I live in the Pacific Northwest on a century-old dairy farm with my husband, that we now employ to raise grass-fed lamb. My “day job” is as an engineering project manager in the medical device industry; I have a degree in Electrical Engineering and spent many years writing software. I have two Border Collies (once four), which were the original motivation for the farm. They needed livestock on which to practice their skills, which I occasionally enjoyed putting to the ultimate test at local stockdog trials. But now that I have a farm, I find there is little time to train for trials and travel, so the dogs just do useful work these days! We also have two livestock guardian dogs, chickens, and of course, the sheep. Every day is an adventure on a farm!
53 thoughts on “About Me”
Now that I know you’re a software engineer, your technical expertise with other things… fencing, tractoring… makes great sense!
Your new LGD is doing her job. I had to stop and take a good look at her and she told me that the flock and pasture were hers so to move on. I thought she might be a Great Pyrenees until I came home and read about her. Your blog and your pasture happenings are fascinating. I am glad your dad forwarded the information after Dolly went surfing.
Hey Joanie, good to hear from you! She does seem to be doing a good job, though she makes me smile-I can see her from the window, that she half play-bows at visitors, she is still SO silly. A dog-savvy person would probably not feel afraid to go in there, but everyone else might! There sure have been a lot of stoppers-by looking at the lambs!
I just found out about your blog via the Everett Herald. I am envious as I note your postings and see the photo of your farm from a distance. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, having moved on to other adventures. The farm is now operated by my brother and the focus has changed from extreme mixed farming of the 1950’s through the 1970’s to more specialization of what we called row crops…corn and soybeans.
I have daydreamed for years about having a few acres on which I could have a few head of hereford cattle, perhaps a few pigs, some chickens and a large garden. I continue to dream.
For now, I will live vicariously through you and your husband as you experience the varying times that encompass a farming operation. Keep it up….
Shelby M. Brustuen from Seattle Metro Area
Hi Shelby, thanks for the comments! It sure is interesting how AG has changed, and now the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other direction a little bit, with people feeling like smaller, diverse and local farms are something we value and want to pay to keep. But everything in a balance- the big and specialized farms have definitely lowered the price of food, which is good for the welfare of humanity. From what I’ve read, groceries in the ’50s were definitely a much bigger slice of our household incomes than they are today! I think we have to find the middle ground- how to specialize enough to maintain efficiency and low costs, while not sacrificing our values for producing quality food and taking good care of the animals and the earth.
I am having a hard time trying to find some Katahdins (hair sheep) for sale. I live on the Oregon coast. Any idea where I can find some?
Joan, it is hard to find them right now, there is very high demand. If you start by looking at the KHSI website breeder listing, that will get you hooked up with local people:
If they don’t have any, ask them who else they know and try to just connect with a lot of people. I always find that good breeders recommend other good breeders. It would be good to try to get on people’s lists now for lambs born next spring, versus waiting until they are on the ground. If people know ahead of time that you are looking, they can plan around that easier and contact you when they have something that meets your needs.
thanks for the info. I did make contact with two gals that have some katahdins for sale.
I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon your blog–probably something to do with Border Collies–but I enjoy it very much. I grew up in the suburbs, but I also grew up hearing my mother’s stories about farm life.
As an adult, I have lived on a farm twice, but only because I rented a room there. I was able to tend to some of the animals in exchange for rent though, so I’ve been bitten by the bug.
Maybe some day. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through your blog 🙂
Thank you terrecar- it’s funny how farming finds you sometimes!
Yes Michelle your blog is great. I sure was happy to find it and do read it! Good luck to terrecar on getting going with back to what she really dreams about doing! jel
I would like to inform you that people in the USA who cannot purchase A2 milk can purchase full cream powdered Goats milk from Australia: Caprilac is the name of the company/brand. Google it and it will come up. Also you can purchase A2 full cream sheeps milk from New Zealand at: http://www.blueriverdairy.co.nz Also they can purchase these milks from the UK and Europe, just google and you will find it. They will send product by mail. I find that even with the high cost of postage the total cost works out to 25% to 50% less than they sell it in the health food stores.
