Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Shearing is Finished! Yahooooo!

What's the deal? Why are we in this little pen? The older girls seem to know what is about to happen and remain calm, while the youngsters fidget and pace around.

Here are the Dorsets/Merinos on their side of the divided pen, with the young Shetland ewes in the front half. To the left is the two little Merino/Shetland cross bred ewes in the dog crate.

And so it begins......

Deep sheep discussion........(yes, there are still sheep in there)
Here are the fleece skirt-ers extraordinaire! Fleeces that are already done are lined up along the fence in the bags behind them.
Rouen on the shearing floor---she doesn't look like she could do much, but she is quite the little sly fox in sheep's clothing!
Blue, Merino Ram--the last of one on the floor.
Well, its done for another year. Whew, am I happy and relieved. The sheep spent a pretty chilly night, but things should get better now, as the weather is suppose to continue to warm up. I know they will be more comfortable in the heat as they were getting pretty itchy and hot. I gave them extra grain last night, bedded the barns in deep straw and gave extra hay, so hopefully that helped. They were a bit shivery this morning and greedily gobbled their grain down. After that they turned to their hay and se
emed to be coping well.

Such a shock to see these formally enormous sheep turn into these tiny little things that don't look much bigger than the lambs! I'll try and get some pictures of them in their newly shorn state in the next day or two. Everybody really looks in good shape this year. No one was too skinny, although a few (who shall remain nameless) were a bit tubby. (lets just say there were a couple who screamed at me all winter that they were staaarving---well obviously they lied!)

I was afraid that it would be quite chaotic during shearing with all the new babes, but we worked out a system that went quite well. About an hour before the shearer was suppose to arrive, my folks came up and I let all the girls in the barn out, including the two Merino crosses and their babies and the girls who didn't lamb this year. (15 in all). The plan was I would lure them down with a bucket of grain to the garage. My folks would walk in slowly behind them and shut the gates. It worked pretty well, altho a couple of the Shetland yearlings were a bit spooked, and one didn't get in the pen. I was able to finally put up a wire panel and pen her in a corner. Once they were all in the pen, I got in and slowly (this took awhile, before I got 'em sorted out) moved the Shetlands into one side and the big white sheep into the other, and then we cross fenced it with another panel. I don't like to pen sheep together that have such a difference in size. I also got the two babies out and handed them over the fence to my Mom who stuck them in a wire dog crate right outside the ewes pen. This kept them safe but still near their moms so they didn't panic.

Once the shearer came we helped him get his catch pen set up and all his gear in place, then I went in with the Dorset/merino's and with some 'added incentive' (someone they didn't know standing at the other end of the pen) they finally funneled into the catch pen. Once in there they are pretty easy for the shearer to pull out one by one. I had him do the two moms first so we could get the babies out of there as soon as possible. After the big girls and Rocky the wether was sheared we then moved the five Shetland girls that didn't have lambs into the catch pen.

After we got those 13 done, then I went up to the barn with halters in hand. I then caught two of the ewes, haltered them and handed ones twins over to Tom one of the helpers for the day, and the ewe over to my Dad. Then I got the ewe that was left and her single and we all trudged down to the garage. It really, really helped to have the babies to hold hostage as an incentive for the ewes to walk well on the halters. Rouen was the first one that we led down on the halter. Once down there I tied her up in the pen and she never got off the halter til the shearer had her! Last year she first tried to knock the shearer down (this worked for her the night before when she tried the maneuver on me), and when that didn't work, she waited til there was a gap open under the gate and dove under. We spent about ten minutes trying to corner her and finally she ran up and pushed her way through the gate and into the sheep pasture. I left her alone for awhile and then finally was able to lure her into a long alleyway but it still took awhile to catch her. Anyway, she was not going to get a chance to cause a ruckus again! While the ewes were in the pen and getting sheared their babies were stashed in the dog crate where they could touch noses and see mum. When the ewes were nearly sheared then Tom would get the babies and put them down at the edge of the gate. Dad would guide the moms towards the babies and they would all head out to pasture. We repeated the above process with the three other ewes and lambs in the Shetland barn.

Then came the two Shetland rams and wether. We had barricaded them into their shed the night before. I was really surprised that they fell for this a second time (after I penned them up for the first shearing date). I put hay in their barn and they all three came trotting up and right into the barn, whereas I slammed the wooden gate and then Dad helped me wire a panel over that as well. On shearing day I would reach in a grab the one I wanted and then we would try and pull him out and keep the others from barging out at the same time. I started with the wether and then the second in command ram and lastly the head ram. There was a little fussing and fighting but it never escalated to real knock down and drag out fights. Because the rams are so hard for me to separate and manage I usually do their toes, shots and wormings on the shearing floor.

