Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shearing in the Snow

March can be a fickle month for just about anything to do with farming. However, shearing our pregnant ewes in March is about as late as we can go whether the month is fickle or not. I usually have my friendly sheep shearer come by end of February so the girls are not yet too big, but somehow February got past me and, anyway, Vince was busy.

Vince is about my age. He has his own flock of sheep he runs on other people's grass seed fields. He calls himself a gypsy shepherd when he isn't out shearing. He lives in another valley a mountain away from me and knows more about sheep than I ever will care to. I always hope. when I put in the call, that he hasn't given up the craft just yet. I mean, I'm still raising lambs and my few woolies still need to be shorn.

March ewes are four months pregnant at a maximum on our farm. They are beginning to get a bit fat and some of them a bit ungainly. We don't want the shearing to be hard on anyone - ewes or people. Our girls, the old ones at least, are accustomed to being flipped on their backs and spun around the floor from side to side while Vince deftly removes a year's worth of wool in one go. He makes it look easy. Ewe after ewe. How hard could it be? I shake out of my trance. What was I thinking? I can still barely drop a ewe to the ground and then only the ones that have pity on me!

Today, Vince showed up with his trimmers and set up on the permanent hooks he has created for himself in one of the sheep stalls. I had cleaned the floor as best I could and put up shop lights for added visibility. The ewes had been locked in an adjacent stall all night without water or food. Vince needed them as dry as possible. I didn't need them pooping and peeing all over the cutting floor once we got going. The ewes were grumpy to start and by the end of the procedure down-right offended.

We all had our jobs. Farm girl Annie's was to grab ewes and back them up to Vince. Vince would do his thing. I would open the gate to let the naked sheep escape out to the shed, then quickly scoop up the fleece and place it in a garbage bag, marking in black what kind of sheep and what color. This is actually kind of important since we have introduced hair sheep into our flock. The fiber is much shorter and makes knitters mad if you get it mixed up with long fiber wool. Vince isn't that keen on this new trend of ours either. I guess it gums up his shears and takes him longer clip.

However, the point of this story is not about wool. Rather the absence of it. Once shorn our girls look nearly naked and it always makes me feel cold and irresponsible as an owner. Are they going to get chilled and die like I would if all my coats were ripped from me at the end of winter? Are the days getting warmer and the pregnancies creating more internal heat? What if it snows?

And then, of course, it did! The next morning the ground was covered with snow that had fallen through the night and actually stuck. My spring flowers were bent over. The sheep glared at me from their loafing shed. School was canceled, more because there hadn't been a snow day all winter, than because there was any real danger on the roads. Our farm stay guests borrowed mittens to make a snow man. Our town made the front page of the local newspaper. I wondered at the luck of shearing in the snow.

Within a day, the grass was green again and the only problem now was that I couldn't tell my sheep apart because they all had the same naked look. It would take a while to pick out Rosie and Harold and Piper and Dusty, but soon enough, the annual shearing would be a distant memory as we moved into the next phase of the year: lambing.

Photos: top, I think that is just-shorn Piper looking at the camera; bottom, a view from the kitchen towards the orchard.

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