Bringing the sheep home

sheep home.jpg

This is the time of year when we gather closer, fire up the wood stove, and bring animals in from their pastures. For the past few weeks our lambs were pastured on our friend Pete's field of oats a few miles away, and Wednesday morning we brought them home: Neil in front with a bucket of grain, Bella our dog and I in the car behind, hopping out as needed to round the sheep up when they wandered into a clover field for a snack, or stopped to visit with a neighbor's curious cows who came charging over to their fence. To see a few seconds of the moving sheep, click here. It was a fine way to start the morning. 


Our last cow to freshen, Heidi, had her calf 10 days ago, about the time we stopped milking the sheep. That's Maeda in the photo, bringing them home. We are now making cow cheeses with milk from our ten cows, which will be ready in the late winter.

 We will be shipping gift boxes again this year, and invite you to give the gift of cheese! You can find our online gift offerings here. We currently have available Coomersdale (sheep), Ben Nevis (sheep), the last of the Mossend Blue (sheep), Paisley Blue (sheep and cow) and Blended Feta (sheep and cow). You can find these at a store near you, at our online store, or come find us at one of these upcoming local events: 

Saturday, December 9th, 10am- 1pm: Craftsbury Farmers' Market Holiday Sale at the Common House on Craftsbury Common.

Saturday, December 16, 10am-4pm WonderArts Holiday Market. 


We are so grateful to you, our extended farm family, for your support and connection to the farm. Pictured here is the crew of friends and neighbors who came to sing and work during the Kingdom Worksong Week. We filled our basement with wood, and now when we go to stoke the fire, we are reminded of the songs and laughter and camaraderie of that day, and of all of the people who are part of this place. Thank you!

news from back in June....

One of the things we love about farming here is connecting people to this place. This happens when friends and neighbors come over to dig wild leeks with us in the spring, when we share a story with a customer at the farmers' market, when a student on a field trip holds a lamb for the first time, or when someone in a place far away tastes our cheese that carries elements of the particular grass and clover the sheep were eating on our farm when that cheese was made.

This week Anne Saxelby and Benoit Breal of Saxelby Cheesemongers wrangled a group of chefs and cheese mongers from New York City and Chicago (including folks from Eataly, 61 Local, Ardesia, The Meat Hook and Diner) and brought them north to these green hills to make the vital connection between the animals, places and people who are part of the cheeses they represent so passionately in their stores and restaurants. At Bonnieview they visited the cheese house where a fresh batch of Mossend Blue was on the table, visited the cave, walked out to the pasture to get the sheep, watched the beginning of milking, visited lambs, and tasted cheeses in our kitchen. They offered their insight and expertise on the flavors and textures of the Braeburn, the Blended Feta, the Bonnie Blue and the Patmos Peak, as well as a Gouda made by Marjorie Urie at Shagadee Farm. They also got to meet our dear friend and neighbor Maria Schumann of Cate Hill Orchard, who has started a sheep dairy just a few miles away where she currently milks 40 sheep. It was wonderful for us to connect with the people who work with our cheeses once they leave the farm, and to offer them a fuller sense of this place. We are grateful that they made the journey!

December, 2016

B o n n i e v i e wF a r m  N e w s, D e c.   2 0 1 6

bringing a tree home

bringing a tree home

This week, we have been blessed with abundant snow, and the excitement and hush that comes with it. On Sunday afternoon, (after checking on Heidi, one of our cows who has been looking ready to calve now for days), we headed to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, where Linden and Maeda were taking part in Catamounts, one of the community ski programs they offer for local kids. They maintain miles of beautifully groomed cross country ski trails, and the rest of our family headed out on the trails and into the woods. What a delight, Tressa zipping ahead and back on her skate skis, encouraging her sister Nell, while Neil and I remembered the simple feeling of moving through the woods on skis.


When we got home at dusk, Heidi had calved, a thriving little lineback bull calf who was standing and ready for the world. More snow fell Sunday night, and Monday we had a bona fide snow day: school was cancelled, snow was falling and kids were home, breaking trail in the field with skis, building snow forts, while Neil made a batch of Bonnie Blue that will be ready as the layers of winter snow falling today begin to melt in the spring. For now, we have sheep cheeses and mixed (sheep and cow) cheeses ready, made in the summertime, and we have been busy shipping gift boxes around the country.There is still time to order cheese for the holidays! You can find all of our offerings here.

snow lantern

Upcoming events: For our friends in Burlington, we will be doing a tasting at City Market this Thursday, December 15th from 11am- 1pm.And for those of you closer by, we invite you to join us on Friday, December 30, at 4pm, for a concert in our barn. We're inviting you to join the sheep and cows and chickens  for a little while, and hear songs about birds. Please dress warmly! Short concert will be followed by soup. 

