Newborns

Newborns

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Shearing 2016

Our family is on the back end of an incredibly busy weekend.  As I write this, the rest of my family is napping (it's late afternoon here).  And I just listened to the Giants finish off the Arizona Diamondbacks for a 4-game sweep!  For our oldest daughter, Lara, this was the weekend of Senior Ball - her last formal high school dance.  For me, this was shearing weekend - we had hoped to shear last weekend (for lots of reasons, not the least of which - I wanted to be able to take photos of Lara and her date).  Rain meant we postponed shearing till this weekend.

First, a bit about Lara's night.  I haven't talked to her yet, but I did see Sami's photos of Lara and her varsity soccer teammates at the historic Placer County Courthouse in Auburn - wearing their formal dresses and their soccer cleats!  As Lara completes her 4 years at Placer High, I'm remembering my own experiences at Sonora High School.  Auburn and Sonora are both one high school towns - and playing sports (as a Lady Hillmen or as a Wildcat) means so much more than simply winning or losing. High school sports - at their best - gives athletes a feel for what it means to represent their community.  Lara and her Lady Hillmen teammates get this!  I can't wait to hear about the rest of Lara's evening.

Second, shearing (at least for a small-scale producer like me) is similar to a calf branding.  It's a communal event that involves lots of work and lots of laughter.  My weekend started Friday morning - after I moved irrigation water, my partner Roger and I gathered and shipped the sheep home in anticipation of shearing.  On Saturday, we hosted a workshop for 10 new and aspiring shepherds on setting up for shearing, handling wool and preparing fleeces for marketing.  Today, I hauled the rams back to their summer pasture (at a neighbor's - their boys are also Placer High students!).  Later, Roger and I hauled the ewes back to pasture.  This evening, I'll sack the rest of our wool and work on cleaning up.

This year was especially enjoyable because my friend (and Lara's classmate) Jake Richardson helped us.  Jake first started working with me when he was 11 (I think).  He's since started his own flock, and he's excelled as a sheep and goat showman.  In the fall, he's headed off to college in Texas; this weekend, he helped us shear.

Our dogs play an essential role in our work - and shearing day is no exception.  Mo and Ernie helped gather and load the ewes on Friday.  One ewe in particular (1548, to be exact) decided she'd like to kill Ernie.  Beginning on Friday, she'd hunt him down whenever she saw him.  During shearing, she chased him out of the corrals.  Today, as we shipped the ewes and lambs back to pasture, I made sure to help rebuild Ernie's confidence.  He'll take on an angry mama cow, but this ewe has his number.  If she hadn't had twins the last three years, she'd go down the road!  Yesterday, our shearer left the back of his car open as we were loading him up (and enjoying a beer).  After he left, I discovered that Ernie was missing - he'd jumped into Derrick's car!  This morning was Mo's turn for adventure - he got sprayed by a skunk while I was changing water!  And I can't leave Reno (our guardian dog) out - he decided yesterday (while we were shearing) that he needed to protect the chickens from the sheep - I think he was hoping for a chicken dinner.

The everyday work of raising sheep goes on - even during shearing week.  This morning, I moved irrigation water while Roger built fence for the ewes and lambs.  Tomorrow, we'll both resume our daily chores - I'll do the irrigating while Roger checks the sheep.  But shearing is one of our key milestones - a report card, if you will.  We evaluate the condition of our ewes at shearing - with the wool off, we can see what kind of shape they're in.  I realized today that when the ewes are shorn, they're far more uniform than when they are in full fleece.  I guess this suggests that we have considerable variability in our wool production.  This year, our ewes are in amazing condition (for the most part) - normal precipitation and grass growth, combined with improved management, means that they look great.

Beginning on Thursday evening, I didn't sleep well.  On Thursday, I was worried about the day I had ahead of me hauling sheep and setting up for shearing.  I snapped at my family (which I always regret, but which I always do).  Friday night, with ewes separated from lambs in the corrals, I failed to sleep well again - plus I was worrying about shearing.  Last night, even after a physically draining day, I had trouble sleeping - worrying about shipping the ewes and lambs back to pasture.  Tonight, I think I'll sleep pretty soundly!
Bringing the woollies into the corrals - Friday morning.
Jake - the Woollie

Our crew and our students - after packing the first sack!

Sewing up the second sack of wool.  We still pack our wool in "sausage packs."

The boys - back out on pasture.

Sheared ewes with their lambs - back out on pasture.

One year's worth of wool...

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