:

  11. 1-25

    Whoa, looks like a lot of hay being wasted down there. YOu might consider a hay rack for them. Animals are notorius for wallowing in their own feed.

  12. 1-25

    My parents raised registered Hereford cattle. They had a Hereford bull (Larry Domino XIII)and several cows. I remember my mother saying that they made such large calves that were hard for the mothers to deliver, and it was hard on the calf. She spent many nighttime hours sitting up with/at a birthings. (My father worked nights.) My family were all tea-teetotalers, but there was a bottle of whiskey up high in the kitchen cabinet that was used only for helping the newborn calves to get up on their feet when they had been a long hard delivery. If they were weak and limp and mother couldn’t get them up, that was her back-up plan that did seem to help (yuck!) the poor baby. I thought that was so strange, but she said they had to get up and nurse or they would die. Some were just too weak. That seemed plausible, because I had seen the cowboys in movies give each other a swig of whiskey before they took out the bullets that had hit them. My father eventually sold the bull because he tried to be playful with Daddy, and scared him when he penned him to the barn wall. The bull was so strong he was dangerous even though he was like a pet. This is from childhood memories so you need to check with someone else for a more official answer to your question.

  13. 1-25

    Come shearing time, I’d just about guarantee you have plenty of spinners who read this who would gladly buy a fleece! Me included, of course. ;) I’d quite happily buy a Jacob or Cotswold or any combination thereof!

  14. 1-25

    OMG! I love MinnieBelle, I wish I had one just like her! Of course she would have to live in the house! :lol:

  15. 1-25

    Beautiful post, Suzanne. Thanks! Can’t wait for the book.

  16. 1-25

    I don’t know if I would suggest keeping Annabel’s ram for breeding. He’ll be pretty well related to everybody. I remember the people you got Annabelle from had suffolks. Perhaps you could get a ram from them or have a boyfriend come over. Suffolks I think are the main stream meat breed. Hampshires are also used for meat and actually have pretty good wool quality if you want to keep breeding spinners as well .

  17. 1-25

    Look out below!! Suzanne,love the post! Your sheep are so beautiful..they are one of my favorite animals.

  18. 1-25

    I’m just wondering if you’ve ever thought about mini-Herefords or Dexters? I’ve heard that they’re growing in popularity, so you might find a market for breeding stock, besides for the meat. And they don’t eat as much as a full-sized cow.

  19. 1-25

    MinnieBelle is absolutely gorgeous! I hadn’t seen a picture of her in a while. The black cat is too. :sheep:

  20. 1-25

    I am LOVING that black kitty! One of these days I’m going to come to one of your party-class-thingys and spend all my time sneezing and rubbing the animals. lol

  21. 1-25

    :woof: O’ Yes a farm is well worth it :snoopy:

  22. 1-25

    I agree with your observation that mama-raised farm animals are skittish compared to hand-raised. I experienced this with my chickens.

  23. 1-26

    I agree with Whaledancer the breed my Chiropractor has and he says its so much better they take far less pasture. Good meat. Good luck with teaching the sheep to move out of the way.

  24. 1-26

    Every time I see a pic of YOUR barn Suzanne -I smile and say to myself-I’m so glad Suzanne has her barn-that woman so deserves this beautiful barn! You rock S–rock on!! :sheepjump:

  25. 1-26

    Hi, Suzanne! I googled “miniature cattle” and found several sites. They would be perfect with your miniature goats and miniature donkeys! And probably a lot easier to keep. They grow to 30 – 36 inches ( give or take) , and are adorable! I didn’t know there was such a thing as miniature cattle.

  26. 1-26

    They can’t be too miniature….. I’m trying to get a Jersey and Jersey-Brown Swiss pregnant……

  27. 1-26

    I am predicting magical spring country views out that loft window!! :happyfeet:

  28. 1-26

    Suzanne, you inspire me. I have been looking for property and even considered WV, but I have to remember, I don’t know anyone there except if I moved close to you and you WOULDN’T want me for a neighbor. Trust me, I know me.

  29. 1-30

    I say the same ting! Definitely worth it!
    Beautiful farm, btw!!

  30. 1-30

    I didn’t even know it was okay to breed dad’s with daughters and brothers and sisters! Are dogs and cats like that too? There is so much I don’t know. I could never have a herd of cows or goats, but maybe one of each so I would never have to deal with the breeding problems!

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