There are certain types of work that do not lend themselves well to sick days. I immediately think of the whole series of TV ads by Nyquil, which worked so well because most people know how difficult it is for a parent to take a sick day. In that regard, shepherds are actually pretty similar to parents — sick days are nearly impossible! I have a whole flock depending on me for all of their needs: food, water, medication, etc. They don’t stop needing these things just because I’m not feeling up to par.

On Tuesday of this week, I came down with the flu. Thankfully, I had gotten the flu shot in early fall, so my case is relatively mild, but I’m still not feeling well. Overdoing is one of my specialties, and the more work I try to do, the worse I tend to feel. Besides the usual work of maintaining the flock, we have shearing scheduled for this weekend — and so much needed doing to prepare for a successful shearing day.

So I’ll admit that I was less than pleased when my shearer texted on Wednesday to say that his family was down with the flu. His wife, who shears with him, is a vet in northern Iowa — and they have three lovely and intelligent young girls who must also be considered when they book a shearing date. When I found out that the flu had hit their family, I knew the repercussions could be bad — but I was willing to hope. Although my heart told me that our shearing date would likely be postponed, my brain was unwilling to look at or deal with the issue. I kept telling myself that we’d somehow make it work. But this morning our shearing date for tomorrow was officially cancelled.

We are trying to set a new date, but the problem is that a shearing date is not arbitrarily set. It is the result of the convergence of many factors. If we shear too early, we lose several of the benefits of shearing before lambing. As a result, we set our shearing date two to three weeks before the first lambs arrive. If set too late, we risk pre-term abortions. I have several Romeldale ewes — due to deliver as early as Sunday, February 11th — who would be at risk with a February 3 shearing date (which is the earliest that he might manage, and perhaps not even that). We also normally give our annual booster shots to all our ewes at shearing to maximize the benefits for their coming lambs. Waiting to booster until a February shearing means that those early-delivering ewes would not pass the immunity to their lambs by way of their colostrum. This shared immunity is a necessary aspect of our management, so it means setting up a separate date — this weekend — to give booster shots. In other words, even more planning and physical work while I’m still sick.

There are additional problems with shearing later. I usually plan shearing so that I can skirt and list fleeces for sale before our first lambs arrive; it’s very difficult to get all of that done once I’m spending lots of time in the lambing barn. Yet if we shear in February, I will have only about a week to skirt and list fifty-three fleeces — an impossible task! For the first time, fleece work and lambing will need to overlap, which will extend the skirting/listing time from the usual two weeks to as much as six weeks. Late shearing also means that we won’t have an available weekend to clean out the lambing barn — a critical function for lamb health — between shearing and lambing. It means that Rick will need to take a day off from his job in town to help me clean the barn on a weekday; and we’re unlikely to find help for this task, since most of our helpers will be at school or at work.

The bottom line is that our postponed shearing is a mess — a huge mess! Yet there is nothing to be done; it is what it is. You can’t plan illness, and I get that. If illness could be planned, you can be sure that I would not have planned mine for this week — I would have penciled it in for summer, when my schedule is so much lighter!

I’ve notified all of our shearing help of our cancelled shearing date, and now I await word from my shearer as to the next possible date on his schedule. I’m aiming for February 3 (since I’ve known since early January that he couldn’t do the 27th, our usual date), but until I hear from him, there is no way to know when his next free date might be. He may have already scheduled another farm for the 3rd, and we might yet have to go later than that. Right now, I’m trying not to think about. It’s a coping mechanism that has served me well over the years: deal with what you have to; ignore the rest until you have to deal with that too. Eventually, it will all work out. Somehow. I hope.


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