Lastly were Blue the big Merino ram and his buddy wether (and son) Lanny Wilson, who is probably bigger than Blue! The night before my folks and I had built an alley way our of panels from their pasture to the garage. I had set up a divided pen in the garage earlier in the day. The plan to get them from point a. to point b. was fairly simple. Lanny tends to be rather spooky and flighty so the trick was to get Blue down there and not lose Lanny back to the pasture on the way. I took a bucket of grain and got Blue's attention then ran for my life to the garage. He chased me until he hit the green grass around the garage and then stalled out. In the meantime, Dad was shutting panels behind Lanny as he tentatively crept after Blue. Finally Blue couldn't stand it and tried to chase me some more, but by then I was safely behind a panel and he saw his grain and rushed for that. Panel shut and Lanny came right in and we got both panels secured and sheep in place. I have to keep them in separate pens as Blue tries to beat Lanny up if he is confined. On shearing day the only trouble we had with these two was Lanny was not going into that scary catch pen ---no way! So when I tried to open up the pens and herd them out, I ended up kinda in the middle of a sheep and panel sandwich. Finally I got Lanny turned and Blue went out right behind him and the helpers slammed the gate and we were in business. Once those boys are on the shearing floor they behave wonderfully and it was beautiful to see the shearer swiping that lovely white wool off in long graceful blows. I think he appreciated working on a nice big sheep instead of those squirmy Shetlands!

I remember at one point trying to count how many we had to go and we weren't even half done! Depressing! Then suddenly we only had two left, then we were done! It went allot faster this year and there was very little rodeo action. It was much quieter too, since we were able to run extension cords from the house instead of using the generator.

For the last couple of years my co-worker Vickie and her husband Jo have come and generously helped out on 'shearing day'. Vickie helps my Mom with the wool on the skirting table and Jo mans the gates. Last year we also had another neighbor lady come and help with the skirting. This year, because of the re-scheduling it was looking like it would just be myself and my Mom and Dad. We would have been able to handle it, but it would have been more work on each individual, and the fleeces would not have gotten much attention before being stuffed in the bags. However, another couple that I go to church with and who live just down the road expressed interest in coming to help this year. I was very grateful that they were able to come and they did an excellent job. My Mom and Nedra "The Skirters' kept well ahead of the shearer once they hit their stride and the fleeces looked well 'picked' and nicely packed. My Dad and Tom handled the gates, babies and moving the sheep in the right direction after being sheared. I'm usually here and there, helping a bit where I can, and trying to anticipate what needs to be done next. I also do the hoof trimming/vaccinations on some of the sheep after they are sheared. I so appreciate the help I have received on shearing day from friends and family. It seems to be an interesting event for those who decide to come. We keep everything low key and I try to do most of the hands on work (like moving them into pens etc.) myself, so the sheep don't become anymore stressed than they are. Once the shearing is done, my helpers are always willing to get right in and help tear down the shearer's equipment and help him pack up, as well as all the panel pens I've set up, move the wool bags into the garage and even clean up the area spic and span from stray wool wads. The shearer rarely has time to stop and eat with us, but I always offer him some sandwiches 'for the road' and he always accepts---my version of 'fast food'! I don't vary the menu from year to year, since I need something that will be ready once shearing is done. I usually cook a couple of roasts in the crock pot the night before, shred it, and the the next morning I take it out of the refrigerator, add BBQ sauce and let it simmer in the crock pot until 'lunchtime'. We then have BBQ Beef sandwiches on Onion Buns or Kaiser rolls, with baked beans, cottage cheese, cheese slices, chips and dip and condiments like pickles, horseradish etc. Everyone fixes their sandwich to their own taste. Then we all collapse onto various chairs and eat quietly for awhile and take a well earned rest! The shearer usually arrives around 9-9:30 and we go until we are finished, with a few short breaks for the shearer. I have snacks, sodas and waters available but its normally too hectic to snack or take too long of a break. This year we got done by around 2:30 which is earlier than normal. I'm thinking because it was so much cooler that it was easier for the shearer to keep up a steady pace. This year I sheared in April and it was 20 degrees in the morning and only got up to 40 in the afternoon. Last year I sheared in March and it was high 70s by the afternoon and we all were wilting--sheep and helpers, and the fleeces were falling apart because they were so warm. A big difference this year!

While we finally ate our meal, the sheep are enjoying filling up on some nice lespedeza hay and finally relaxing after their busy and stressful morning.

Have I mentioned that I'm so glad shearing is over! :-) Now I will start working on the fleeces, going over them again for second time and skirting them more heavily. The first time around the skirters will remove the dung and lanolin tags around the edges of the fleece, and usually the neck areas which are heavily contaminated with VM. Later I will go back and be even more picky and make tough decisions on each fleece. I will evaluate and weigh as I go so that once sacked up they are ready to price and hopefully sell. Some I will send off to be processed, but most will be sold.

Thats it for now! Except another great big THANKS to all helpers from this year and years past! I really appreciate you!

1 comment:

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

With so many more sheep, and some of them "big" ones, your shearing day is so much more work than mine! Glad it got done, that it was cool, and that you got plenty of help. Sounds like having to wait worked out. :-)