In the continued adventures of exploring new parts of Washington State, we took a weekend tour of The Green River Gorge; staying in Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, and visiting the abandoned mining town of Franklin, now owned and managed by the state. Ancestral home of The Duwamish Tribe, now The Muckleshoot, there is only the watershed title left as any legacy to First Nation People in the area. Dubious treaties restricted and removed tribes from their ancestral lands. Tribes thought they would receive reservation land around The Green River, but by the 1880s, corporations had founded towns and dug mines deep into the area with no plans of giving up the land to “savage Indians”.
One such town, Franklin, WA, struggled with miner strikes and eventually, in the 1890s, black miners from the eastern US were shipped in to cross the picket lines. Ernest Moore wrote about his African American family in Franklin coal mines. The town was failing again by the early 1900s, as the demand for coal waned, but during WWII, fresh demand for coal sent the miners back down dilapidated shafts to dig. The pits were plagued by fatal accidents, and poor construction, paired with amateur diggers after the experienced miners went off to war, continued to degrade the land, people, and settlements. Below is a picture of Franklin, with row shanty housing built atop mining tails, and empty rail lines.
White colonial narrative and ownership weaves a toxic trail of resource extraction left by careless plunderers and labor abuse practices. Though the river today looks quite breathtaking, and the gorge holds deep etchings of geologic time, scars of mining, railroad, logging, and abandoned settlement remain haunting reminders of abuse the landscape endured through industry. The area’s natural beauty was preserved in 1973, after the last active coal mine closed in 1971. Still, the land had been raped by industry, and such violent treatment of the earth caused long lasting consequences for the miners, their families, and the surrounding population though the generations. None of the commercial entities which originally founded the mines are around today to take responsibility, yet today’s companies float a similar river of greed with no care of human or ecological devastation.
For our outing into this history, we walked Franklin’s overgrown streets, where domestic roses twine up young alders and through old stone and brick foundations. Arsenic seeps out of the old coal seams, and it was that neighboring chemical poison, which ultimately killed many people in Franklin and forced the abandonment of the town. Today, down the mountain from the old mines, there is a natural spring many people gather water from, yet no one seems to care about the surrounding toxic nightmare that slowly continues seeping into the groundwater. Shanty villages of broken down RVs and blue tarps nestle nearby. Many of these destitute people can trace their lineage back to miners who were exploited by industry, just like the land.
From the mountain that once hosted Franklin, you can look out across The Green River Valley and still see corporate greed at work tearing up the landscape and building elaborate structures to propel profit for the few at the cost of many. What really struck me, in the one night we spent in the area, was the energy which spoke volumes of the abuse and pain still flowing through the river today; nightmares. I had very unsettled dreams, full of miserable people waiting in long lines to get a pay check, or struggling to get out of the mud, children crying and women screaming, it was palpable. Many people received violent deaths in the mines, but many more were slowly poisoned by the pollution of the pits, and the arsenic released by their digging. Green River Gorge is a beautiful river today, but the surrounding history of extraction haunts the hills with ghosts long troubled by greed and carelessness.
If you find yourself in the area, bring something to smudge with, and expect disturbed sleep, as the unrest in Franklin continues, along with the legacy left by careless taking and giving nothing but destruction in return. Now the state is left to continue cleanup, and though there are some nice walking trails and mountain views, the soil is soaked in coal ash and littered with the ghosts of people swallowed up by the mines or sentenced to slow death by poison. Such abuse still persists into modern times, though now instead of mines we have microplastics.
Gill is our amazing Livestock Guardian Dog. He is a Kangal, born on the streets of Istanbul, and rescued through an international group out of London, who exports the dogs to breed specific agencies like Anatolian Shepherd Rescue. In North America, Kangals have been anglicized into a shepherding breed, but they are Turkish in origin, and are called Kangal Çoban Köpeği. These are serious working dogs that need a real job, not a home pet lifestyle. Our 5 year old male, Gill, came as a rescue with no prior sheep experience, but his instincts kicked in immediately. These instincts can be traced back over 5,000 years to The Bronze Age, when herders needed dogs big and brave enough to scare off bears and wolves. The large carnivores predating livestock were driven off by the huge, ferocious K9 guardians, beloved by their humans. The relief pictured below comes from Mesopotamia, and shows one of the earliest renditions of a massive livestock guardian dog with his handler.
