Monday, December 29, 2008

Pre-Puppy Breath :)

Well, Franna and I made the trek up to our Labrador breeder's house on Saturday night for dinner. Actually Saturday was the first time in a week where I took my 'Burb out of four wheel drive, but that is another story. So, back to this story, the Ribeye's were marvelous, as was the pumpkin soup, mashed yams, sliced beets with Italian dressing on them, rolls, wine and great dinner company. Most of the rest of our time there was spent playing with the new puppies :) They are now a little over three weeks old, their eyes are open, and they are starting to play with each other and recognize people. Seeing them, and watching and interacting with them has certainly complicated things for me as right at this moment I would be okay with any of the five girls :) We will wait and see how they are when they are a little older. 49 days is supposed to be the ideal time to test temperment as it is the time when the puppy is transitioning from being bonded to mom to being bonded to people... Decisions, decisions, decisions... :)


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Long live the Queen !!!

Many thanks for all of the nice comments that were made to Franna's blog about my German Shepherd, Lonie. And as last weekend was a reminder of the mortality that is associated with life, this weekend just completed was a reminder to me of the joy that is associated with a new birth. Thom and Villa's breeder has a female dog named Tripper (not too related to Thom or Villa) who I just think is the "cat's meow". And for some reason, Tripper thinks I am pretty okay too. In fact, her owner always teases about us having a thing for each other.
Tripper was bred last fall to "Mr Right" and on Saturday whelped 9 puppys, 2 black females, 3 yellow females and (I think) 2 each black and yellow boys. I have made my intentions known about wanting a Tripper (girl) puppy for at least a year, and now they are on the ground !!! I received a photo of them at a few hours old. I think that the ideal spacing between dogs is about five (5) years. Thom is coming up on four (4) next week, so it IS a little bit soon. And the planets and stars still need to line up and I could still pass, but the possibility that my next dog is here IS pretty exciting... So stay tuned and sometime between now and the end of January you'll all know what I decide to do... Names for this litter will start with "W". I like Winsome Winnifred and Wicked Wanda so far, anyone have any other suggestions ???


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Thunder

Well, with the official end of the NASCAR season (congrats to Jimmie J.) , what is a person to do until Daytona in February??? Well, in my own case, it is time to dust off the trusty wheel and go gaming for the winter. I know that many of you don't understand that need, and that is okay. I have worked on and around simulators for close to 20 years now. I mean the real professional ones that cost millions to build and maintain. I also know that some of you won't understand (or care for that matter) just how good the pc-based simulations are that are now available for John and Jane Q. Public to play on their pc at home... And that is okay, because I do understand that and I will play for all of you :)
Anyway, this has been a GREAT year in the simulated racing communnity. New, games, new cars and new tracks have all come out. Each one better than the rest. The community that I am mostly involved with has been interested in reviving all of the cars and tracks of the old Trans Am racing series that I talked about in an earlier blog. So this year, we have had new Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and Cudas released. And each of these simulate their real counterparts down to very minute details. I have decided to retire the Mustang Shelby that I used last year and will replace it with a 1970 Cuda that was just released about 2 weeks ago. This thing looks bad, drives very close to the real car (I owned a Challenger way back in my youth, so I know the feel is very close) and even sounds bad. I'll try to figure out how to post short video clips here...

Once again, I will be creating a fictional paint scheme to promote our farm and the other things that we do the rest of the year. I started photoshopping a new skin yesterday. I didn't get too far, but it has the Everranch green / Gotland grey two tone that I created last year... Yippee, I can't wait, I started driving again last week and am amazed at how rusty I have become in the last 7 or 8 months. I have probably lost 2 to 3 seconds per lap on my favorite tracks. Gotta get lots of practice in to get that edge back (sorry Dear :)... Now to ask Santa for that racing seat setup I have been drooling over all year :)


Monday, October 27, 2008

Shearing 101 - shearing on a stand...

