As I write this post, I'm listening to a scoreless baseball game on the radio (Giants vs. Diamondbacks) and lambs bleating in the corrals - both normal sounds around here in mid May. We're preparing to shear the ewes tomorrow!
We were hoping to shear last weekend, but we had just enough rain to make the sheep too wet to shear. So we spent today hauling sheep home, setting up our portable corrals, and getting ready for one of the bigger days in the shepherd's year. Ewes that are newly lactating are difficult to shear, so we typically wait until our youngest lambs are 5-6 weeks old before we shear. This puts us up against sticker season - as our forage dries out, we start to get foxtail, ripgut brome, and other stickers in the wool. With the warm temperatures we've had this spring, sticker season has come early. I wish we'd been able to shear last weekend!
Today, after I moved water, we built our temporary corrals at the ranch and loaded the sheep to haul them home. After 4 trips with ewes and lambs, I went to pick up the rams at a neighbor's, while my partner Roger dismantled the corrals and hauled them to the house. I brought the sheep into a dry-lot pen - and Roger and I set up the corrals so that we can sort lambs from ewes tomorrow. We keep the sheep off feed and water overnight to let them empty their rumens and bladders - which makes the 90-second shearing process much more comfortable for them. Tonight, Sami and Emma helped me set up the wool-sack stand and bring the first 20 ewes into the barn. We try to keep the first group of sheep under cover overnight to keep the dew off them - a heavy dew makes the sheep too wet to shear. As my family will tell you, I'm kind of a jerk during shearing. Shearing, as one of the key milestones of our sheep year, is like a final exam. I want everything to go smoothly, and I'm conscious of the amount of work ahead of us. I guess I'm somewhat intense by nature - and so I'm not as patient as I should be during this time. Fortunately, Sami and the girls are far more patient with me!
Shearing, for shepherds, is like branding for cattlemen. Shearing is physically intense (especially for the shearer, but also for the crew). It requires a "crew" - we need help to make the day go smoothly. Some years, we have friends and fellow shepherds help us; this year, we're holding a workshop for new and aspiring shepherds. While some of the "help" will be inexperienced, I expect the day will go well. Even so, I won't sleep well tonight - between the sound of the lambs and my own anxiety, I'll toss and turn all night!