Though Kangals are fierce and brave, they are also extremely gentle and intelligent. This breed of LGD does not bark aimlessly in the night, but alerts with a variety of different pitches and intensities, depending on what he’s encountering. After two years of working at EEC full time, Gill is well settled and very selective about barking. He knows the deer that move through, and rarely alerts at them. He knows all the neighbor dogs and does not react to them, even the ones right on the other side of our fence. The other day, I watched him laying and looking on as a neighbor rode her horse right along the fence line. He observed, but had no reaction. Gill knows what is a threat, and what is a normal passing activity. Not all LGD are so aware. If you are in the market for a working dog for your farm security, there’s a lot of research to be done.
EEC Forest Stewardship is fenced with 6′ high woven wire stock fence. We have sheep, chickens, cats, clients- with children, who visit us regularly. Gill is a saint, vetted for all this activity and work. We had to slowly introduce him to other animals, including Valley, our true shepherding dog. To be clear, Kangals do not and should not drive or chase the sheep. When Gill puts out a true bark warming of eminent danger, the sheep flock to him for protection. He stands in the middle of them watching to make sure no danger is dumb enough to approach. Our fencing is mostly there to keep him in and at a safe distance from passing predators. Gill is not allowed to free roam, he would roam far and wide if let loose. He is also never taken on a recreational walk off site. Kangals can be socialized to other dogs, but they are very territorial. and might react to a badly behaved dog in public. Kangals demand respect and authority, and will make decisions on their own if they perceive a threat. Where they are allowed is there territory, and they will control it. Safe, well fenced, spaces give Gill free reign without the stress of new and untested spaces with too much unpredictability, which would cultivate insecurity in the long run.
I can’t say enough about how crucial stability and leadership is with this breed. Gill has absolute trust in me, which I earned, and maintain in a close working relationship with him. If I asked too much of Gill, like going to an off leash dog park where he might encounter unbalanced dogs in an unsafe place, he might react badly and lose my trust. It is imperative to give Kangal dogs a safe place with good work, that feeds their instinct to guard and chill. The picture above is our flock and LGD situation most of the time. Everyone is resting and relaxed. Gill chills by his chalet, listening, but not anxious at all. He’s such a good boy, and his state of mind reflects the well balanced life he lives. When he came to us, there were subtle insecurities, and he barked a lot more the first year as he adapted to his new surroundings and settled in. We had to teach Valley protocols in his space too. One major rule is no toys in the work space. Stick fetching is allowed, but if Gill takes the stick, it’s his, and Valley knows to relent. If she didn’t submit, and we didn’t back him, Gill would be confused by the pecking order, and that could cause mistrust between the dogs.
Valley agrees to respect Gill’s space, not just because he is bigger, but also because he respects her work too. Gill knows when Val is herding, and does not disrupt her seeking control. How amazing is that? This huge protector knows the difference between another dog moving the sheep, and a coyote chasing them down. This might seem obvious, but a lot of LGD breed would kill another dog messing with their sheep. Our other boundary with Gill, which is very important, involves keeping him out of the main human territory here at EEC. We do not allow Gill in the zone one (daily human action) area of the property, where the cars, living spaces, and gardens are. Our Aussie Valley, is allowed in the human spaces, so she gets a Gill free territory of her own too. Gill understands that he’s not in charge in that space, and though he will bark at someone driving in to let us know, he accepts that it’s not his space to control- but only because he is not allowed there. These kind of subtle but crucial divides in work space keep both our dogs in harmony, and capable of playing nice on the job.