Standard Disclaimer Applies. I am not a professional shearer, nor do I play one on TV. This is the method that I use on my own sheep, with good success. If it works for you, great, if not there are plenty of other methods and folks available to help get you going... Back in the day, I taught Electronics Theory and Repair. I had a student ask me what was the best method for learning. I told him that the best method is the one that worked for him. The same thing applies to you. Find whoever you can learn from and stick with them.
I always watch in amazement the agile folks who bend and twist their sheep and have each one done in 4 minutes or less... Ah to be that young again... Heck, I'd be happy if I could still breathe when I am bent over 90 degrees :) When we first got interested in shearing our own animals, I went out and bought some equipment, some right, some wrong and some I didn't know how to use correctly. Still, we managed to mostly get our own sheep done. We both decided early on that a stand was the method of choice for us, me using shears or clippers and Franna using a good old pair of Fiskars. I will have a future entry on the equipment that a well-heeled shearing shepherd might need. The last few years the Shepherd's Extravaganza at the Puyallup Spring Fair has offered classes on shearing on a stand. I have taken that class three times. The first year I took that class it was taught by Suzie Wilson and the last two years I took it from Eileen Hordyk. I took some of what I learned from both of them, added a dash of what worked on my own and came up with what I use here. I discovered that using this type of method causes much less stress on our sheep, and is much easier on ole Ace as well... I will assume a few things here. First that you have a stand, second that you have a sheep needing shearing, and third that you can get said sheep up on the stand and secured to the headpiece. The next thing that I will assume is that you have an electric shear ( or clippers), and know how to set them up properly. Otherwise, you will need to wait for Shearing 102 - equipment and setting it up correctly :) So, let's assume that you have met all of the above conditions, you should end up with something similar to the photo on the left. Now is probably the best time to pre-pick all the straw, hay, VM and other "stuff" off of your sheep. Trust me, I am married to a spinner, the cleaner the fleece is now, the less time that will be needed on skirting it later. So now, the pre-skirting is done and the wife is safely off to the side, it is time to make the first cut. So figure out which side you are going to start on and get your equipment set up and ready to go. Make SURE that you have enough cord available, and place it so you are less likely to stand on it while you are working. I am on my second set of shears as I stood on the cord one day, pulled it out of my hand when I moved and watched it fall on the tips of the comb on the concrete pad we were working on. The cutter popped loose and bound up everything, which promptly stripped off the teeth on the internal gears. All before I could just reach down and pick it up... It makes absolutely no difference at all since both sides need to be done. I am left handed, so I start on the right side, except when I forget and start on the left. See??? Like I said, it just doesn't matter :) The first cut is to start at the shoulder, open up the fleece so you can get your shears in down to the skin and then cut DOWN the body so that you exit the wool right at the front leg. This is going to separate the body wool from the chest wool and allow you to get it off in pieces easier. If you cannot visualize this yet, hang in there, I'll try and make it clearer. Photo 2 is of our Gotland/Finn ram, Captain, after I made the first cut, I opened it up so you can see what I did... Unfortunately, the photo does not show that the cut comes out right at the leg, but you should be able to visualize where his leg is... PLEASE take your time when you make this cut and try very hard to keep the shear blade even with the skin all the way down. If it rides up, you won't get the wool all the way to the skin, or if it rides down, it may pinch and / or cut your sheep. That is not a good thing, and it tends to make them less comfortable on the stand while you are working on them. Alright, time for the next cut. This cut will be a front to back cut on the top, just to the side of the backbone. Start in the area where you made your down cut. That way you can get the shear positioned properly and not have to fight through the wool to get down to the skin, you should already be there from your opening. Again, since this is the first cut in this direction, you may need to make it in two or three tries so you can stop and open up the wool as you go back. As you can see in photo 3, I stopped about two thirds of the way back so I could open it up some more. I finished up by going on down the back, over the hip and to the rump. The other thing to remember when you are cutting in this direction is to pull the skin taut with your free hand. In addition to making it easier to shear all the way in one stroke, it also is a way to prevent pinching or cutting your sheep when the loose skin gets caught in the shear. Okay, so far, so good. We have made our first two cuts and now things get easy for this side. It is simply a matter of making cut after cut going lower on the body with each pass... Oh, wait, it may not be that simple yet. After VM, what is the next most hated things in a fleece to a spinner??? Hmmm, second cuts you say??? That is correct !!! So, for those who do not know, what ARE second cuts??? Well, second cuts (or just called seconds) are little bits of wool that are too short to spin and can be a pain in the rear to skirt out of a fleece. If you are selling fleeces to spinners, seconds will also reduce the value of those fleeces that they are in. So, certainly they are something that we want to avoid as much as possible. Seconds are caused be shearing over the same area more than once. But you say, if we got all the way down to the skin, didn't we get all the wool off already??? Well, yes, in a perfect world, that would be true, but we have a little geometrical problem here that we are going to have to deal with. If you look you will see that the comb on our shear is flat, but the side of our sheep is round. Visualize the rocker on a rocking chair sitting on a flat floor. If we hold the center of the comb (rocking chair at