Most of us who shepherd a flock have two main raw materials to work with: wool and lambs. Of course the more creative shepherd might also find a market for sheep manure, and those who are more artistic may find a market for “value added” products like yarn, wool batting, and the like. In the end, however, most of us focus on the two main markets: the wool our sheep produce throughout the year and the meat or breeding lambs that are born every spring.
Here at Peeper Hollow Farm, I find it very hard to sell both at the same time. For this reason, our shearing cycle has evolved. We shear our ewes at the end of January so that I can have all of the fleeces skirted and sold by the time the lambs begin to arrive around Valentine’s Day — at which point my focus typically shifts to lambs for the next two months or more. By the time the lambs are being weaned, it’s time to shear our rams for the summer; and it again takes me a couple of weeks to prepare these fleeces for sale. Thankfully, once that task is accomplished and all of the fleeces are shipped, it’s nearly summer and I get a few months of relatively little work. During that time, I can travel and otherwise take advantage of the nice weather.
Before I know it, fall is again upon us, when we put our sheep into breeding groups. Just before we finish with our breeding season — after nearly all of the ewes have been bred — we shear our market lambs and cull ewes, and they leave for the auction. Once again, I skirt the shorn fleeces and prepare them for sale, moving them out just before Thanksgiving preparations begin. It’s a cycle that generally works very well for us, and it allows me to focus on one thing at a time — either fleece or lambs.
That is how it is supposed to work — and how it has worked for 15 years. Yet this year, the calendar gummed up the works, and for those of you waiting for our Winter Shearing fleeces, it is the calendar that has dramatically delayed our fleece offerings!
I mentioned that we always shear our breeding ewes on the last weekend of January. Good shearers are hard to get, so we must schedule ours a year in advance. Usually the last weekend of January falls on Saturday, January 24th, or perhaps the 25th. This gives me nearly three full weeks to skirt and record our newly sheared fleeces before the first lambs arrive — just enough time to complete this task and get the wool sold before I spend long days and nights with laboring ewes who are delivering our next generation. 2016 is the first time since we established our schedule that the last weekend in January landed on the 30th and 31st, which took almost an entire week away from my fleece time. And then the lambs began to come!
So if you’re wondering what happened to our Winter Shearing fleeces, the answer is LAMBS! Just as I finished skirting the last few colored Romney fleeces, our first lambs arrived — and I have essentially been living in the barn ever since! Thankfully I do have them skirted, but I still need to find time to catalog them into two breed-specific emails, reduce and color-balance the photos, and price each fleece according to its qualities. Honestly, this is not an easy thing to do with only an hour or two of sleep each night — and that’s how last week was. I was so sleep-deprived that I hardly knew what day it was — or when my last shower might have been! It was a week that welcomed about thirty lambs (which is great, but also quite chaotic), leaving little time to even think about fleece or wool.
As a result, I still have two bedrooms full of lovely, folded and rolled fleeces, waiting for sale. Now that our lambing is slowing down, I can actually finish what I need to do to get them up for sale. I will spend the next week or so putting together the emails and contacting our special request list so that the descriptions of our ewe fleeces can be sent to our wool customers sometime in the late afternoon (CDT) of Saturday, March 19th.
I apologize to all who have been so patiently waiting. I know we are long overdue to post our fleeces! Yet I think it is obvious to nearly all of you that our lovely new lambs must take priority over wool. Wool can wait — lambs cannot!
So get ready. The fleeces are coming, and they’re beautiful! We changed our feed ration at bit this past year, and it has made all the difference in our wool. We have so many amazing fleeces, even nicer than in past years! Watch your email inbox on Saturday, March 19th. Our fleece notification emails are coming!