Training is constantly happening within our pack; it’s just as important for the people involved to behave well too. Most basic behavior training works well with both dogs, but there are some major differences which become very apparent when misused between the breeds. Valentine is a physical dog who does not shy away from collar grabbing in the heat of the moment, but if you grabbed at Gill without thought, he would slink away and avoid. This is a simple difference in instinct and drive- Val is a doer, Gill is a watcher. Knowing these breed personality differences helps so much with successful training. Characteristics can be discovered and worked within mutts too- but it’s sometimes harder to find all the traits in a mixed pup. Breed character is also some guess work, but Gill’s 5,000 years of developed guardianship and alertness as an independent flock friend is silent stealth with ambush ferocity. Valley’s recent 200 year development as a sheep driver, for Basque herders in California, counts on people signaling her to work.
Trying to reprogram Kangal instincts seems somewhat cruel. Gill loves sleeping out- feeling the air on his muzzle, being able to stretch and roll in the earth. Replacing such deep nature connection with four walls and carpeting, with background city noise, would drive his sensitive alertness crazy. Urban Kangals are often known as barkers, and I know why. Gill will go off if there is disturbance, like a bear rolling up to the fence line once or twice a year. When he hears them in the creek area, he’s less aggressive, and only gives a short warning bark to alert them of his presence. Gill does not free roam the wildlife habitat area of the creek, but passes through on a leash when we move the sheep to the back pasture. He’s much more vocal back there because it’s the least human engaged space on the land. Near the barn and human habitation, he’s got our scent keeping most predators and wildlife away. Deer still brows through- Gill only alert barks at them if they are crashing through the undergrowth, which is rare. He knows the local fauna well. Kangal bark tones are diverse, and clearly tell you what kind of a disturbance is going on. If a Kangal was in an urban place hearing so much action, it might struggle to sort danger from passing disruption and remain on high alert, bringing on anxious barking, which creates a nuisance.
When I take Gill to the vet, he is often much more anxious because he is exposed to a lot of change and strange all at once. He’s an angel with our vet and any techs who handle him, and he tries to be quiet, but still gives little alert yips in the parking lot while we wait as other pets come in and out of the vet’s office. The vet and I know he would not do well waiting in the building, but he’s a real champion in the checkup room with his health care friends, who know him and his breed and what to do. Gill is not people adverse- he’s very friendly and social with folks- which is also often misunderstood in LGDs. Some livestock guardian breeds are used to ward off people; and those are often the ones, I find, that do a lot of anxious barking at night. Kangals in Turkey work with the flocks till they are too old to keep up in the fields. Then. they retire to village life, and watch over the elders and the young. Kangals are not personal protection dogs and should not be trained to become aggressive with people.
In singing the praises of our dog, Gill, the Kangal, I hope to let other flock folks know how amazing this breed is with sheep, but to also let dog lovers know this is NOT a bring home to your backyard or family home pet, but a working animal with a close connection to being out with the sheep in a well fenced, extensive acreage- along with lots of training and
In singing the praises of our dog, Gill, the Kangal, I hope to let other flock folks know how amazing this breed is with sheep, but to also let dog lovers know this is NOT a bring home to your backyard or family home pet, but a working animal with a close connection to being out with the sheep in a well fenced, extensive acreage- along with lots of training and socializing . Old dogs could acclimate to a large home with well fenced back yard. Do not buy an LGD breed without lots of prior dog training experience and a job for the pup- with livestock! Do look more closely at the Kangal for guardianship of flock and farmstead, which these amazing dogs preform when supported and respected by people they trust. Gratitude for the generations of shepherds and villages who worked to create this breed.
