Sunday, October 26, 2008

Those Darn Sheep!

Anyone who knows me, knows how crazy I am about these sheep, and goats. I would, and have, done some pretty crazy things to keep them content. However, for the first time, they made me so mad, I did not speak to them for a day and a half!!! No back rubs, no singing to them, no treats out of my hand, NOTHING!
When people ask me if it is difficult raising sheep, I usually answer, "no, not really". For the most part, it is true. But I have realized that there are usually either good days with the sheep, or , really bad days with the sheep, hardly ever is there a "so so" day. I think I have been spoiled, as of late, with a long string of good days. And then, along came Thursday.
Before I get into the gory details, let me tell you that it one of the most challenging things in raising animals for fleece, is to keep the fleece clean and free of dirt and hay etc. This is no easy task. It requires much experimentation with different types of feeders, monitoring pastures for nasty weeds that can ruin a fleece... diligence and hyper awareness are definitely called for.
I spend summers pulling weeds and enjoying that while the sheep are eating pasture, there is little to no chance of them getting hay stuck in their fluffy soft coats. Grazing in the rain seems to enhance the softness and cleanliness of the wool. I have, over the years, made many well intentioned maneuvers that have compromised perfectly lovely fleeces. Last year for the first time, I put coats on the sheep when the grazing season was over, and they were back in the barnyard, full of hay, for the duration of winter. I admit , this is costly and labor intensive. As the fleece grows under those pretty grubby looking coats, the coats will need to be changed. If it gets too tight, the fleece is in danger of felting. So, we are constantly checking and changing coats. But, the payoff was amazing this past spring. When the shearer came, and the coats were removed, the "blankets" (the part of the fleece across the back and sides, most desirable for yarn") were perfectly clean... amazing! This saves hours of work prior to sending the fleece off to the mill, picking through each fleece to remove bits of hay and , god knows,s what else.
So, as the summer is winding down, and the sheep are spending more time in the barnyard, my mind goes right to the idea of putting the coats on. I was going to put them on last weekend, but I got a call from a local newspaper who were interested in doing a story on our farm CSA. I knew they were coming on Saturday to take some pictures. I decided that the fleeces were so gorgeous that I would wait a week to put on the coats.... what could it hurt to wait just one week? Right?
Well, I am sure you guessed it by now.... on Thursday morning, that question was answered.
I looked out the window, and somehow, by some miracle, the sheep were not where they were supposed to be. They were in an area that was well gated off, and overgrown with weeds. I ran to the barn, in my pajamas and boots.. rattled the grain can, and , like Pavlov's dogs, they all came running. I was thrilled to see them back in the barnyard, safe and sound.....until I looked up and they were COVERED in burdock's. I mean covered. Some worse than others. I was horrified....I wondered what happened to the huge , well secured gate that separated the sheep from this forbidden area. I walked down below, and could not believe my eyes, one of our wethers, named Rascal, who is a Blue Faced Leicester sheep, was wearing the gate around his neck, and he was spinning in circles trying to get it off of him. He was much happier to see me, than I was to see him... I released him from the gate....and secured the flock from the evil area. I then threw some hay out, filled the water buckets, and stomped into the house. The sheep were looking at me as if to say, "No treats?, no back rubs? where is our grain?" I stormed into the house, got dressed and headed to Saratoga for the day. I just could not look at them.
Later that night, Nancy and my son in law Stan, came to the rescue. In a calmer state of mind, we methodically went through the flock, picking and cutting our way to rid each fleece of its burdock's. I have learned a precious lesson, sometimes waiting a week can make a great deal of difference....
Here's to calmer days ahead....

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