rest) against the skin while we make our cut, the outside edges of the comb will not be in full contact with the skin and so there will be a little bit of extra wool left at those edges when we make our pass. Still, that is not when the problem occurs. Rather, it occurs when we make our NEXT pass as the shear may be in such a position that it may clip a little bit of that left over wool from our previous pass... Pressing the shear more firmly on the sheep is not the answer as it may actually cut the sheep if the skin gets pinched in due to the center of the shear being pushed down so hard. There is a little trick that we can use to eliminate all or most of our second cuts (the trade off is that it will take twice as many passes to shear the sheep, and wear out combs and cutters faster) As you can see in the photo to the right, what we are going to do is use only the bottom half of the shear when we make our pass (rocking chair all the way back). By having the bottom edge of the shear blade firm against the skin and using only the bottom half of the shear, we can eliminate about 99 percent of the second cuts. Other than that, it is the same as I have already mentioned. Pull the skin taut with your spare hand as you make your pass and keep the shear in contact with the skin. If for whatever reason, you do leave a rise during a pass, do NOT go back over it to get rid of it right now, we will clean those all up later. Eventually, you will get down the body to the legs and the belly. Where you stop is up to you. For our Gotlands, we go a little further down as the belly wool is pretty nice, but if it was one of our britchier Shetlands, I may not go quite so low... Photo 5 shows Captain with the entire side basically done. I think that I actually made another pass or two on him down low as he has very little britch. One thing that I wanted to point out here, is notice where the good fleece is... Right now it is still hanging right next to the sheep. What would happen if we went back anytime during this and cleaned up any rises or missed spots??? Ummm, how about that they would fall right down onto the good fleece. (Insert vision of dollar bills flying away here...) That is why I suggested that you wait and clean them up later. Anyway, once you are satisfied that you have all of the fleece that you want to save from the side, remove all of it and place it wherever you are going to put it. We usually set up the skirting table right next to where we are shearing so that Franna or I can take the pieces and lay them out and then continue on with the shearing. The next thing is to repeat the entire process for the other side. I am not going to go over it again, but if you need a refresher, just scroll up and look at the photos again. After both sides are done, I do the chest and front of the neck. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of that process, but I will talk you through it. Basically what I do is start down at the front leg and shear UP towards the neck. I use the half shear process as described above (rocking chair back). (NOTE - Do not worry about the back of the neck right now, we will get to that in a minute.) When you get to the front of the chest, go ahead and switch sides, start at the leg again and go until you meet the area that you have already done. Please do NOT shear up high enough to cut into the chain on the head piece. That causes severe damage to the combs and cutters. Ask me how I know :( Also, do not cut into your halters. We discovered that the shear will pretty much destroy the strap on a halter. So anyway, go up as high as you are comfortable without cutting into anything or destroying your gear. And be VERY careful that you do not cut ears or poke eyes on your sheep. They will NOT appreciate that... Once you get the front chest and neck wool off, if you have a helper, have them remove the sheep from the headpiece and hold the head down so that the back of the neck is straight with the topline that we followed down the body. Now you can shear up the back of the neck and clean up any areas that you were unable to do when the halter and headpiece were in use. Caution here - do NOT cut the fingers of your helper... If no one will help you with this, it is MUCH harder to do, especially if you have squirelly sheep such as Shetlands :) Safely remove all the pieces of fleece that you are going to keep and put your sheep back on the halter and / or in the headpiece before we go on. Please note that in addition to not going over rises or misses again, I also did not clean up the belly, or the legs or the rump or anywhere until the good fleece is all off and safely on the skirting table. Okay, now that the good stuff is gone, we can go back and clean up whatever is left over... There is not a real method here, just safety, mostly of the sheep... I usually start with the rear end, then the legs and finally the belly, being VERY careful not to cut any boy or girl parts. I usually put my hand over, or hold whatever I am close to with my own hand. If that makes you queasy or you are worried about cleanliness or anything, wear a glove. I find that I am a LOT less likely to get really carried away when I am shearing in those areas if my hand is in the danger zone as well. Still, I have managed to cut myself a time or two (it REALLY hurts if you get nicked between two fingers, OUCH !)... Also, my own observation is that belly wool is different than the other wool and I usually have to dial in another eighth or quarter turn on my cutter tension to get a clean cut instead of pulling. A real easy way to tell if you are cutting clean is to look through the comb to the bottom of your cutter blade. The cutter has a hollowed out area, and if there is no wool or anything in the hollow, you are cutting nice and clean. However, if the hollow is full, especially if it is the same color as the sheep you are shearing, you are not cutting clean as the hollow usually fills up with wool that is PULLED, not sheared... Ouch... Once you get your sheep all finished up, now is a GREAT time to give any oral meds or shots since you don't have to catch them again. Oh, and don't forget about trimming hooves as well. Not a better chance :) I guess that maybe I am not as envious of the 4 minute shearers as I used to be... Using this method, I can do a sheep in ten to fifteen minutes with a helper, or about 30 minutes by myself, save wear and tear on me, have happy sheep and a happy wife who does not have a lot of seconds to skirt out of the fleeces :)