It’s a blossoming time for native planting here at EEC Forest Stewardship. We’re watching lambs grow on green pastures and rooting more wonderful flowers like bird’s foot and shooting star. These wonderful plants are helping to diversify our understory variety and encouraging native pollinators across the landscape. Some of these plants are eager for sunlight, while others, like trillium and maidenhair fern prefer the shady wetlands of our creek. It was particularly exciting to plant the first trillium back on the land here. Slowly, over the next decade, these rare flowering gems will take root and spreed, but it does take time. It is often said that planting sooner is better, but learning the land and where to plant for success takes time and patience. Even with 10 years of observing and mapping the land here at EEC, climate change throws a wrench in every year. Many of these cool weather plants are going to fail in the long run. Our damp forest floors are drying up. Right now, May 2023, Alberta and British Colombia Canada are on fire to our north. Down in California, flooding continues after the state received most of our winter rain events- known as atmospheric rivers. Without that water, our temperate rainforests are hurting as we begin the warmer months in earnest.
The weather cannot hinder our replanting efforts, we’ll keep rooting into the soil here with as much divers adaptation possible. Nature finds a way, and our support in offering species that are at home here is on the right track, but we’re also mixing in some more drought resistant species like oak and lomatium. As the next few decades unfold, EEC will keep on planting and protecting, with extremes in mind. This week temperatures are in the 40s at night and 70s during the day, but in just a few days, we’ll be experiencing our first real heat wave, jumping into the 90s. The newly planted natives will experience quite a shock, and those not in a place of irrigation will be watched closely, as new plantings are very vulnerable to extreme temperature changes while still struggling to establish their new roots. This kind of heat spike is not typical, but compelling changes in our climate of once temperate rainforest. These hot flashes, combined with a missing 4 inches of rain this winter, will put a strain on already stressed ecology in our region.
It’s always better to do most planting in the fall, as temperatures are cooling, not heating up, but new growth happens in warmer months, so these new natives will get a chance to hit the ground running and we’ll be out with water buckets hauling to help make sure this important investment in restoration survives abnormally dry spring conditions. There have been some morels out though, so not all is dry all the time. I’m still hoping for a cooler spring, like 2022, but I think we’re in for another scorcher. It’s hard to see the future, of course, but the days of cool morning mists and fern filled forest floors is slowly retreating. Below is my tattoo of our temperate rainforest floor, with trillium, bracket fungus on a log, and sword fern reaching up from the mossy ground. These images of a wet, wild place with Jurassic evergreen growth are symbols of abundance. Cultivating the waters ensures survival. Planting the foundational forest structure now will help protect soil dampness and the environment necessary in hosting the beautiful flora represented in this body art; hopefully not destine to one day be an historical record, rather than a reflection of what continues to thrive.
It’s late May, 2023. We’re now 5 inches behind our normal precipitation count, and recently experienced almost 5 days of 90s, experiencing a sustained 30 degree jump in temperature overnight. Now, we’re back down to our normal 60s/70s temps, with a little bit of rain to keep the seedlings damp. However, the heat took it’s toll and signaled many species into overdrive months early. The black cottonwoods are releasing seed, casting a snowy scene across the landscape. This beautiful event is surreal, and because it should be happening in July, premature- a whole season before it’s normal reproductive cycle. I’ve never witnessed this occurrence in our ecosystem. Several other species are also blooming out early, and a few non-native species, like magnolia, are shedding leaves. It’s going to be a stressful summer for our flora, and fauna.
Remember we had 90s in October, 2022? Now there are back in May? This heat stress is taking its toll, along with the continued drought. Our orchard and gardens are already on full irrigation, and we’re not expecting things to get wetter as the season changes. Altocumulus cloud scapes tease of moisture moving on over the mountains and falling far from here in thunderstorms. We’ve had a few epic weather moments, like a showy lightning storm and 2am hail event like nothing I’ve ever experienced in 15 years living in this area. I’d put this May cottonwood seed release in the same category, and it’s just as unnerving as any storm. This event signals a warning of worse to come. Climate cycles are ever more dramatic and impactful around the world. Here in Western Washington, watching a temperate rainforest shifting into eventual oak savanna, with conditions more like California, is compelling. Seeing the slow motion collapse speeding up into real time catastrophic failure is horrific. Planting more oaks, digging more swales, and encouraging canopy to protect the soil will continue to be our main mission of adaptability here at EEC Forest Stewardship.
