The Elizabethan collar

At this time of year, our ewes’ fleeces are nearly twelve months old, and some of them are beginning to look a bit rough around the edges. Once we get to this point, I’m pretty eager to get shearing over with. It’s kind of a restart: we shear off all of the wool they currently carry and start over with a nicely fitted coat and wool that doesn’t collect straw or feed or anything for quite a while. It seriously warms my engineer’s heart to hit the reset at shearing — but we aren’t there yet!

Fleece issues tend to vary, since each breed has a different type of wool that attracts its own problems. In the Romneys, most issues have to do with the length of the fiber. As it becomes six inches or longer, it begins to poof out in all kinds of places and begins to collect hay, straw, and other bits of unwanted contaminants. In fact, it’s not at all unusual to see one sheep resting next to another and making a meal from what is caught in her neck wool! The coats no longer fit well, and I find bits of their wool caught on pretty much everything from the Christmas trees (which they are still eating daily) to the hay feeders and the board fences. Everything seems to grab tufts of Romney wool!

The Elizabethan ruff by Henry Thew Stephenson

The Romeldales have other issues, equally as problematic. As their wool gets longer, they get hotter — regardless of the daytime temperatures — and begin to shed wool from certain areas of their bodies to help cool off. This occurs most often around the face and neck or on the legs. These same areas also tend to felt because of the moisture from waterers or snow. So when the sheep begin to shed this wool, it tends to stay in a sheet — usually so badly felted that I cannot simply pull it off! These hanging sheets of wool don’t usually come off until shearing — and that can’t come soon enough!

An Elizabethan collar (by TheToxicAvenger and posted on Wikipedia Commons)

In general, my mind is constantly churning, and during that process, I sometimes make unusual connections. This year I’ve noticed one of my Romeldale families because of their variation of peeling wool sheets. They are sporting what looks to be (to my eyes anyway) an Elizabethan collar or ruff! You might recognize the name, which originally referred to the ruffled collar-like accessory that was common during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In contemporary usage (and Queen Elizabeth is probably rolling over in her grave over this!) the term more commonly refers to the cone that injured animals may wear to keep them from aggravating their injury or biting at stitches.

Phoebe with felted collar or ruff surrounding her face

I first noticed about a week ago that Phoebe seemed to have wool that was angling out in a stiff collar on both sides of her face — and then I noticed that there is some below her chin too. Then I noticed this morning that Phoebe’s mother, Hattie, is also peeling back wool on both sides of her face in something that looks very similar to her daughter’s! How these new looks will end up at shearing is anyone’s guess, but it’s quite the interesting look now!

Hattie with felted ruff beginning – and starting to tear off on the left (her right)

I’m hoping you can see what I see in the photos, but I’m aware that I sometimes make weird connections — and I’m OK with that. If you don’t see it, let me know. And if you do see it, I’d love to know that too!

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