guatemala 210


As farmers, we are not supposed to be sentimental about our animals, but we are.

Particularly about our bottle lambs – those lambs abandoned by their mothers, who we scoop up into our arms and care for like they were our babies. Asterix was a bottle lamb, born to a yearling ewe in April when the sheep were out on pasture and the dandelions and daffodils were in bloom. Sometimes a yearling ewe-mom will take good care of her first born but that is rare.

Asterix –  named after the Belgian anti-imperialist comic-strip hero,  who belonged to a small insurgent group of Gaulois who resisted the Romans invasions, confounding and defeating Caesar’s legions again and again– became our pet.

Espresso- and- cream colored, he followed us around everywhere, bounded up our front and back steps, and if the door was left open, he would prance right into the house where he would dance around, springing into the air and tapping his little hooves on the floor, his little tail trembling with happiness.

Lambs grow up to be aloof, not-so-cuddly and easily spooked, even the bottle lambs, but Asterix grew up to be a gentle werther, who liked to stand beside us and have his chin scratched like an old Golden Retriever.

We always intended to give him away; it was only after he bumped me a couple of times that we decided it was time. Then one day he rammed me in earnest– he came at me from behind and knocked me halfway across the paddock  – where I landed in a pile of shit. Then he backed up to come at me again. And again.

That was it.

That afternoon we offered him as a give-away on Craig’s list and right away we received several responses. Two days later, two large men showed up in a pickup truck to collect him. I had spoken with a woman on the phone, who told me that she and her husband raised goats and that her husband “just liked to watch the animals out on pasture.” I warned her that the ram could be aggressive. Her husband could handle that, she said. When the man showed up I was a bit relieved, as he was a giant of a man who was easily a match for poor old Asterix.

The man lifted Asterix onto the truck single-handedly and sealed him in a plywood box. The other man just watched. Neither of them looked like farmers. They did not ask any questions about the animal they had just adopted; they did not even ask his name. In truth, they acted as if they were taking him straight to the slaughter.

“He will need to be sheared soon,” Art said.

The man looked up at Art. It seemed to me that he had no intention of shearing him, and that the only “soon” for poor Asterix would be the butcher’s knife. I could hear Asterix through the plywood – his hoofs tapping on the cold metal bed of the truck – a new sensation for him – in his agitation.

I had decided that if someone wanted to take Asterix for slaughter then I would accept that. The animal posed a danger. Why else would anyone want him? Ewes can provide mowing services and wool, but without the menace. But that night I had nightmarish thoughts about his journey in the dark cab of the truck, having never been apart from his family and having never known any life but this one – here on these few acres. For Asterix the world was these pastures and the old barn, the shade of the elm tree and the willow, the hum of the road and the chickens.

Every winter, a few of our lambs are slaughtered right here on the farm, so that they never have to go through the trauma of being hauled on the back of a truck and then rough-handled by strangers at the slaughterhouse. Art is there to say goodbye to them. I stay inside the house and do not hear a thing, and when I go outside, I find the flock calmly picking through their hay or chewing their cud, as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred.

But this, I fear, was not to be the end for poor Asterix.

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Needle felted animals

Our menagerie.

Our menagerie.






New from Ewetopia Farm: Needle Felted Animals.

We offer needlefelting kits with all the materials and instructions for making your own fluffy animals. Find us on Fridays at the Richmond Farmers Market.

Needle felted ewe

Needle felted ewe

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Shearing Day

Shearing the sheep, May 2007

Shearing the sheep, May 2007

Shearing Day

Yesterday was shearing day. The sheep have all had their haircuts and now they look like a flock of strange goats.

Every year, Jim McCrae and Liz Willis come sometime during the month of May or early June to shear our sheep.  I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but Art has seen a number of shearers do their work – none, he says, as expertly as these two.

It was a beautiful day– the first sunny day after days of rain. The lilacs and apple blossoms have passed, the roses are in full bloom, and the grass has already gone to seed. The sheep were corralled in the barn when the shearers arrived. Jim looked them over, counted them, and then said, “I think we’ll do it right in here.” They squeezed through the gate with all their tools, changed into their shearer’s booties, plugged in their electric razors, and went right to work.

We are often asked why we don’t shear our own sheep. The answer is that we have seen it done clumsily. Sheep shearing done by apprentice hands is torture all around – but especially for the animals.  It is uncomfortable for them; the only blessing is that it is fast. Or – it should be.

The first time I ever saw it done was in 2005, when Art’s regular shearer showed up on crutches. We knew he was in recovery from cancer treatments – but the crutches were a result of a car accident, not his cancer. He pulled up in a beat-up blue van with his son– a big blond young man in a ball cap, who held his arm to his chest as if it were broken– and a friend whom they’d enlisted to help them out. The son had been knocked over by a ram earlier in the day and hurt his arm, he told us.  The old man emerged slowly from the van with his crutches, stood himself upright, then inched his way towards the paddock. He had been completely paralyzed after the accident, he told us. “I’ve been getting my movement back little by little.”

Standing in the paddock, the son lit a cigarette and held it in his left hand while he held his right arm against his chest.

“Go get that one,” he said to the friend, who slipped into the corral and grabbed a ewe by her wool.

“Ride her,” the son said, and the friend climbed onto the ewe’s back and rode her like she were a bucking colt in a rodeo. Then he jumped off her, grabbed one of her legs, and flipped her onto her back. The son wrapped his good arm around her neck and held her against him as he worked the electric razor down her belly with his injured arm. He winced with pain, then stopped.