At SeaTac, our international airport here in Seattle, there was a happening storm in early May. Lightning is so rare in our area, but the build up to this light show had been in the making all day, and it was quite the reward to sit and enjoy the infrequent bursts of electricity slamming down from the heavens. Though the actual bolts were shrouded in torrential rain, the color spewing out of the clouds was still impressive. This isolated thunder storm had been foretasted, and as I drove south west to the airport from Duvall, I watched menacing clouds descending ahead. By the time I reached the cell lot, the action was in full swing as the sunset was blocked out of the sky completely by this storm. Below you can see the mounting clouds and a great blip on radar lower right, showing the isolated event, which peaked and spent its self before ever making it to the airport.
I’m a Midwestern girl, so cloud formations have always caught my eye. In Oklahoma, you learn storm cloud patterns and what they mean at an early age, ensuring meteorology literacy because of our very serious weather. Though never in a direct path of a tornado, I’ve spent my fair share of time in the closet under the stairs of my childhood home listening to roaring train sounds shuttering the house with frightening tenacity. When the sky darkens, hairs on the back of my neck rise. Lightning also offers a real sense of powerlessness in the face of weather’s wrath. I’ve been near enough striking bolts to feel electric current through the wet ground, and had to sit in a lightning safe position for hours with groups of campers spread out in the woods to prevent a mass strike. You’re at the mercy of the weather, especially when there is no shelter at hand.
Luckily, in this particular experience, the storm was a good show- from a distance. There was actually a perfect knoll to clime up on for a raised view, above the aircraft and chaos of arrival traffic spread out below. Was the storm affecting flights? Not really. As an isolated cell, flights could easily go around the brief, but intense event. Even with the wind blowing directly in my face as I watched, I remained dry and relatively warm sitting in the grass watching the show. There was even time to take some footage, though catching a bolt in mid-strike was some what challenging. Even these photos do little justice to the actual event, still, it was good to capture some of the electric light.
It’s that time of year again where bright yellow flowers burst forth from the fields and garden edges. Dandelions are some of the first wildflowers up in Spring here at EEC Forest Stewardship, and we took an afternoon to harvest a few pounds of these delicious flower heads for another round of fermentation fun with local flora and made a batch of dandelion wine. This is a fun, easy way to appreciate the weed flowers and make good use of floral essences. Dandelion wine is mild and refreshing on ice at summer picnics and porch dinners with friends. The following recipe is a rustic mixology, there are many recipes to choose from but this one has remained our most easy to enjoy.
Forage 3 lb dandelion heads and take the time to pull off green base, saving petals for best flavor. The picture above shows the heads in the brown bag, then separate petals from green base and stem.
Bring 1 gallon of water to boil, remove from heat and stir in flowers- cover and steep 4 hrs.
Strain flowers from the tea, then pour in 10 lb sugar and put tea back on low heat and stir till sugar is dissolved. When sugar is gone, take off heat and let cool into 80s (a safe temp for yeast).
While tea is cooling, take your yeast (I use white wine yeast) and bloom in a cup of very warm water (I use just hot tap in kitchen sink) activating for 20 mins.
Take a 5 gallon carboy and fill with 3 gallons of warm water, then add tea and yeast mixture, stir till things are well integrated.
Put on air lock and store in a warm, dark place. Allow fermentation until airlock slows percolation to a “burp” a minute. If your air lock is slow, put the brew in a warmer place to help encourage yeast.
A line of chocolate lilies and behind them, camas arrive in show for the late spring parade of sun and good watering. We planted these bulbs back in February and now see the first flush of blooms from these often shy and illusive varieties. We’re kept them close in the kitchen garden, awaiting their first show to affirm successful replanting. Deer and sheep are kept out to allow these sensitive ground species a chance to establish and thrive. Some how, they have dodged slugs and made it through the tough sprouting stage where so many young seedlings fall prey to pests. It’s so wonderful to have these natives back on the land, but it will take a lot of work protecting and propagating them for future generations.
