Notes from Windward: #69

A Few Days Late

an almost White Christmas


     It's hard to remember the last time Windward didn't have a white Christmas to enjoy. A full blanket of snow isn't a sure thing here, but the Christmas seasons that most stand out in my mind as I think back had plenty of snow.

     Windward's an ongoing construction project in that we're steadily working on a variety of projects to improve and expand our facilities. That work is done in increments that allow new people to participate since one of the reasons that people come here is to learn more about the life support systems they rely on. They don't just want to turn on a tap and have water; they want to know where it comes from, and where it goes next.

     Still, I find that it's amazing how a foot of snow covers up Windward's "a work in progress" quality providing a glimpse of how things will look as more projects are completed.

     Our guiding artistic principle is shibumi; as a result we strive to do our work in ways such that when a project is complete, it will blend into the landscape in such a way that one feels that it's all a cohesive part of a natural setting. It's true that in order to live here, we have to change things, but we strive to do that in ways which create as natural a setting as possible.

      One definition of shibumi is that it's a state of natural grace. It's delightful how even a few inches of snow blankets our home in that state of natural grace.

     Now, a couple of feet of snow, well, not so much.

     Our primary winter weather concern involves making sure that our animals are doing okay. The ones who do best in wintertime are the sheep because their lanolin-coated wool fleeses are very effective at keeping them warm.

      What we call a sheep is actually a symbiotic relationship between an animal and the bacteria which live in its rumen. The rumen holds bacteria that break down cellulose into sugar, a process which gives off a lot of heat.

      So long as their rumen is working, they have an active heat source in their belly surrounded by a couple inches of wool insulation. At that point, cold weather isn't a problem. When it's cold, the best way we can care for them is to ensure that their rumens are full of the right balance of cellulose and protein.

     One of the best treatments of the question of what sort of winter shelter sheep need is by Dr. Mary Gessert. She cares for sheep who live outside in Wisconsin, a place that makes our winter's look like a mere fall frost.

     It's hard for people to appreciate how well adapted to winter the sheep are. Since a picture is more persuasive than words, I snapped a picture of some of our sheep enjoying this morning's breakfast. A sheep's internal temperature is around a hundred degrees, and as you can see, not enough heat is getting through the wool to melt the snow.

Dolly's brown coat shows off
her blanket of unmelted snow

     We take delight in re-purposing things that otherwise would have gone to the landfill. Trampolines are something that many people buy for their kids, who often after a flurry of initial interest, go on to other activities. At that point, the trampoline generally just sits there taking up room and making it hard to mow the lawn.

     We originally acquired a donated trampoline with the intention of making it into a portable chicken coop, but other projects took priority this past fall, and it didn't happen. Probably will in the spring, but for right now there's little point in it standing around outside the sheep pen when the sheep might get some use out of it as shelter.

     Sheep usually don't care to shelter under things, but they're individuals and different sheep like different things. So we figured that we might as well move the trampoline into the sheep pen as a test to see if any of them liked hanging out under it.

MaryLou, Opalyn, Corina and Andrew pose for a pic
after moving the trampoline into the sheep pen

     My expectation is that the sheep would like it more in the summer as a source of shade, but by then they'll have moved over to the summer pasture which has lots of shady oak trees.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69