Jan. 24, 2015: Ewes waiting for shearing as we set up.

Jan. 24, 2015: Ewes waiting in full fleece for shearing – we were still setting up.

Shearing day was lovely and mild on Saturday—so much so that we could open the large south-facing overhead doors on the front of the barn and let the sun shine in. Although our regular shearer, Mason, was working with a serious back injury (ouch!), his wife, Ashlie, joined in and the fleeces began to peel back by about 10:45 a.m. We had help from far and wide; visitors from Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and central Iowa joined our group of local teens and adults to help the day move along smoothly. Even better, spirits were high and the banter back and forth kept things lively.

Two shearers worked for hours this year as the rest of us tried to keep up with their pace.

Two shearers worked for hours this year as the rest of us tried to keep up with their pace.

We always shear our sheep in the same order: the whites first, and the Romeldales before the Romneys – no one wants their white fleece contaminated by colored fiber, but few mind (or can even find) a white fiber in a fleece of color. The same thinking governs the order of the breeds: no one spinning a finewool wants coarser fiber to appear in their fleece, but no one working with a longwool would even notice a stray strand of fine wool. As a result, we always work with white Romeldale, then white Romney, then colored Romeldale/CVM (working from the lighter girls to the darker), and then finally colored Romney.

It took many volunteers, from age 10-65 to make our shearing day work.

It took many volunteers, from ages 10-65+, to make our shearing day work.

Each ewe was uncoated at the edge of the shearing floor, sheared in only minutes, and if she was just entering our flock (this year, these were all lambs born to our ewes last spring), we pulled samples of her fleece from the britch (the top of the rear leg) and the side (at about mid-side) as the shearer passed that area. I bagged them for inclusion in the box that I will likely ship to the lab this week and handed them off to another helper. Once the ewe was finished with shearing, she was coated with a freshly laundered coat. Most of our ewes got their vaccinations for the year, and any of them who might have needed extra attention (hoof trimming, an antibiotic for an infection, or an abscess lanced) got what she needed. She was then returned to one of two pens: a smaller pen for the ewes who had not bred and were destined for a grass-hay winter in and around the storage barn, and a larger pen of bred ewes who were staying in the sheep barn to eat alfalfa and deliver their lambs.

Now-sheared ewes on Sunday, Jan 25th, much more comfortable without the extra weight and heat that a full fleece brings.

Freshly sheared ewes on Sunday, Jan 25th, much more comfortable without the extra weight and heat that comes with a full fleece.

Each fleece was immediately bundled into a bed sheet marked with the name and tag number of the ewe and then loaded into the bed of our pickup truck.  Thankfully, we had lots of help this year, so anyone who needed a break could easily get away to the house for food and/or beverages—or just a bit of quiet. Shearing passed quickly with two shearers, and by a little after four in the afternoon, we were finished! I sent word in to our kitchen help that we would be in for dinner a little after five, and everyone pitched in with the cleanup and final chores: moving the unbred ewes into the lower paddock for the rest of the winter, hauling all of the scrap wool out of the barn, feeding the sheep their daily rations, and generally cleaning up cups, paper plates, and all the detritus that normally accompanies a large crowd of people after a full day of work.

I was one of the last to leave the barn on Saturday, since most of our volunteers had already left for dinner—now hot and waiting for them in the house. As I pulled the door shut to keep the warmth of the day inside with the sheep, I paused for a moment and looked out over my now-much-smaller ewes, heavy with lambs, quietly munching their allotment of alfalfa hay. The barn was again silent except for the quiet chewing and the slurping of water, and I realized just how lucky we were. In a little over six hours, we had sheared, vaccinated, tested, medicated, coated and fed all of our ewes. Their warm, fresh fleeces had already been skirted of the worst parts and bundled for additional work later, and all of them had been moved from the barn into our garage for the night. (The next morning, those who stayed the night helped to bring them in.) It was an amazing few hours—and I felt privileged to have been a part of it. I slowly closed the door to the barn and made my way into the house to join the party that was already getting underway. What a great day—a really great day!

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