Gill scents the air while his flock nibbles blackberry in our future cotton patch geese enclosure. Spring bloom and blossom spreads leaf and flower as awakenings about. The damp moss underfoot confirms recent rain, but swales remain empty, confirming the 4th driest year on record for our state. We’re 4 inches behind on rain averages, and that means fire season this summer could be awful. Instead of worrying about the future, we remain in the present with grazing, weeding, planting, and observing. Our fruit trees from Raintree Nursery have all survived, and come alive with stretching daylight. From cherries to aronia, our orchard is expanding and diversifying into tasty new verities to further our experimentation with climate resiliency and soil compatibility.
We’ve had an 80% success rate in our fruiting selections, and continue to irrigate these plantings through the dry months to support survival through the first few years of the vulnerable young tree’s life. In time, canopy will shade the orchard enough to protect moisture in the topsoil. Mulching also helps with retaining water, as does companion planting. We’ve layered cardboard to push back grass and are currently adding mulch to create fresh planting space for such understory companions as comfrey and chives- both of which become well established and do not need much tending to thrive. Our electric mesh fencing allows the sheep to graze in between the young plantings now, with intention to allow some browsing of the mature growth in future. Aisles of alternating hedge fruit and grass will offer diverse eating for us and our stock, as well as access to tend and harvest, and offer open space to ventilate and maximize sunlight catchment on our south facing gradual slope.
Vertical growth adds production to landscape. Forests produce much more diverse ranges of food, medicine, and materials. Trees also weave complex ecology for a more resilient and thriving environment- but you can’t industrially harvest within a forest system, so our industrial agriculture continues blindly off a cliff with mega monoculture madness. Even in commercial timber forests, the science points to better yields with diverse plantings. There are many studies showing that cooperation between species in the environment creates more abundance and adaptation, therefore, layering plants with lower, mid, and upper canopy producers creates enough difference that no one or two things failing will drastically reduce overall food security.
Our fruit and nut trees are scaffolding, shaping the framework of our agricultural design in hand with replanting of native forest and transition zones throughout EEC Forest Stewardship. For the next 20 years, apples and pears, along with chestnut and hazel stands are scattered through the landscape. Most of our fruit trees are near the house, with access to irrigation and stronger protection from browsing predators like deer. The nut trees are further afield, and we don’t expect much nut production for another ten years. Below is a general map of orchard production zones at EEC.
When planning your orchard, note the different production ages of fruit and nut trees- they don’t all age and produce at the same times. Apples usually age out the fastest, but pears can produce for a hundred years with the right care. These timings determine recession in your food forest, and should be layered in much the same as the canopy. Transition zones are woven around grove and stand edges, as well as some open pasture where full sun graces grasslands and garden beds. Here in Western Washington, there is a lot of damp times (for now), and fruit does not do well soaking, so open spaces to encourage airflow is also imperative for orchard health. Hemming in the trees without airspace circulation will cause rot and mold in fruit and vegetation. This is why a lot of our food forest planning is done in rows with open space either side. The other pattern of planting is dotting a savanna landscape. Island trees in an ocean of pasture space. Chestnuts have such spanning canopies as the mature, keeping a lot of space between each tree is important in allowing the full canopy to mature.
Fruit trees also provide much needed food for pollinator species. Take a moment to listen while standing under one of our mature Asian pear trees. The canopy’s abuzz with the sound of feasting insects. This variety flowers quite early in Spring, acting as a beacon of sustenance during early days of waking hibernators in warmer temperatures. EEC fruit forest planning takes into account which species are early budding and which develop later to encourage production across the entire growing season. This also covers adverse weather events like a late frost or spring hail storm. Staggering your bloom time prevents a massive loss in one event- another reason monoculture leaves your fruit trees vulnerable. Climate change will make agriculture much harder over the next few decades. Diversifying and multi-story growing help prepare cultivation for the unpredictable future, while providing delicious taste, and ecological stability.
