Shearing prep and coats

I mentioned in a previous blog that when we move this summer, we will likely do so with a reduced flock. Fewer sheep will mean a bit less work, plus it will be much easier to move the flock if we don’t have to make multiple trips loaded with livestock. As I make various purchases this year, I’m keeping in mind our future flock size. There is no point in buying equipment that in a few months will need to be sold. On the other hand, there are some things we just cannot do without, and coats are one of those things.

Every year before shearing, I go through our inventory of sheep coats. We sort them by size into clear plastic bins in the barn, so checking on the number of coats in each size is pretty easy. The problem is that we’re shearing 53 ewes on Saturday, and that means we’ll need 53 fresh, clean and mended sheep coats to put them in. Right now, our adult ewes are mostly in Matilda size 40.5″ or 45″ coats (measuring from the back of the neck to the top of the tail), but once they are sheared, they will wear mostly 36″ or 40.5″ — and that’s our problem.

When I checked the bins, I had ten of the 36″ coats and seven of the 40.5″. Even if we assume that 1/4 of the flock will fall in the next larger size (and I KNOW there won’t be that many!) and 1/4 below in the smaller 34″ size, that still leaves me short of the primary sizes. With a reduced flock, this won’t be an issue — I’ll have lots of coats for a flock that’s only half the size of our current one. But that isn’t the current situation. After shearing, we must coat fifty-three ewes if we hope to keep their fleeces in prime shape — and even for those sheep that we will sell, the wool they carry is an important thing!

Even worse, when I checked the website that sells our brand of coats (Matilda), they are out of stock on the 36″ version. We are going to have to be very careful how we fit our sheep this year. I bought a dozen of the 40.5″ coats, figuring that I can move some of the ram lambs up to this size to free up the 36″ that they are currently wearing, and the rest of the 40.5″ coats will go to the ewes. That only gives me an extra half dozen of each size, and I will still fall short. Yet, I hate spending money on something that I don’t need for long, so I have an additional plan.

We will try to fit a lot of the smaller sheep into the next smaller size (34″) or the next larger size (45″) in the case of the full-grown adults. As soon as we have removed eight of the 36″ or 40.5″ coats on Saturday, I will send them in for washing so that we can reuse them later in the day. We did this last year with some success; the only problem is that it takes nearly an hour and a half to get them clean and ready for another sheep.

Some people move the coats directly from one sheep to another, but I find that this causes unnecessary problems. Like most flocks, ours have many subsets of friends who hang around together. When they are freshly sheared, these friends have a very hard time recognizing and/or finding each other. They recognize the scent of their friend, but when they look at her, she looks very different than she did just minutes before. This problem takes some time to resolve, and the sheep spend several very confused hours trying to once again find their place in the flock. Now imagine that I introduce another complication: in this new situation, their friends not only don’t look like their friends, but they don’t smell like them either — they may even smell like their least-favorite sheep of the group! We’ve seen many a fight erupt over just such a thing! Since many of our ewes are in their last trimester, we really don’t want any rough actions that might cause early labor or miscarriages — so we’ll wash every coat before it comes back out. If the weather is warm enough, we may not dry them, but we will definitely wash them!

I just heard from the company where we buy our coats, and although I just placed the order last Saturday evening, the coats have shipped and are due to arrive tomorrow afternoon via UPS. I must admit that I’m happy to have that extra day to mark them with the size (making them easier to replace in the field) and then use a few so the ram lambs can cycle out some extra 36″ coats. Between the coats’ arrival and Saturday morning, I will need to replace the ram’s coats, wash and mend the used 36″ coats, and then mark them with their sizes before putting them into the 36″ bin. It’s a lot of work in very little time, but since we’ll need them on Saturday, there isn’t much else I can do!

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