Thanks Sofia- I think fresh goat milk is pretty common and accessible in most of the U.S.; though a lot of people don’t prefer the taste. Sheep’s milk is pretty rare here. I’m not real keen on the palatability of powdered milk, I’d much rather have it be fresh. I would sure like to find fresh A2 cow’s milk, but it’s going to be a wait before it’s widely available here, I think- not until the patent runs out. The only other option is to get your own Jersey! 🙂
Michelle, I found your blog quite by accident this morning, and read with interest your e-article on Old Barn, New Barn. I am Joanna Hoem Flippin direct descendant of Elling Hoem (my Norwegian great-grandfather) and Edward and Myrtle Hoem, my grandparents. Sadly my own father, Edward Alexander Hoem passed in June 2005. My 4 brothers and I spent our childhood on the Farm. When my Aunt Eleanor passed away from liver cancer, the farm, almost it’s entirety was passed on to my eldest (of 14 first) cousins), Judy Asbury Edmonds. I am going to share your blog with my brothers Eric, Elling, Merle, and Edward (Ted). I would like to share email addresses and put you in touch with my eldest brother, Eric in particular.
I am wondering if the “fallen down century old farm” you are living on is, by any chance, the old Hoem Farm?
Joanna, Hi! Haha, what a small world it has become on the Internet. Indeed I do live on the farm, and the old silo is all that’s left of the original buildings. Judy is still our next door neighbor up on the hill, and a wonderful couple now owns the 1905 Craftsman house and they are working hard on restoring it (and just had their first baby, so another generation gets to play in that house!). The plot we’re on that had the barn and silo was sold to Mr. Tester in the ’60s, then to the Mormon Church, then Darlington Farms, and now us.
I do know your brother Eric, I’ve talked to him a lot, and he’s shared some great nuggets of family history with me- photos etc! I think I originally tracked him down via the Historical Society, as he had left a copy of a lot of his research there, along with his contact info. He had dropped by a couple of times when he’s in the area, and brought your mom once. It was so fun to meet her and hear her memories of the place. So, if you are in the area, drop me a line and stop by!
I think about the Hoem family all the time, especially when unearthing old things, like ancient fence posts, bits of glass bottles etc. This place has been farmed for a long time!
correction: I meant when my Aunt Evelyn passed passed from liver cancer.
I’d love to stop by some. I live in Salem, and maybe next summer I can get up that way. I miss my father terribly, and yes, we have many, many pictures and farm memories, how proud my dad was of the Farm, and the thousands of memories and photos he shared as we were growing up. I am surprised Eric never mentioned you before, and he and I are very close. I’ll tell him we made contact. It’s been so long since I have been at the old house, we visited once in the late 70’s when one of Judy’s kids was still living in the house. There are a flood of memories, and I have to say when I found your blog this morning, and seeing the picture of the farm, choked me up. I am happy to know that there is new blood being breathed into the Farm. My mom is 92 and probably will not make any more trips north, much to her sadness, but Eric was so wonderful to get Mom up there for years to visit the pioneer graves on Memorial Day and to meet you. I will meet you one day. p.s. We had a border collie growing up named Lassie, so even the coincidence of your having border collies made me smile. 🙂 Dad would be so thrilled to tears, just knowing the Farm has good stewards now would ease much of his personal sadness over what transpired at the farm after his parents passed away.
Joanna, I’ll send you a photo of what it looks like today!
Hello- I live in Sultan, WA and would like to know where you found the Cattleman’s Custom mix of minerals. I am currently looking at using boluses for copper, selenium, and cobalt for my Icelandic sheep but would like to still offer them an appropriate loose mineral for the times they feel they need it.
Hi Lydia- you have to join the Snohomish County Cattlemen’s association. It’s $50/year for an associate membership, but for me it’s worth it, because the minerals are very discounted ($20/50 lb bag). Plus it’s a great group of people, I learn a lot at their meetings. http://www.cattlemenassoc.org/
Hi there, I don’t know if you ‘do’ blog awards, but I have nominated you for one (details on my home page if you wish to know more) as I’ve been enjoying your posts. I’m in the middle of collie and crofting country, here in north west Scotland, so it’s interesting to hear what’s the same and what’s different with you!
Why thank you, braith an’ lithe!
I would live to talk to you about the mummified babies. One if our sheep have given birth to mummified babies two years in a row.
Kelly, I’ll shoot you an email!
Hi there – just to let you know your blog has gone transatlantic! I live in a beautiful historical city in the north of England – York – and I absolutely love reading about your stories on your farm. You’re obviously very knowledgeable and I love reading your stories. I work for the UK equivalent of the National Forest Service, so I spend a good deal of time working with farmers here!
All the best to you and your flock
PS – where in the Pacific Northwest are you from? I’m afraid embarrassingly I know it only from the Twilight books…
Hi Kate, thanks! I live just north of Seattle, so about a four hour drive from Forks, WA! 🙂
Great blog, can you do me a favour and contact me via e-mail I have a couple of questions 🙂
We just bought a farm and got two little bottle sheep – i’d love to see a reading list – you seem to have a lot of neat remedies, and i can’t find enough to read on sheep :). Chickens, there’s a ton!