This is a picture comparing my wool fleece (on the outside) vest with shed hair fleece from our Katahdins. I’m often asked if we process our sheep fleeces into yarn. Well, the short answer is no, our sheep do not produce wool. Wait! What’s that shaggy growth on the Katahdins then? Glad you asked! Hair sheep shed! Hair- not wool. The difference is clear when you start picking apart Katahdin sheds. Wool has long, plastic (meaning stretchy) fibers that lend themselves to spinning into yarn. Wool can also be felted, and Katahdin fleece does have enough wool in it to felt, but the hairs dominate Katahdin fleece composition, and hairs are short and stiff, which makes for a brittle fiber, not conducive to pliability, which is imperative for clothing.
Some hair sheep have a higher wool count in their fleece, the most important aspect of a hair sheep’s coat is shedability. Hair sheds, wool must be shorn. A mix of the two must still shed on a Katahdin. If the coat does not fully shed, that animal should be culled from Katahdin stock to prevent the laps back into wool. In the same way, fiber sheep should not be crossed with hair sheep, or the quality of the wool will decrease. The clump of shed hair below looks very woolly, and indeed, the fiber is longer and wavy, but sheds properly as hair. The ewe producing this coat will most likely be culled sooner, we’ll see how her lambs turn out. The climate of Western Washington is getting hotter, so we’re selecting animals that are more comfortable in summer temperatures, which shedding sheep like Katahdins excel at.
Much of hair breed sheep were developed in tropical climates adapting to humid conditions. Katahdins are a mix of many Caribbean hair sheep and some naturally shedding UK varieties. There is a great summery of this animal’s development by Michael Piel here. The coat of these sheep was bred to shed because wool lost its value. The lanolin in wool is also part of the cause of most sheep meat being greasy, and falling to mutton status after a sheep matures. Katahdin sheep don’t produce a lot of lanolin, and use the energy that was put into wool growth, into meat growth instead. What you end up with is great flavor and a low maintenance fleece. The shed hair clumps up around the landscape, but is put to good use by nesting birds, borrowing insects like bumblebees- who use the fleece as insulation, and the soil its self, receiving rich calcium through the breakdown of hair on the ground.
Wool is still a great fiber to invest in when shopping for durable, warm clothing, but the time and energy that goes into shearing, cleaning, processing, and weaving to make wearable clothing from such material would be a full time job unto it’s self. At EEC, we’re looking for smart livestock operations offering good food, great ecological return, and easy maintenance. Katahdin hair sheep rise to the occasion on all fronts- with the self shedding fleece.
Below is another great picture of two different fleeces from our Katahdin hair sheep. This short, course hair will not make a sweater, but it keeps the sheep warm in winter, and relives it of the burden once warm weather arrives with no stress to the animal, or added cost and time to the farmer. Shedding season may be less flattering for the sheep, as they look mangy at best when the chunks of hair start rubbing off- most of the sheep spend a lot of time against the fences and barn posts working to loosen the itchy hair as it releases. Sometimes a partially shed fleece will naturally felt up and shed as a tattered mat. Ideally, the fleece should fully shed from the animal by early summer. All my girls have started the shed season, but it will take about a month for a full shed to complete. Once the old coat is gone, a sheen of fine new hair begins its slow growth into thick fleece by next fall.