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where does the time go ???

Sheesh... Nine MONTHS since my last post??? Man, where does it go. I have so many cool things ready to post, but I never seem to get around to posting them... I have a great photo essay of shearing on a stand that John asked for, I just need to get it uploaded... I have photos of me meeting one of my childhood heros - Al Unser Sr. Again, I just need to do it... I will try to do better in the future :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Car Guy

I am a car guy. As much as my darling wife is addicted to fibery things, I am addicted to cars and all things that roll on four wheels. Two wheels don't do it for me, but anything with four wheels on TV or where ever and I am there... When I was a kid, my uncle, with some help from my dad, campaigned a drag '55 Chevy in Ohio and even once went to Indy for the National event. Naturally, I wanted to be included in that, but I didn't get to do too much as I was a pretty little dude at that time. I think that probably the high point for my over-stimulated car genes was when I was 12 (1970) which happened to be the best year (ever IMHO) for the Sports Car Club of America's Trans American Sedan Racing series. Shorted to just Trans Am by the fans, this was probably the best raw racing seen in the US EVER. Mustangs versus Camaros versus Firebirds versus Cudas versus Challengers versus Javelins with a few old Cougars, Falcons, Darts and even a Le Mans thrown in just for good measure. My favorite car was (and still is) the #77 Dodge Challenger driven by Sam Posey. That one year of racing affected me so much as a kid that my first car was a Challenger, and of all the cars that I have ever owned and sold, that is the one that I wish I still had. Anyway, the point of this blog, is what does a nearly 50, fat, bald shepherd do when he needs a car fix. Given the choice between buying alfalfa pellets or after market parts for my truck, alfalfa pellets will usually win, (but not always, right dear?) :) About six months ago, I discovered a video game called "GT Legends" or GTL as it is known to the folks who play it. It harkens one back to the great racing cars of the 60's and 70's. It is much more than just an arcade game as each car is carefully modeled, both in appearance and (more importantly) in the handling characteristics amd engine dynamics of that car. A person can play it either against the computer or online against other players. I have been playing it almost every day and this is one of a very short list of games that my wife complains that I play too much :) I have been playing lately with car skins (what they look like). One thing that you can say about racing, there is never a lot of agricultural sponsors with their names plastered all over a car, but I thought that for a game, why not have a farm-sponsored car. Heck, why not my own farm :) So here are a couple of screen shots of cars that I designed the paint scheme and use from time to time as my own cars when racing. The first one is the EverRanch Mini Cooper. For those of you who do not know, EverRanch Farm is the name of the small sheep farm that I run with my wife. I thought that our logo would look great on the hood of a car, and I have seen nothing to dissuade me of that so far... The second car skin is my favorite to this point. It is of the EverRanch Mustang. Even though I am not really a Ford guy, it still looks pretty cool :) There is also a Challenger that several of us have added into the game as it did not come with one. I have made a skin with the #77 paint scheme that I mentioned briefly above, but I have not made an EVR Challenger skin yet. There is also going to be a Camaro that I have been working on, but it is not in the game at all yet. Anyone want their farm or business added to a virtual car that could be raced anywhere in the world??? Let me know :)