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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Benefits of Fall Shearing in a Commercial Flock

I do quite a bit of local shearing. Most people do their shearing in the spring. That is books and old farmers recommendation. 

Time of shearing is actually more of a personal choice. I have long wool sheep so am continously shearing at home, but for those who have to hire a shearer, picking a time that works for you and your shearer is imperative. 

While spring shearing has many benefits and is preferred, I want to point out some advantages to getting on the fall shearing schedule.

#1 The shearer is not as rushed. This makes it easier for you to get a day and time that works for you and the shearer. Not to mention they will have a bit more time to go over flock health with you and just general life happenings.

#2 More room in the barn. In the Northeast, most shepherds house their sheep solely in the barn over the winter. Having the fleeces off the sheep creates more room in the pens and at the feeders.

#3 Easy of lambing. While spring is generally the time small flocks lamb, a lot of commercial flocks try to have a fall lamb crop as well. Fall shearing makes lambing easier in the late fall and early winter.

#4 Less moisture in the barn. Let's be honest wooly sheep create a humid environment.  Taking away the bulk of the wool reduces the humidity.  This lessens the chances for upper respiratory problems and other health issues in the barn.

#5 Checking overall flock condition.  We pasture our sheep over the summer. As we bring them in like most shepherds, we like to check over body condition on our ewes. Having them shorn makes this easier. Even if you do not summer pasture, fall is still a good time to check body condition before going into the winter months.

These are only some bullet points on fall shearing. I still recommend talking with your local shearer on their recommendations.  Some have a fairly busy fall schedule or only travel in the spring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Washing a Fleece

I have put off doing this post as I always believe that there is another post out there on this subject, but at every show I have someone ask how to wash a fleece. I will give you the method that we use as well as some variations of it.

The very first thing you need to do it find a fleece. Very obvious, but lets just say don't use just any fleece. You want a fleece that has been raised and prepared for a spinner. If you get a bad fleece, you're going to have a bad experience in which case you won't do it again.

Then you need to skirt the fleece. Even if I've bought a skirted fleece, I always go back and reskirt it.  Skirting is simply put, removing the dirty wool. You want to pull the wool from the britch(crutch) area, armpits, and neck. These all contain the heaviest amount of vegetable matter and lanolin. Next you want to check the rest of the fleece for any heavily contaminated areas. These are just really dirty areas. These will need removed as well.

Next for us, we lay the fleece out in our bathtub. (Disclaimer: We don't live in the city and have a very good septic system.) If you live in the city or are worried about your septic system, then I recommend a large trash can or rubbermaid tote. These work exceptionally well. You simply need an area large enough for the fleece you're washing that can hold water. The tub needs to be filled with hot water. I'm not just saying a little hot. Turn your hot water heater up, or add boiled water to the hot water out of the spigot. I add the soap/degreaser after the tub is full. We use both laundry detergent and a degreaser depending on the fleece. If the fleece is high in lanolin we use the degreaser. A lot of people also use Dawn dish soap.

Once the fleece is in the tub with the detergent of your choice, it must sit for approximately an hour. The water should still be warm, but not scorching hot when you remove the fleece. At this point, we simply drain the bath tub. If you are using a trash can or rubbermaid tub then you will need to gently remove the fleece and lay it in a strainer of some sort.

Now we need to refill our tub. Once again with hot water. Only you can determine how dirty your fleece was. If the water that drained out of the fleece was still yucky then it'll need another wash. In which case you'll need to repeat the previous step. If it drained clearer then you can move to the rinsing stage. To rinse simply put the fleece back into the hot water. For a rinse it will need to soak for about 15-30mins.

After that drain the fleece and repeat the rinse step as needed until the fleece rinses clear. Once it's rinsing clear then you can set it out to drain and dry.