Cascade Katahdin lambs hiding in a cedar grove at EEC Forest Stewardship are the newest generation of sheep at Leafhopper Farm. We’re into our 4th year breeding Katahdins, and the work continues to show in fine lambs. Ten is the final Spring count, spanning January through March. Eight ewes out of nine dropped four sets of twins and two singles. The singles are from one line, which I have kept for genetic differences, but will be phasing out, because twins are expected in Katahdin ewes, and lack of fertility is a cull trait. There are two teats on a ewe’s milk bag, so two lambs are ideal. Many commercial operations push for maximum output, at the cost of the ewes health and longevity of the offspring. More is not always better- lots of other stresses occur for the ewe and her lambs when 4-6 offspring are produced. The amount of inputs to get such gestation to term and remain within the healthy limitations of nature remains impossible. I import alfalfa for the winter months, and it could get too expensive for our operation limitations, so we’re drawing down our herd numbers again this year. If there was more time and pasture, if there was a greater need, we’d be able to expand the flock for food demand any time, and that’s where we’ll continue to be prepared to grow.
The young lambs are frisky and fun, charging around the fresh grassy field after weeks in a barn. When lambs are born, they are vulnerable to cold and wet, so in this environment, we keep them inside till they are well fluffed up and carrying enough body mass to be outside and not get cold. Cold lambs won’t grow up to be strong, fatty lambs. Cold animals have to eat more just to keep warm, we’d rather they be well fed and comfortable to keep the weight on. The ewes need milk fat, so keeping them fat and happy keeps the lambs the same. Fresh green grass helps a lot, but minerals like salt are still needed, and when the flock is in at night, alfalfa still fills the manger. We are starting to have warmer nights, allowing the flock to stay out all night. We’re also teaching the lambs about electric mesh fencing. After just one or two shocks, most soft noses stay clear of the fence line. It’s important that a lamb’s first encounter with electric mesh involves a shock. Without it, the lambs will quickly learn to get tangled in the mesh and such behavior can lead to choking and death. A hot fence sets the tone for a solid barrier, creating a healthy relationship for the sheep in the electric mesh fencing.
We’re selling another starter flock this year too. Two of our ewes and three lambs are currently listed to go as a group for a small scale livestock system. Fold these five in with some chickens in a pasture rotation, and you’ve got an easy setup with parasite management built in. Katahdins are naturally resistant, but keeping the bugs in check is still important, so chickens add a strong layer of gleaning and cleaning to disrupt parasite lifecycles. The hardiness of these sheep is what makes them a great starter sheep for new livestock enthusiasts, and their easy temperament is a joy to work with. What really separates Katahdins from other sheep, besides shedding their coats and being easy to maintain, is the incredible flavor of their meat. This is a meat breed, but it was also bred for flavor. There’s no grease, mutton, or game taste in this gourmet delight. The frame of this animal is stocky and long, to accommodate good portions of thick roasts. These sheep have no mutton taste to them, so the trim fat adds a sweet flavor. Even our ram meat is mellow and good. We’ve had a lot of fun blind tasting friends- who are willing participants.
Everyone enjoys the taste of our Cascade Katahdins, and our wait list for lambs continues to grow. In 2023, we had a client enter one of our lambs in their non-profit auction. This is a very exciting way to connect more people to great local food, while also supporting local conservation in the ecosystem EEC Forest Stewardship Cascade Katahdins reside. Sheep can be a great restoration species to utilize in building fertility for future forests of Cascadia. They are also a low impact source of healthy protein and taste delicious. We hope to inspire more people to work with the Katahdin Breed and form closer relationship with food and the soil it comes from.
Lambing is a joy for us here, because our ewes are independent mothers from birthing to weaning, and the quality of our lambs reflect the health of our flock and the environment they thrive in. Katahdins brows shrubs and trees, which is unusual in sheep behavior- most graze grass and nothing else. Because of the diverse diet, Katahdin sheep are great blackberry devourers, and keep pasture edges cropped so bramble does not invade, while remaining light on the land, preventing erosion. Like any livestock, sheep must be rotated off land to allow its recovery. Rotational grazing is the key to maintaining abundant pastures and woodlands. With a smart restoration plan, Leafhopper Farm’s Cascade Katahdins play an important role in building fertility through the conversion of grass and shrubs into meat and manure. The meat is delicious for us, and the manure feeds the plants to maintain ecological health and nutrient balanced soil. It’s a win win for all in this holistic practice.