Again, credit to Lee for distilling all of the good advice I’ve gotten about how to really share my farm with others into one useful phrase.
We spent Wednesday evening setting up for shearing. We have learned that if we set up morning-of, the sheep get all nervous and suspicious. Nervous sheep do not go into pens willingly. So we set up the pens the night before so that the sheep can inspect them, grow bored of them and move on. At 4pm, we rolled out the last bale of hay for the ewes to gorge on. The ewes will breathe much more comfortably during shearing if they don’t have full rumens.
Yesterday morning, we penned up the ewes first-thing. I tripped and fell carrying the grain bucket. Not a good idea! Before I was crushed by a stampede of hungry, grumpy ewes, Matt took the bucket from my hand and distracted the horde. Thanks, Matt!
Once the sheep were tucked into their pen to await shearing, we added three fresh bales to the barn. That way, freshly-shorn sheep could head straight for the buffet and fill up on good, tasty hay.
Mary, our shearer, arrived and set to work. Matt encouraged sheep to enter the sorting chute, and each sheep dispensed leapt straight into Mary’s waiting arms. I am often asked why I don’t shear my sheep myself. Shearing takes real expertise, skill and physical strength. Mary has all three in spades. She’s taller than I am, which helps, but more critically, she has shorn thousands of sheep at this point and has the skills necessary to restrain the sheep humanely, shear carefully, and carry on a partial conversation all at the same time.
Shearing is a time to evaluate sheep health. Shorn of their wool, we can finally see if a ewe is thin or fat, pregnant or potentially open, healthy or ill in some notable way. We noted that Chloe’s udder has a bad side. We can plan to have her only raise one lamb. Most ewes were quite fat, we noted, but a few of the yearlings could do with some more chub. We’ll make sure that we make it easy for the littlest sheep in the flock to get their fair share of feed.
I’ve buried the lede a bit here, but we had a guest of honor at shearing this year. Laini Fondiller, from Lazy Lady Farm, came to shearing this year. An artisan cheesemaker and goatherd, Laini is solidly the busiest person I know. She has been running Lazy Lady Farm for 35 years now, making some of the finest goat cheese to ever grace the counters at Murray’s Cheese and other fine establishments. We’ve been friends for a decade now, collaborating on dairy goat genetics and commiserating about running small farms. It was really a treat to get to spend a day working together – we so seldom can find that kind of time.
This year’s wool varied in quality. The BFL was clean and lovely. My only concern is the prevalence of some felting in the longer locks. We have a few BFLs whose wool is not quite up-to-standard. We’ll make sure that such ewes meet a ram with amazing wool every time. The Borders were more of a mixed-bag. Some ewes had lovely fleeces, others were rough and matted. Several fleeces had to be rejected outright due to cotting and felting, which is always a disappointing outcome. We have some amazing jet-black Border Leicester fleeces from our lambs. I’m going to make something really, really special with that wool.
After shearing, we enjoyed some homemade seafood chowder outdoors together. Mary and Laini departed, and Matt and I picked up the sorting pen and then stowed the wool, which will wait until I can make a trip down to Battenkill Fiber Mill.