The shepherding year contains milestones that mark our progress through the year, indicating the end of one production period and the beginning of another. For our flock, the cycle begins when we put our sheep into breeding groups. That is followed by ultrasounding, shearing of our ewes, the birth of the first lambs, the birth of the final lambs, ram shearing, weaning, the first lambs going off to their new homes, and the sale of the last lambs of that production year. The end of one year often overlaps the beginning of the next by a few weeks, yet these milestones mark our year; and over the years, the repetition of this cycle—formed and fitted to our needs—eventually comes to fit like a well-used glove, as comfortable as an old friend.
This year, the major milestone of shearing the ewes will take place tomorrow, Saturday, January 30th, in hope that our fleeces will be available to customers sometime around Valentine’s Day. Our method of shearing a flock of fifty sheep requires a lot of preparation, allowing us to welcome the many volunteers who willingly give up a day of their lives to help make our flock more comfortable and prepare them for lambing.
Preparations fall into two basic categories: preparing the business side of things to process fifty new fleeces, and preparing our home to feed, warm, and welcome our volunteers. I thought it might be interesting for blog readers to look over some of the statistics that are involved with our shearing day:
The sheep end of things:
- ♦ Fifty ewes
- ♦ Sixty bed sheets and twenty pillowcases (in which to bundle the sheared fleeces) — better too many than not enough!
- ♦ One hundred name tags for fleece identification
- ♦ Two sheets of 1/2″ plywood, sealed with polyurethane and taped together with duct tape, as a shearing floor
- ♦ Two prepared clipboards:
- ◊ One with the list of required immunizations to be given
- ◊ One for the gross weight of each fleece and noting whether any of the fleeces are damp or wet
- ♦ One hundred fifty washed and mended sheep coats of the sizes our now-smaller ewes will wear
- ♦ 125 cc of CD&T vaccinations, 45 syringes, and 45 18-gauge needles [note: five have already been vaccinated]
- ♦ Twenty ear-tags to replace any that have been lost
- ♦ Three pairs of sharpened hoof trimmers — to be used, if needed
- ♦ 18 helpers (besides the shearer), from a 9-year-old to retirees, will work to organize our fleeces as follows:
- ◊ 4 people catching and uncoating the ewes
- ◊ 1 person weighing and recording the scrap wool pulled off of each fleece in the barn
- ◊ 1 person identifying each fleece with a card and bundling the sheared fleece into a bed sheet
- ◊ 1 person responsible for the fleece samples from side and britch for those ewes we will test this year
- ◊ 4 people coating, vaccinating and sorting the sheared ewes
- ◊ 1 person in the house, providing food and beverages throughout the day
- ◊ 1 person keeping the shearing floor swept and clean of contaminants
- ◊ 2 people substituting for workers as they need a break
- ◊ Rick will work maintenance and double as a sub, as needed
- ◊ I will work on the shearing floor with the shearer, pulling fleece samples, and generally monitoring the quality of our sheared wool product.
- ♦ 18 name badges (complete with assigned job) will allow volunteers entry into our barn on shearing day.
- ♦ 30 T-shirts in various sizes for our volunteers, printed to commemorate Peeper Hollow Farm Shearing 2016!
- ♦ Throughout the day, our volunteers will consume:
- ◊ Two dozen bagels
- ◊ About half a gallon of coffee
- ◊ A gallon of hot cocoa
- ◊ Two gallons of soup/stew, of three different types
- ◊ A large loaf of bread
- ◊ Several six-packs of soft drinks
- ◊ Three big casseroles
- ◊ One or two bottles of our homemade wine (during the after-party!)
I work on shearing preparations for literally weeks before the big day, trying to anticipate problems and to get everything in order. We have two goals: that the day run smoothly and efficiently and that all of our farm helpers enjoy their day and get a taste of what it’s like to work with sheep. The only thing we can’t anticipate is the weather. We cleaned both of our barns last weekend, which will allow us to lock our ewes under cover for the last day or two before shearing; this year they will be locked in later today. This will hopefully help ensure that our sheared fleeces will be dry and ready to skirt once the crowds leave.
It won’t be long now! Less than twenty-four hours before the big event begins!