Sheep balls.

Happy as a girl with her sheep.

You may remember, if you’re part of the small but fervent readership of this blog from back in the day- we have a history of livestock breeding going…shall we say…not EXACTLY to plan. In fact, the very first post on here discussed our ability to tell whether or not our rabbits were pregnant.

Well, I have to say- although we’ve got more years under our belt, much more livestock, and a couple of full freezers to prove it- this is still more of an art than a science.

Which is where sheep balls come in.

Almost 3 years ago now, to celebrate my new Big Job ™- my delightful sweetheart bought me 2 Tunis ewes to celebrate. The very best kind of present, I think, and one I’d been pining over basically as long as I knew there were sheep to have. Even as a child, I was obsessed with Mother Earth News and the Firefox books, and learned to knit from my grandma at a very early age. Animals that produced wool (and meat, and milk!)? Sign me up.

Sheep in a Uhaul, because we’re fancy like that.

So we brought Ethyl and Harriet, who were named after cars at our beloved festival, home here to the farm. They were just 6 months old- full of bounce and sproing, ready to eat grass and make my heart happy. That first year, we didn’t put much energy into getting them a Gentleman Caller- as sheep do better with more than a full year before their first mating. And we lost Harriet that first year to an unknown illness, but replaced her with Lucy NewSheep before she could pine away from loneliness (yes, this is a thing).

Last winter, though, we were ready to get down to business. I found a Tunis ram on Craiglist (like you do) within an hour’s drive- we brought him home in the covered truck bed and got ready for some serious sheep action.

Now, for sheep, as long as they’ve done the deed, you can be pretty sure they’re pregnant. So we picked up a fancy new mating harness for Neville the Ram, installed a bright blue crayon on it, and hoped for the best. A few days later: SUCCESS! The girls had bright blue splotches on their rear ends, evidence that a ram had been up on there.

And then we waited, built a barn (the Development half of R&D, that is), bought lambing supplies, and obsessively observed the shape and size of ewes in general, and their vulvas and udders in particular (yeah, that was totally me). I don’t even WANT to tell you how many photos of sheep vulvas I had on my phone, by the time we finally gave up. FYI, should this come up for you: sheep vulvas change quite a bit of the course of their cycle. Even if, as it happens, they’re not pregnant. Also sheep are generally not amused by you repeatedly picking up their tail to look at their vulva. So. No lambs. And as we continued to observed Neville over the year, turning him over for foot care and such, it became clear that the sheep balls we SWEAR existed when when we brought him home, had shrunken to the point where they were very hard to find.

This is very bad news in sheep reproduction, as fertility is directly tied to sheep scrotal circumference. All the best rams, it seems, have big big balls– 32-40 centimeters is apparently the range you’re looking for. Poor Neville never really had it in him, as it happens…so we renamed him Neville the Infertile and demoted him to wether, a neutered male kept often for a companion animal for the ram, and moved on to finding a new Gentleman Caller for Ethyl and Lucy.

Enter Jamie the Red, the new guy around town- who needed a new home because he was so ready to go, he wouldn’t stop harassing his pasture mates. Jamie spent his first 2 weeks in an enclosure next to the girls, where he paced back and forth incessantly, curled his lip (apparently very sexy for sheep), and generally let everyone know he was READY for his one job. Everything went according to plan…and now, we are waiting. Again.

All together now! Clockwise from top right: Jamie the Red, Ethyl, Neville the Infertile, Lucy.

IF Jamie did the job, we’re expecting lambs in early March, as sheep gestation is about 5 months. And the girls have started drinking a TON more water than usual, which is supposed to be a sign. We’ll know more after shearing in a couple of weeks, as it’s hard to tell much from shape when they’ve got a full coat of wool on. And last year, our sheep were, as it happens, both fat AND fluffy. They’re PROBABLY pregnant. I think.

Fingers crossed- and I’m feeling really good about it. But as we’ve clearly demonstrated- you really NEVER know.

Actual photographic evidence of Jamie’s fitness for the job at hand.


  hours  minutes  seconds


Lambs on the ground

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I am, at least theoretically, back.

3 years.

From left to right, Lucy, Neville, and Ethyl Sheep. More on Neville the Infertile and Jamie the Red (our new ram) to come.