Stephanie, I think the best book out there is Raising Sheep the Modern Way by Paula Simmons. I have several other books, but none of them have anything that’s missing from Paula’s book! I also like Pat Coleby’s book Natural Sheep Care, though the title doesn’t really reflect what it’s about: the entire book is on mineral supplementation. But it’s a great reference to have on health problems which can be caused or influenced by mineral imbalances.
The Veterinary Handbook for Sheep Farmers is good to have too. Lately I’ve been referencing the online version of Sheep & Goat Medicine by Pugh- I intend to buy it, as it seems like an even better reference. And, lastly, the American Sheep Industry Association has a great reference called the Sheep Production Handbook. The last 3 are expensive books, but I find that since vets know less and less about sheep, and fewer vets are available to do farm calls, we really need to know a lot ourselves and have good reference materials on hand to look things up.
And then, of course, there is always the Internet! Susan Schoenian has written an amazing amount on her Sheep 101 and 201 series websites. Those are always a very reliable reference.
Thanks so much! I have the first one :), but i will keep my eyes open for the others, and check out the Sheep 101/201 websites- i’ve bookmarked your blog as well – i love your writing style 🙂
Thanks Stephanie! I love to write!
I am just finding your blog while searching out information about free choice minerals for sheep and Pat Coleby’s mix. I read an old post you have regarding this, and am wondering what you ended up using. I have a small herd of Icelandic sheep in Maine and am struggling with parasite control. I am nervous to try her sheep mix, was going to do the free choice standard stock lick, but decided I need a bit more information. I can not find anyone around here that seems to know anything…..would appreciate hearing what you are using…..thanks so much, am planning on following your blog from now on!
Hi Margot- I know the feeling, of not being able to find anyone who really knows anything about this! Right now, I am mixing two different commercial mixes together and then adding sulfur, dolomite and zinc to those to get the ratios where I want them to be, because Pat’s mix by itself isn’t right for the grass I have here. This is working pretty well for me and my foot problems I have been trying to address are significantly reduced to a very minor issue in a few sheep. As far as I am aware, I have never lost a sheep to copper poisoning to date. I do also send liver samples to a lab every time I butcher or cull, so I can monitor levels of all minerals, and I think this is really helpful and also reassuring. For a while, my copper was a bit too high, but more recent tests, it was normal with a few that were too low, so I think I’ve found the middle where I need to be with that. I have found that levels of zinc and sulfur are also too low, thus I’m adding those. It is a continuing endeavor to try to get it honed, but I feel it’s worth it.
You have a new fan in Connecticut (southern proper 🙂 ). I have a big fancy house on three acres … It’s like suburban heaven but nothing like your farm. The minute I don’t have four little children swarming, I’m moving back to Washington to buy a farm! I was born on Whidbey and that country is in my blood. Now dragging my Shanghai-born husband will be a real event!
Hi belltower1- thanks, and welcome!
I just found your blog the other night and have already learned a lot from you! (I didn’t freak out when I saw my dog eating the placenta the day after I read about yours, lol).
We too raise Khatadins here in Virginia. We are in the middle of lambing (about 20 ewes pregnant) and not quite half of them delivered with !00% healthy so far. I have a question and was wondering if you have ever seen or heard of a still pregnant ewe “kidnapping” a lamb from one who birthed twins. She is nursing the little lamb for about 3 days now and she still has not delivered. Thought this was really strange, but we are still new to this (5 years). It may be common but I can’t find any info on it.
Hi Tamara, welcome to my blog! Yes, I have had ewes kidnap babies before, this is called “grannying” and is very annoying. You shouldn’t let a ewe do it if she is still pregnant, because the lamb will nurse out all her colostrum, and it won’t be available for her own lambs when they are born. Plus, she could get awfully confused when her real lambs arrive, and may risk rejecting that earlier lamb. Usually you can stop a ewe from doing this by penning her for a day when another ewe’s lamb(s) are born.
This is why it happens: ewes are triggered to mother-up with lambs from obviously the hormones released during birthing, but also from the actual sensation of a lamb in the birth canal, and from the scent of her placental fluids expelled onto the ground. Experienced and very maternal ewes can sometimes trigger just from the smell of placental fluids, despite the lack of the other two factors. So, it only happens when she is near another ewe who is giving birth, and she’ll forget about it after a day or so, when those placental fluid scents have subsided. Ewes that do this tend to repeat, so you have to watch them all the time.