I don't run water directly onto a fleece. There is a greater chance of it felting if you do this. This is a fairly simple if not daunting process the first time you take it on. Take your time and enjoy the process. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Don't Know How You Do It

     This seems to be a recurring question(statement) in my life. I hear it quite often. Yes my days do seem full to most people. There are many times I get up about 4am only to not be able to get back to bed until 11pm. And while I don't know if these comments come as a sign of our times or just because I actually do push myself. The truth is some days I don't know how I do it all. Most times my answer to this comment is "I just do it". Is there another choice? It needs done so I do it.

     For those who don't know I work at a "paying" job and then also farm, shear and sell wool products. Most days are pretty full between some or all of these tasks. Believe me the animals don't care if I'm having a sick day or just had a really bad day in the office. They still want food and need medicine and milking.

     Most days my life is rewarding. I love what I do and I wouldn't change it for the world. I truly believe there's nothing better than the smell or sound of a newborn lamb. Watching them take their first steps and their first drink. Watching my kids grow up in this life. I believe they are better people for it and appreciate life so much more than other children their age.

     Then there are the days that I hate. Having to pull a stuck kid or treating a ewe for flystrike. There are the days I start shearing when my feet hit the ground and keep going until I collapse, only to still have to go out and do my regular chores. Those are the days I don't know how I do it. They are also the days that I take the time to sit and just watch the lambs or talk to the goats. They remind me that I love my life and with the bad there is always the good.

     It gives me time to love and appreciate life. This life teaches me so much more than I could ever learn anywhere else and I appreciate all of that. I wouldn't want to raise my children any other way and I hope they someday learn that when things are bad in life to simply go to the barn. It's a reset button.

     So you ask how I do it. How I keep going when most people would stop or just not even start? I really don't know except is has to be done. I can only truly say it's with the grace of God and the strength and patience that he gave me. God does truly make barn calls!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Looking for a Shearer

I've been going along to help shear for a number of years and now I'm the shearer myself. As I've been doing this I've noticed a lot of things. Some people are a joy to shear for while others are just a real bear. Many times it has nothing at all to do with the sheep. The people and how they treat the crew can make or break a day.
Here's a couple of tips to make life easier and make your shearer want to come back.

#1- We are here to help you. Remember you called us to do a job that you can't or won't do yourself. It is a dirty, hard job. Not many people do it and chances are you had to scrape around to find our name. You are not the only person who has called us and I will get to you. Just give it time. Weather and health play a lot into how many I can do and how fast I can do them.

#2- When we say lock the sheep in, lock them in. That doesn't mean wait until the minute we are pulling in the driveway. (This is only excusable if you have a very small  elephant proof paddock.) I came to shear your sheep. Not chase them around a field. This cost time which in turn costs me and you money. Once you have them locked in, make sure it is full proof. Sheep will try to get out and just because they are ok with you in the barn doesn't mean they are ok with the crew in the barn.

#3- If you want to help, for me, that is fine. But you must be willing to do what I tell you or get out of the way. Remember I'm using electric knives moving at a very high rate of speed. They can cut off a finger. When I tell you not to do something it's for the safety of everyone involved including your sheep.

#4- Yes your sheep are hot. It's not likely that they'll die from being hot. Remember on the other hand if the shearer comes out both them and your sheep could die from heat exhaustion while shearing. It can wait another day. If you were that worried maybe you should've called the shearer earlier. Don't wait until the last minute. We don't like shearing in hot weather and unless it's our fault that it's late shearing we are most likely only doing it because we feel bad for the sheep not for you.

#5-  Don't gripe about the price. Once again I go back to the basic theory. We are doing a job you are either unwilling or uncapable of doing. I can tell the customers who have either actually shorn, or attempted to shear a sheep. They have respect for what I do and are willing to pay for it without complaint. Believe me we are not making money. If you only knew what the cost of our equipment and upkeep is you'd be surprised.

#6- Leave water. ok while not a rule it is a suggestion. A welcome one at that. I always appreciate a drink at the end of a job. Even in cool weather I break out in a sweat.

Monday, July 7, 2014

She's Gonna Shear?