Yup, it’s been a long time- not because I didn’t love sharing the news of our little farm with all of y’all- but because we had some super big changes, all of which were time-consuming. But here on the (hopefully) downslope of the pandemic, perhaps I have time to share with this little corner of the internet again.

Here’s the fast recap:

Bought a farm
Moved a couple counties over
Got a new full time job with benefits (!)
Added sheep to our stable of critters
Added a new autoimmune disorder, just for fun

So you know, it’s been BUSY, friends. And rather than trying to recap any of that, I’m going to just start where we are: end of January, locked down in pandemic, working from home, waiting for our first LAMBING SEASON!

More coming soon, from here on the farm.

Ethyl Sheep. Not-so-secretly my favorite, and at least theoretically pregnant.

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On the purchase of snake tongs.

I think I last wrote here more than a year ago, and MY, how things have changed. I’ll do a bigger update later, when I’ve got a bit more time, but here’s the highlights:

Holy cow, we BOUGHT a FARM! Or anyway, bought into a farm- complete with a more than 100 year old solid oak farmhouse, beautiful perennial gardens, more than ten acres, and a whole community of lovely women around us. It’s a big change, and a big story- but none of that is why I’m here today.

Today, I’m thinking about snakes.

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While we were sleeping


Not my actual ducks.

It’s the morning of January 12, and I just woke up to a world entirely changed. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting it, but the Senate’s repeal of significant portions of the Affordable Care Act still hit me like a punch to the (rather delicate) stomach.

You see, I’m one of the 20 million people who gained health care coverage through the ACA, and it’s the first time I’ve been independently insurable in my entire adult life. As a young woman, I was diagnosed with Crohns’ Disease, a condition I have struggled to manage for the following 3 decades, through an ongoing cycle of terrible flares, emergency room visits, hospital stays, and slow recoveries. I have more medical bills than I will ever be able to pay.

Without the ACA, I am uninsurable- or at least, the insurance has never been within the range of what I could manage as a working class woman and single parent. The last time I tried, I was quoted a minimum of $800 a month, and the plan wouldn’t have covered my entirely necessary daily meds.

Here’s what the ACA has meant for me: I’ve had annual checkups with both my primary care doctor and a specialist for gastrointestinal disorders, an annual pap smear and breast exam, and most importantly, regular and ongoing access to the medication that makes me able to hold down a job. I haven’t had a single significant flare of the Crohns during this time, largely due to regular checkups, better medication, and the annual colonoscopy that I’m required to have.

Without health insurance, I once ran up $80,000 in medical bills in less than 3 months, when a flare turned into a terrible abscess and then a lengthy hospital stay. Friends had to care for my child, and I was unable to work for months. When I did occasionally get access to the care and medication I needed, it was almost always through the public clinic system- a system that always assumed I didn’t have a job (I did), would desperately accept any time or place for a doctors appointment, often many months in the future, and only offered me the lowest possible tier of medication for my condition, to which I am allergic.

Like most folks with chronic diseases, I learned how to manage. When I had medication, through a combination of freebies from the clinics and assistance for indigent patients through pharmacy companies- I hoarded it, saved it for the times when I was terribly in need, and tried to manage minor flares without. I went to the emergency room when I had no other choice, and strived to exercise, eat well, and do anything else that supported my general health. Despite all of this, I was often quite ill.

For the last 3 months, I’ve been taking half the dosage that maintains my health, tucking away the rest for what was clearly coming. This morning, I called my doctors and made appointments for all my annual care, in hopes of getting those appointments through before my insurance is cancelled. I called in a refill of my medication, another precious bottle to tuck away in the cabinet for times of need. I’m encouraging my friends: writers, artists, working parents, and other uninsured contingent academic labor like myself, to get their ducks in a row. We are doing all the right things- but it likely won’t be enough.

I know that the ACA was never perfect, but for me and my 20 million friends, something was always so much better than nothing at all.

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Chicken Jail

Holy cow, y’all- it’s all broody hens all the time here.


Spotty Chicken, fluffed up to twice her usual size. Broody hens spread their tails like turkeys.

Last summer, we started adding some Buff Orpington  genes into our Farmlet Mutt flock. They’re BIG birds, sweet, good layers- all characteristics we wanted. But of course, they’re good brooders as well. While this has been bred out of most modern hybrid chicken breeds, a broody hen wants to settle into a quiet, dark place with a nest full of eggs for 21 days, until they hatch as nature intends.