Thank you for the information, it was very helpful. I will have to keep an eye out for this in the future, especially with the one ewe. Thanks again!
I cracked up reading about your MicroFasts septic. We have one here in VA. and I can relate to your experiences though we were not blessed with a uv light! They are passing laws here designed to prevent homeowners from doing there own work. I still do my own work but I had to give in to annual state inspections after 7 years of lawlessness! My wife and I had a conventional system but some construction caused us to need to perk test and we failed. We are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed yet live nearer WV than the former.
Thus, we are now the proud owners of a Fast System.
I wish you we’ll and many happy years of MicroFast Memories.
Oh, boy, Chuck, good to hear from you. I hope yours treats you better than ours has treated us!
I just read your 2009 post about using goat mineral in an attempt to control foot problems. I have battled foot problems in my sheep for years and would be willing to try almost anything, but I’m afraid of copper. What was your final conclusion? Thanks for your help.
Hi Lisa, yeah, I’ve written about if off and on over time, so I think if you search the blog for the word “copper” you can read through more of my evolution in thinking and experimentation. But the summary is: yes, I do still feed copper and I think it helps. I send liver tests to the lab regularly to make sure I’m not going too high. Over time, I’ve learned that lots of people feed copper to sheep, our feed salesman says he sells a lot of cattle mix to sheepmen. So, it’s not as big of a deal as some have been led to believe; but you do have to approach it with some caution.
I have since decided that hoof health also depends a lot on zinc, sulfur, calcium and magnesium. I haven’t found a mineral brand that gives me everything I like, so I mix two brands together in a certain ratio, then add zinc, sulfur, and dolomite (Ca + Mg). This has all but eliminated food problems for me. If I ever have a scenario where the sheep stop eating minerals (like a while back, I’d experimented with adding some de-worming herbs to their mineral, which cut consumption, and I didn’t really realize it for a while), their feet start to crack again. IMO, it’s the cracking that opens the foot up to bacterial invasion. So rather than obsessing about how to rid the farm of bacteria, which is impossible, I think it’s more sensible to focus on the root cause: why are the feet cracking? I also feel that high protein diets encourage that same overgrowth and splitting, as well as sometimes internal swelling (ala founder). So, if you have a lot of problems, you can try cutting them back to really modest levels of protein in grass hay, no grain, and see if that helps. I find if I get on occasional limper, it’s usually in summer when our grass is really “hot.” During winter, when the ewes are on low-protein local hay, I almost never get a case.
Thanks for the footrot article. That there are other sheep breeders that are confounded and dismayed with limping sheep, is encouraging. I raise St. Croix, and while I am not sure it is true footrot, I am getting so discouraged when I see them limping around. I was going to give one particular ewe an injection of LA200, then read about using it topically with DMSO(which I have used for horses). I have only seen it (LA 200) in injectable bottles. Is that what is used in the mix? Thanks! Will visit your sight often , now.
Tamara, sorry for my slow processing/response, sometimes things slip down in my email inbox and I miss them! Yes, injectible LA200 is what’s used in the DMSO mix that some people use. I should echo that it’s not an approved use in food animals, not even extra-label since DMSO isn’t labeled for a similar species. So it’s something one might consider more for a pet you know will theoretically never go into the food chain. (But helpful to know that DMSO is approved for use in human medicine, and as you mention, it’s long been safely used on horses.) It does definitely work well, and better than just injecting the LA200 into the body for systemic circulation; I think because it gets it right where it’s needed, and possibly circulation isn’t that good down in the hoof tissue.
Good luck with your foot issues! I have found that changing the mineral mix supplement in my sheep has made lameness mostly a thing of the past. So I think nutrition is the biggest component, if you can figure out what they’re missing mineral-wise in your feed, you can go a long way towards building stronger hooves that don’t crack and become vulnerable to infection.
I was hoping you may have time to discuss your resolution with the sheep mineral dilemma of locating the suggested components for Pat Colby’s mineral lick. I would really appreciate a conversation if possible. Katiebrentwoodfarm@yahoo.com
Just emailed you, Katie!
Good morning! My name is Kate, and I am a sheep farmer in Virginia. I read a Blog of yours updated last 2012 on copper for sheep. I am struggling with hoof rot in my sheep and have red over and over again pet Colby’s book. I can’t seem to get rid of it and cannot get my sheep to eat copper sulfate and was wondering if you figured out a sheep ration that they could work with free choice? I greatly appreciate anything you might be able to provide. I am not the chemist, and my math is a bit Rusty. But would love your input. Thank you!
