Shearing

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Roger came Thursday and sheared the sheep. I always dread the long hours of shearing and my inevitable aching lower back at the end of the day — but this year was different. It was 5° with a mean wind blowing snow, and even in the closed barn it was cold. (Yes, I did think of the irony of removing the girls’ thick wool coats on such a day, but I couldn’t change the schedule.)

However it did mean that my back was spared, as the moment I took off my gloves my hands were numb. It was clear I could not wrestle the sheep into the holding chair and trim their hooves. I am so clumsy that my hands end up bloody with nicks even in the best hoof-trimming conditions; with my fingers barely able to operate I could picture myself dripping blood like a horror film.

I had already decided that I would not worm the sheep, as I usually do on shearing day. I had to treat them for lice — two doses of insecticidal meds in one day seemed unwise. So while Roger labored steadily and patiently in the aisle, I had nothing to do but stand and watch, bag the fleeces, and then squirt the measured hypodermic of lice meds down each girl’s back and massage it in.

I wore rubber gloves for this, and again my hands were so icy I could barely manage to squeeze the hypodermic. My feet were gradually turning to painful frozen lumps.

“Are you warm enough?” I asked Roger at one point.

“Oh, yes!” he replied cheerily. Roger is about half my size and weight and seemed to be wearing about a third of the winter clothing, and he never utters a cross word. I decided not to complain.

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Roger works so calmly and smoothly that the sheep almost always seem to fall into a trance of quiet while the clippers whisper down their sides, the fleece falling away in a creamy ruff. It is a peaceful scene under the shop light.

Occasionally, however, a ewe will squirm and kick. Roger was shearing Edelweiss, who twisted nervously. “Is this the ewe I had such trouble with last year?” he inquired.  “It was a lamb.”

“I didn’t write it down,” I replied, “but it must have been Edelweiss or her half-sister, Mulberry. They were my two lambs last year.”

Twenty minutes later Roger was shearing Mulberry, whose feet slipped and clattered on the plywood platform as she attempted to break dance to get away from the clippers.  She writhed and heaved and kicked him in the stomach.

“It was this one,” Roger said mildly. I am always impressed by Roger’s sang-froid. He never blows up, curses, or shows the least impatience. After fifteen minutes of struggle he merely straightened his back, stood up, and breathed deeply for thirty seconds. Then he bent to the task again.

At last all the ewes were shorn and treated for lice. Roger complimented me on their nice condition. It is always tricky to gauge condition through a heavy blanket of wool.  This year my hay was less than ideal and I’d decided to feed a bit more grain. It was satisfying to learn I’d got it right.

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The bad news is that I have seven ewes still pregnant, not six (my yearling Georgie is also bred), and from the look of some of their udders it seems definite I will have lambs born while we are in Florida.

“I really need all these lambs to be born in the next two weeks,” I had said to Roger as he clipped carefully around a bag.

He turned his head to look up at me and smiled sympathetically. “Maybe induce?” he joked.

Ugh. My mind is churning as I try to think of solutions.

However Blackberry and her daughter Lily both look close. I moved Blackberry into a jug, just in case.

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4 Responses to Shearing

  1. I so appreciate your posts, your honesty in sharing the triumphs of well fleshed ewes and challenges of coordinating important family travels during lambing. We are lambing here in March, after unexpected foot surgery next week so I will face some of those challenges too.

    Whenever I read your winter posts I am stunned by just how breath numbing cold your region of NY is in winter. Today I think I will grumble a little less as I head out into my icy PA farmyard. Thank you.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I do always try to record my missteps. I make plenty of mistakes but I try hard to learn from them. This year, as my hair goes white with worry, I have added NEVER FORGET THE MARKING HARNESS and ALWAYS REMEMBER THE AGE OF THE RAM to my list. Warmest regards.

  2. Elaine Murphy says:

    Selden, do you use hand and feet warmer packets? You certainly could use them on the bitterly cold days, the heat lasts for several hours. Ed uses then when we are out for a while in the cold. Did you try the battery heated socks and mittens I sent you last year?

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Hi Elaine! I did try the battery heated socks. Unfortunately my feet are so difficult to fit in boots (women’s 12 AA narrow) that the battery socks wouldn’t fit in with them. But I do have the bag of warmer packets you sent. They would have been PERFECT for shearing day and I was so scattered I never thought of them until I read your comment. I am putting them on next year’s list!! Thank you!

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