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On beds

Hey, all- I know this isn’t Farmlet-specific AT ALL, but I was away at Lesbian Writers Camp this past week, and I wrote this little thing, which I’m going to share here.

Some context: for the last 20 years, I’ve worked the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The other day, I added up the time I’ve actually spent living in the forest, in a tent: 78 weeks. A year and a half of my life, if you paste it all together.  So I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about, hauling around, and sometimes complaining about my little home in the woods. Writers camp, by comparison, has bunks in cabins- you just unroll a sleeping bag, and you’re all moved in. SUPER weird.

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The pigs are (I kid you not) growing their own food.

I swear, I didn’t forget about the blog, or its tiny but fervent readership- but I taught 6 classes this spring across 3 different school systems, so there’s been basically zero time for leisurely updating. Nonetheless, I’ve been dashing out to the garden and animals between grading and sleeping, while the NC spring breaks out into exuberant life.



Since we’re going to be home much of the summer (for my first time in 20 years), we’re expanding the garden, and the bountiful crops of spinach, kale, arugula, radishes, and spring onions are already feeding the humans, while the tomatoes, sugar snap peas, beans (both bush and pole) are well underway. Just squash and melons to still get in, but there’s more sod to dig out first. Next week’s project, along with installing our new drip irrigation system.

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Random thoughts on the passage of time

Happy anniversary, faithful readers!

A year ago today, I sat down at the computer and penned this little missive: Schrodinger’s Bunnies, bemoaning my inability to tell whether our new rabbits were (or were not) pregnant. Spoiler alert: I still can’t tell. But I love marking the passing of time in this adventure of ours. In fact, we just had our pigiversary (2 years) and our chickeniversary (3 years) in the last few week. Funny, since we don’t really celebrate the relationship one- but I keep a 5 year journal of farm and garden happenings, so we can look back over what worked and what didn’t.  It’s always fun to wake up and remember that, on this day, our first baby pig (temporarily) escaped, or that this is the day we accidentally captured a skunk in a live trap in the yard.

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Tofu Nuggets and the Battle for Spring

Here’s the thing about spring in the southeast- it is NOT gradual. No clear easy ramp up from cold to warm, from a scattering of snow in the oak leaves to the tender baby leaves and azalea blossoms. Instead, the cold and warm days battle it out until spring, as though by chance, wins out.

We’re in the middle of one of these confrontations right now: warm and lovely last week, lows of 12 F the last few days, and a few inches of snow and ice last night. Since our state lacks an efficient method of snow removal AND the fact that southerners seem constitutionally incapable of driving on said snow and ice, I’m off school. Again. For the fourth time this (very mild) winter- although it’s a good excuse to get a recipe up on the blog. I know it’s been awhile.

According to anthropomorphized groundhogs,  the extended forecast on, the Farmer’s Almanac, AND the behavior of our chickens, it looks like this might be the last big hurrah for this winter, which is totally thrilling. Except, of course, that we have one more cold weather task to finish before the weather turns for good: Tempeh the pig will be going to freezer camp in less than two weeks.

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Spring is coming, I swear.

Well, faithful readers, it’s 35 degrees on the Farmlet tonight. And yet, spring is totally coming. Evidence?

  • The chickens have given up their winter strike: in just a few weeks we’ve gone from no eggs to an occasional egg, to a solid handful each day. We’ve got 4 adults in the rotation, and this past fall’s pullets (the sisters of our giant rooster crop) are starting up as we speak, which will give us ten good laying hens by the time spring is really rolling. This morning, E found a tiny pullet egg next to the feed pans. I’m sure poor Ellie was SUPER surprised when that thing came out of her butt during breakfast.
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  • The first tender new leaves have appeared on the elderberry bushes, while the radishes I planted in the hoop house during last week’s warm spell are just beginning to poke up out of the ground.
  • The pigs are EXTRA frisky- unclear whether they’re playing or trying to mate with one another (a little of both, I think)- but it’s pretty fun to watch them frolic.
  • The table is COVERED in seed catalogs: porn for the gardener.

I’m starting to get so excited- I can’t even tell you how beautiful it is here in the springtime. And of course, there’ll be much more news to share as everything bursts into life- and WAY prettier pictures than a patch of bare ground with an egg on it 🙂

Stay tuned.

Until next time,


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