Kate, I do feed a blend of a couple of commercial mixes that have copper in them. I believe it’s also in the form of copper sulfate but maybe mixed in a mix, it tastes different and makes it more palatable. I also pump up the zinc and sulfur, and also add dolomite to get the levels where I need them to balance out my pasture. I truly believe finding the right mix is all it takes to make foot problems disappear…
Hi, I have a new border collie puppy that is now 6 months old and we have been really struggling with her diet and loose bowel movements or diarrhea on and off, and also just disinterest in eating (we feed her 3 cups of high-end grain-free kibble 2x/day and she didn’t touch her food today). I read your post about making your own dog food and using leftovers, which my gut instinct tells me to try. I do give her cooked eggs and raw veggies (carrots, zucchini) as well as freeze dried raw lamb and duck meat+organs. However, I have been avoiding leftovers as I am really concerned about the seasoning and spices we use in our food–for instance, I read that garlic is toxic to dogs and most of our food is seasoned with garlic. What is your advice? Is there seasoning in your leftover food that you give to the dog? Or do you just stick to leftovers that happen to have no seasoning? Why do you avoid potatoes? Are mushrooms ok? Our dog loves homemade crepes and pancakes, but not sure if this is exactly good for her? Would really love some more guidance to see if some adjustments in what we feed her would fix the bowel issues. I do have to say she seems to crave mud and other animal feces and eats that at every opportunity she finds.
Hi Magda- in truth, I make food for my dogs fresh every day, but often they also get leftovers out of our fridge as well. This post summarizes pretty well what I do, though it changes over time.
Right now, I feed my guardian dogs twice a day because I have a growing pup, and want them to be on the same schedule since they are together. I also feed more ground beef now, because I have a difference source where it is cheaper than poultry. I don’t worry too much about what’s in our leftovers that go to them, because it’s all in moderation, and we cook from pretty whole-food sources for ourselves. I do allow all sorts of things to make it into their dinners on occasion- mushrooms, onions, grapes, and nightshade family plants (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant). But I think this is different than when a dog “gets into” something where they eat a whole lot at once of something on the “risk list” and it’s not combined or buffered with other foods.
For your dog, since she’s having a lot of trouble, you may want to think about doing more of a “food elimination” diet approach like people sometimes do. Pare down to just organic cooked oatmeal for about a week (put some salt or broth on it if she doesn’t like it plain), until her system stabilizes. Then start adding things to it one at a time, for 7-10 days for each thing. That way, you can detect if some particular ingredient bothers her, or she doesn’t prefer it, and cut that out. Some people have luck going grain-free, for dogs that seem sensitive to grains, just doing meat, eggs and veggies.
Be mindful that dogs have a really short digestive tract, so don’t break down fiber well. So the raw veggies may be just “going through” her, you may want to steam them to make them more digestible.
It’s interesting that your dog is eating mud. Eating feces is pretty normal for dogs, and there is a lot of nutrition in feces, because that other animal will have passed a lot of pre-digested nutrients. But dirt eating is unusual. Some vets consider it more of a “mental” problem. But I am wondering if she is craving trace minerals? You may want try adding a powdered or liquid trace mineral supplement to her food for a good long while and see if that helps. It’s expensive, but trace minerals are a major building block of nutrition, and the body can’t utilize many vitamins if the minerals aren’t there. The other thing that dirt-eating does, whether an animal craves it or not, is it brings in different priobiotics- there are some soil bacteria that also live in our guts. So maybe adding a probiotic to her food for a while could shift her gut biology.
Hope that helps and good luck!
Thanks Michelle, I will convert from raw to steamed or pureed veggies. Our pup actually loves oatmeal (she likes anything we cook), and I have found that just adding in real food to the kibble helps a lot with both her appetite and GI output–I’ve done eggs, carrots, apples, pears, radish shoots, tomatoes, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, chicken liver and a little pasta or bread. Today for the first time I gave her boiled drumsticks and chicken broth and she devoured it along with all the kibble that came afterwards. So far so good–her poops have been formed and pass easily. Before, she would squirt for 5min, as if she couldn’t get everything out, or seemed to strain with no output. She has been gaining weight although at 6 months she is only 31lb, and I thought a border collie should be larger at this age? I think she does probably crave trace minerals, so will look into a supplement, although I wonder if giving her real whole foods may help as well… Thanks for your help and common sense!
Magda, I hope it helps. 30-ish lbs for a border collie is not unheard of, some of them are quite petite, and they do often tend to stay quite lean. I would just mostly judge by her fat cover on her ribs, and if she is generally on a positive trajectory for weight gain through age two, even if it’s slow.