Thank you for being part of this wonderful circle of friends, family, cheese lovers, cheese mongers, and neighbors. We wish you warmth and light as the longest night of  the year approaches, and may you have joy, strength and good health at the dawning of the new year. 

Fall, 2016

The ewes grazing alfalfa field, looking west

The ewes grazing alfalfa field, looking west

It has been a beautiful fall here. There is still plenty of pasture for the sheep; this week, they have been grazing a field of alfalfa, which they love. Alfalfa is high in nutrients, which translates into sweet, rich milk. While our sheep milking season is winding down, our cow milking season is ramping up. Vanilla had her calf on Saturday, a lovely heifer calf the kids named Violet (it is tradition to name a calf with the first letter of the mama's name). This brings our milking herd t o a dozen cows. We will continue to make mixed milk cheeses for the next few weeks until the sheep dry off, and then we shift to making cow cheese until lambing in April. Cows produce much more milk than sheep; last year, our eight cows produced as much cheese as our 120 sheep, so with twelve cows we will have plenty to work with.

Give the gift of cheese! Through our seasonal farm subscription, we send out a monthly shipment of delicious cheeses, with an additional gift of something that we are making at the farm at that time. In this way we strive to offer the recipients a closer connection to the farm and the seasons. To learn more, click here. 

We make our cheese by hand. In the beginning, we heat the milk and stir it with a large paddle, to ensure that it heats evenly. When we add the culture, we continue to stir in this way.  After renneting, we cut the curd using large cheese knives. At hooping time, we scoop the curd from the vat and place it in the cheese forms. With blue cheese, we drain the curd on a ramp, as shown here, and then gently place it in the forms. The blue mold needs air to grow, and maintaining the space between the curds in this way encourages the blue development. Other cheeses, such as Ben Nevis, are pressed by hand once they are in the forms. 

Our hands have also been busy harvesting! Each season on the farm has it's own surprises. We started a fall raspberry patch eleven years ago with canes given to us by our niece as a wedding shower gift, but this spring we could see that winter had taken its toll. What a surprise then to find the patch loaded this fall, bees happily pollinating abundant flowers on the cool sunny days of September, and berries a-plenty for family and friends. 


We'll leave you with this picture of two fall harvesters seventy odd years ago, standing on the same plateau where the sheep are grazing in the first picture, and not far from the raspberry patch. Neil's dad, Andy, is on the right, with his grandfather, Neil's great grandfather, James Urie, on the left. 
May you enjoy the harvests of the season, and find some unexpected delights along the way. Thank you for supporting our family farm, and for being a part of our extended farm family.


August, 2016

Tressa with Bluebell, the first calf born at the farm this year

This is the time of year when our cows are having their calves. We plan it this way; by introducing the bull in November, calves are born in August, and the beginning of the cow milk production overlaps with the end of the sheep lactation. In this way, we are able to make mixed milk cheeses until October, when the sheep naturally dry off. On Monday, we made our first batch of Paisley Blue (named after a town in Scotland where some of Neil's ancestors came from). 

Meanwhile, the sheep cheese we have been making all summer is aging beautifully in the new cave, and the first batches from back when the sheep were eating spring clover leaves and dandelion blossoms have made their way out into the world. Here, Neil is checking on a batch of Ben Nevis. Plenty of batches to go; if you are hankering for some sheep cheese, ask your local shop about getting some, or order directly from us online


A few days ago while I was milking the sheep, I heard Neil call the cows in for milking. I love this call. Neil learned it as a kid from his dad, and it rises up from him without thinking, as natural as breathing. It is the sound of generations of people who have milked cows in this place, and it is lovely. A bit reluctantly, he let me make

 this recording

 the next morning; hopefully you are able to hear it through the wind and rain and chorus of crickets in the back round! Later in the day, our daughter Nell was riding her bike past the cows in the pasture, and I could hear her call to them like her papa. 

Wherever you are, may you delight in the people and animals around you, and savor the fruit and cheese of the season. Thank you for being part of our farm family. 