That is a question I've heard a lot of the last few years as I've started doing more, but more so this year as I'm doing the majority of the shearing. I'm sure the majority of people are just used to seeing K doing it and me helping or catching the sheep, but some are genuinely surprised that I could be strong enough to handle this.

I had never planned to shear for other people. My soul purpose of learning how to shear was purely selfish. I decided many years ago that I was going to have sheep. ( believe it or not, before I wanted to learn how to spin) I also decided that I was not going to call all over in a panic trying to find someone to shear my sheep. So I asked K to start teaching me how to shear. It started slow. I would finish off the back of a rather large ram or take the first pass on one that we decided to do standing up. Always with him watching over me and giving me tips on what to do or how I should hold something.

A few years later I started watching youtube videos and watching demonstrators at events. I wanted to know how other people did it. How did they hold the machine, the animal, their bodies. I was getting the hang of it. I would shear the occasional animal at home and still help out where needed on the road. Over time I began to be the one to do the alpacas and llamas. It was much easier for him to hold them and me to shear them. I am a little more agile and can move out of the way easily when they decided to jump, and he is stronger and can  hold the heads and front shoulders more easily.

Last year I started to do more sheep at the house, but was more than happy to still let him shear other people's sheep. I just didn't want to deal with most of them. Lets face it. We shear a lot of pets. That and I'm always scared of nicking the sheep. I hate doing that in front of other people. I would do the occasional one as his knee would give out or his sugar would spike.

Then this last year the inevitable happened. After years of hard labor parts of your body just give out. I waited and waited for him to say let's go out. It was getting later and he simply just said "You go do it". So I started at home. I would grab a couple and shear them. It started to become more than the little bit that I had been doing. Then the people started to call and I just decided that instead of losing the income all together I would bite my fears and go to the mat. Literally we just started going out. Now he still stands over me and directs some things, but as we've gone through this year (what could be classified as my first year) I've gotten better and less afraid of what I was going to do to other people's sheep. I'm still learning and I'm learning that it's going to be a continual process. I'm never going to be one of the people that do a hundred in one day, but I'm okay with what I can do.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I'm Just a Farmer

Living out here, I have made quite a few friends who are farmers. Some with small farms and many that farming is just their way of life. Be it sheep, cattle, or grain. I often times here them say "I'm just a farmer".

I'm just a famer=

The mechanic that can fix dang near any piece of machinery in front of him.

The welder that can make a feed bunker or just fix the axle on his sons wagon.

The veterinarian who can deliver a calf twisted sideways and then treat the cow for any infections that may come.

The carpenter who can build a bookshelf for his wife.

The nutritionist who can figure a feed ration down to the ounce.

The doctor who'll mend his own cuts, scratches, scrapes and colds and keep going about his day.

The accountant who'll figure down the last penny how much that lamb cost him to raise and how much it's going to cost him to keep.

The scientist who can put together a fertilizer mix that would make Miracle Grow envious.

These are really just a few examples. Farmers are really so much more. They are the back bone of our country and the source of our bread. For everyone of them I am thankful, because I'm proud know "I'm just a farmer."

And here is my favorite poem of all time.
Here's the text of Paul Harvey's 1978 'So God Made a Farmer' Speech, which inspired the Ram Trucks Super Bowl ad that has resonated with so many Americans:

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.
"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church.
"Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'" So God made a farmer.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lambs in the House

Lambs in the house: Sounds like a book doesn't it. Right now it's my life or another part of it I should say.

Any farmer knows, there comes a time when there will be an animal in the house. Right now we have two little lambs in the house. One is here because his mommy didn't like him. This happens sometimes and I'm just glad I found him in time. The other has become a tenant of the house because her mothers teats were to large and she couldn't get a good latch. Combine that with these cold temperatures we've been having lately and that's how she came to the house. They are cute and adorable right now, but I'm hoping for warmer temperatures here soon. As much as I love the little buggers I really do want my house back.