Saturday, March 05, 2011

Today was shearing day at my friend's farm. A bunch of wonderful ladies and a few of their gentlemen came to help out. They are all small farmers wanting to learn about all aspects of sheep-keeping. (I'm not sure that's a word.) Some spin and knit, some already have their own small flocks, but they all have one thing in common - dedication to sustainable agriculture, slow food, and healthy lifestyles. Pretty cool. A very friendly bunch as well. Which is good when you're spending 9 hours grouped together around fleece, after fleece, after fleece.

Here are some of the ladies skirting what looks like a white fleece:
Normally everyone would be spread out between two skirting tables, but we had a lot of time today with just one fleece on the tables while we waited for the shearer, who has the hardest job.

This is the shearer. He's a good guy. Behind him you see the only wether mixed in with the ewes (a wether is a castrated male). He has a pink ribbon to mark him so the shearer doesn't accidentally cut off what remains of his boy parts. Normally he takes a pass down the belly, unworried about parts, because most of the sheep are lady sheep. The rams are separate so he knows who they are.

Here are some more of the ladies skirting, and Angus the Great Pyrenees is working hard too, as you can see.
The term "skirting" fleeces comes from the fact that a lot of what you're doing is taking off the edges (or "skirt") of the fleece. Parts are matted, parts are poopy. It's important to know where the neck and butt are, and usually very obvious from the state of the neck and poopiness of the butt. There will be some vegetable matter (also known as VM) mixed in. Timothy hay heads in a fleece are awful if they come apart. While you're at it you shake out any second cuts, or short pieces of fleece that are very undesirable. It takes some time, even though Melissa's sheep are for the most part very clean.

Once they're skirted the fleeces are rolled up just so - folded in thirds with the neck and butt at either end, rolled from butt to neck - and bagged. Then a tag is added with that sheep's name on it. Melissa knows all of her sheep by name, not just by number. I got to name one today. Well, actually I just suggested a name and she used it. One of the lambs from last year is now named Darling. :) Most of them have real human names though, like Barbara, Linda, Mimi, Colette, and Donna. The rams are Lightning, Jack, and Bruno. I think I inadvertently named Lightning, and Bruno came from a farm on the coast, already named. Even the rams in Melissa's flock are very docile, although if you have any sense you keep an eye on them just in case. They are boys, after all.

It's amazing to me how the sheep just give in and sit there all limp. Some do struggle, but for the most part they look resigned to the process. Sometimes they do get cut, it's just part of being shorn, but they heal up just fine.
Now they're all naked and ready to lamb in three weeks. Having them shorn before lambing helps Melissa to see how imminent they are (girl parts and udder show better) and helps the lambs to find the milk more easily. If the wool is left long sometimes the lambs will try to suck on it and not find the teat right away. The girls might get cold if we have a cold snap, but Melissa will feed them more to keep them warm if they need it. They also have free access to the barn to keep out of the weather.

Melissa works hard to keep her help happy. She answers questions all throughout the day about all aspects of the business. And she serves a wonderful lamb stew for lunch every year. It's a fun event to be a part of.

Yesterday I walked Tonka quite a bit to try to bring the swelling down in his legs. It didn't seem to help much but we had fun. He helped me get the mail, move a wheelbarrow and trough, get the garbage cans and put them under the carport, etc. He even went under the carport. We explored the woods and the orchard behind the house.

Then he had his hair done.
I detangled it all and rubber banded the top 1/4 of his mane to keep it on the right side. I'm trying to grow back part of his bridle path, as you can see in the picture.

This afternoon Tonka was quite chipper and I couldn't feel any swelling in his legs. Yippee! I think he's definitely on the upswing from whatever was getting him down. I think he's also getting tired of being alone, although he can hang out right next to Scout with just the fence between them. I don't want to put him back in with the boys if he's wearing his blanket, but I'm not sure if I should put him with the girls since he was sick and they weren't. What do you think? Wait a week and then let him in with the girls? Or is that too soon?

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