Shearing time

 The first few days of March meant shearing time at the farm. Shearer extraordinaire, Mary Lake (top photo) joined us, and she and Neil managed to shear the entire flock in three days. It was busy in the new greenhouse, with friends and neighbors helping us to sort wool and wrangle sheep, and kids stomping wool down into the wool bags.                                                     


They are coming fast and furious! Nine lambs born last night, raising the total to over sixty. We've moved the oldest ones into the new greenhouse barn with their mamas (left), with a view of the disappearing snow. While the warm weather is a bit strange for March, it has certainly cut down on the number of hypothermic lambs in our kitchen. And with a few hundred lambs to go (note the ladies in waiting to the right- look at those bellies!), we'll take it! On Tuesday, we saw our first robins and bluebirds here, a flock of geese flew over the farm, and Maeda (2 1/2) found a worm, "a big fat worm, mama!" Yep, no doubt about it, spring is springing.

First lambs

First lambs born last night!

Most of the flock is due around March 15, but there was that day in the fall when one of the rams got in with the ewes a couple of weeks early... Often the first lambs are the ones that end up in the kitchen, the squiggly born early ones who need extra TLC , but these two are strong, and as you can hear in the video, their mama is attentive and talking to them.

Clear sunny day here, snow bright (we got 10 inches over the weekend), barn cozy- a fine time to come into the world. Welcome little ones.

Sheep rascals

It has been a rascally year for the sheep. Generally we can count on them getting into the garden a half a dozen times, usually in the fall when they start cycling, but this year they started their shenanegans early. We woke up some mornings in the spring and those sheep voices were way closer than they should have been. They took their favorite things, the two rows of peas, the kale, the brussel sprouts, still leaving us with an abundant, if specifically diminished, harvest.

But today I went out to get a bed ready for garlic planting and couldn't quite believe my eyes. I already knew that the sheep had been out the night before, as evidenced by the tipped over swingset, but I was unprepared for what I found- they ate everything! Echinacea leaves, old cucumbers, leek tops, strawberry and hollyhock leaves. They chewed the bark of the elderberries and devoured the horseradish plants, thin tall whisps of the leaf ribs sticking up where the bright green leaves were yesterday. They knocked over the bean tipi and ate the beans, plants and all, down to the ground, and while they usually leave a few tiny kale leaves on the plants, this time all that remained were the thick purple stalks sticking out of the ground.

We have already relinquished the garden to a few hard frosts, and the sheep did not do any permanent damage- the horseradish will grow more leaves in the spring, the elderberry bark will heal. It was not the grief of a garden lost but more a feeling of amazement at the thoroughness of their munching, and a surprise gladness, that the garden harvest could be made even more abundant with this food and medicine for the sheep, before the snow covers it all and really puts things to bed around here.


Lambs lambs everywhere! Over 200 now in the barn, and about a third of the mamas still expecting. It is chaos! We usually separate the lambs after a day or two, but this year because of the weather we have left mamas and babies together. In our barn, the mamas are contained but the lambs can go where they please- this means gangs of frolicking lambs running up and down the middle of the barn, starting to venture out into the sunshine. Tressa has come into her own this year as a shepherd, completely comfortable around the lambs, naming the ones who distinguish themselves (flippy floppy ears, dot, cereal) and bottle feeding the ones who need it. The triplets have expressed a range of feeling about the lambs, excitement to terror- they are, after all, about the same size. They have mastered the "baaa baaa!", and Maeda calls them by their proper name, "yam". Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the voice of a lamb and the voice of a year and a half year old person.
Linden is in his element with the sheep, watching them, feeding them, peaceful and fearless. The other day we were all ouside with the expectant mamas, some 70 sheep in all. Nell was on Neil's back, I was holding Tressa's hand and Maeda in my arms, and Linden was holding Tressa's other hand, until he let go and just stood with the sheep. When we were ready to go back into the barn, we had to hustle through the gate so the sheep, who were gathered all around, would not follow us. "Where's Linden?" We looked out, and there he was, not a care in the world, 30 feet away with the sheep between us and him. I don't think he noticed that we weren't there; at least not until Moon, our tallest and most imposing llama, leaned right down to him as if to say "What kind of creature are you, and what is your business here?" Linden's face started to look worried at that point, but luckily that was just about when Neil got to him. I think I will remember that image for a long time.