“You hold her,” he said to his friend. The old man stood by, muttering advice with his head downcast as if he were unable to lift it up. He held himself still as a stone, leaning on his crutches. The ewe writhed and kicked as the friend held her down, while the son made repeated stabs at her with the razor. Finally the ewe settled down, stretched out on her side, while the son winced and clenched his teeth as he worked. When he had finished the one side they turned the ewe onto her other side. The son worked slowly,  using his left hand, the wool peeling away and dropping to the ground like wood shavings. After about a half an hour, they released the poor girl, who went limping off towards the corral to join her family, covered with red nicks and gashes.

It took them three hours to shear six ewes. We paid them eighty dollars to split between them for their efforts, and we never saw them again.

The following spring, it was our neighbor, Jennifer Gilligan, who recommended Jim McRae to us, who has been shearing our sheep ever since.

The two of them work side by side, each of them shearing their own ewe. Working in concert, they dove into the flock, who were massed together in the back of the barn, grabbed the first two ewes they could get a hold of, and swiftly, using a few expert Judo moves, had them sitting quietly on their rumps. First, they peel away the belly wool, which is discarded, working carefully around their udders and sensitive parts. Then they cut away the fleece in a single piece, carving it as if it were soft butter. The underside of the fleece is astonishingly clean, soft, and beautiful, piling up in folds like whipped cream.

The sheep sit like humans sit in chairs while they have their haircuts, with their backs upright and their legs in front of them. They look a little stunned as they are forced to sit in a position that they would never get themselves into on their own. They seem helpless and vulnerable, with their pink udders exposed. They don’t like it – they dislike being handled, they are uncomfortable, and they seem spooked by the buzz of the electric razor. But I have a feeling that they like the sensation of the razor against their skin. They love to scratch themselves against trees or fence posts, and for the duration, they are calm – until the razor is switched off and they get their toenails clipped, whereupon they resume kicking and writhing.

It was Liz who sheared our ram – a 275 behemoth– dressed in his big black coat, Oliver has the bulk of a black bear. Liz is probably half his size. Jim looked over his shoulder with his eyebrows raised as she wrassled with him. “You need some help with that guy?” he asked. “I’m good,” she said, calmly. She grabbed him by one leg, twisted his head slightly, and had him down on his rump. He writhed and kicked for a moment or two, then he settled down.

Not everyone likes shearing day as I do. An old-timer interviewed in the Foxfire books says he “despises” sheep shearing. I can see why – he recounts how the sheep were laid out on a table with their feet tied together. Using traditional shears, it took half an hour to shear a single sheep. Recently I talked with a friend who said he and his wife tried their hands at raising sheep. They read books, took workshops, built a barn– it was the shearing that did it for them. “We hated it,” he said.

But I have always liked this rite of spring. It is true, the sheep are not as attractive without their wool: freshly sheared, they look like naked old men, with their knobby knees and their various lumps. In their wool coats, they’re each of them individual and identifiable – Ewelysses and Euphrates, EweTwo and Ewekelele – each of them has a distinctive shape, shade, and personality. But sheared, not even the lambs can recognize their own mothers, and for the rest of the day, they cry out to them like lost orphans. Still, I like to watch the practice of a skill well done, especially a skill as ancient and relatively unchanged as sheep shearing. To witness the magical metamorphosis of nothing but grass into the most useful fiber humans have ever known.  I like to watch the sheep step away from their robes as if they were stepping out of the shower, naked to their toes and a touch embarrassed. I love it that we can reap a harvest from our flock without harming them, year after year.

All in all, Jim and Liz sheared ten ewes and Oliver and were finished in less than an hour. They left us with about twenty-five to thirty pounds of wool, which will be scoured, carded, drafted, spun, felted, and woven into sweaters, mittens, hats, scarves, blankets, purses, and novelties, each one of them handmade and unique.

Liz Willis preparing to shear Ewedora

Liz Willis preparing to shear Ewedora

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Our wool

Ewetopia Yarn

Ewetopia Yarn

New colors --teal, frozen, and midnight.

New colors –teal, frozen, and midnight.

We offer yarn and rovings in three natural colors: white, grey, and dark chocolate. Our sheep are a Border Leicester, Corriedale, and Lincoln cross.

We also have a selection of colors — hand- dyed with Greener Shades organic certified dyes. A selection of our colors is available at the Knitting Studio in Montpelier.

Our Yarn: Light Worsted Weight 2.60 ounce skein (150 yards).

Our yarn is available at the Knitting Studio, 122 Main Street in Montpelier.

And from May-October on Fridays at the Richmond Farmers Market, or contact us for inquiries:


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Our Honey Ice cream

Come see us at the Richmond Farmers Market on Fridays, 3 pm – 6:30, and enjoy some of our homemade ice cream. We raise bees and use the delicious honey our bees make in our ice cream, as well as our own free-range eggs. We use Vermont organic cream and milk, and seasonal local fruits and herbs.

This week’s flavors:

Rhubarb Ice cream

Vanilla-Honey Ice Cream

Lemon -Ginger sorbet (dairy-free)

June 21:

Strawberry (with fresh strawberries from Last Resort Farm)

Mint-chocolate chip (with fresh mint)

Lemon sorbet (dairy-free)


The honey harvest.

The honey harvest.

Our chickens are raised the natural way -- by their Moms.

Our chickens are raised the natural way — by their Moms.

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Springtime in Ewetopia

Grazing with view of West Monitor Barn in background. This hill is actually the original location of the historic barn.

Grazing with view of West Monitor Barn in background. This hill is actually the original location of the historic barn.

Our newest bottle lamb, born on May 4, 2013.

Our newest bottle lamb, born on May 4, 2013.

Next door, VYCC crews are at work putting in spring vegetables.

Next door, VYCC crews are at work putting in spring vegetables.

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