Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sheep Shearing Day--Coming Soon!

Our annual Spring Sheep Shearing Day is scheduled for February 23...just over a week from this arctic day! We'll open the farm to observers at 10:00. Various activities will include:

--Working Border Collie demonstration

--Professional Sheep Shearer Danny Smith at work

--Wool craft displays and demonstrations

--Potluck lunch featuring delicious mutton dishes

Volunteers are always appreciated! It's great to have help directing people to park in an orderly fashion, pointing people towards the barn, handling the sheep (for experienced volunteers), sweeping the shearing board, spreading out fleece wrappers (old bed sheets), bundling and weighing the wool, stacking it, coordinating crafts and food, etc. We have several helpers planned already, but there's always room for more! Call 785-979-6786 or email to volunteer.

The farm is generally flat and easy-access, though muddy conditions may be expected this year. We'll have hay set up as "bleachers" for easy, safe viewing. If it's sunny, it could bequite warm in the barn, but do dress for the weather and for mud.

Whether the new circle drive will be operating depends on the resolution of mechanical problems with the stump grinder. We'll post signs for on-site parking; additional parking is along North Street with care to not block the road. If possible, ride the "T"--the city bus service comes within three blocks of our farm! Take Route 4 from 9th and Massachussetts (northwest corner) and ask for 5th and Lyon; follow 5th Street north to North Street, and you'll see signs.

Can it be possible? It's easy to wonder, on a frigid night like this. We are proceeding as if it will all work out just spite of niggling doubts. In our favor:

--A roof on the main part of the barn where we traditionally shear (no roof last year), so we can keep the sheep dry before shearing and sheltered after shearing, no matter what.

--A great stock of hay on hand, both large and small bales, so we can feed in the barn if needed, or out in the pens as we usually do.

--We've probably sheared in worse conditions before...a number of years ago, it was in the 60's for a week or two just before shearing, so everyone got used to mild temperatures. The day after shearing, the temperature dropped into the teens and the wind blew 25 mph for several days. With a less-enclosed barn than what we have now, we were scrambling to keep sheep alive...but didn't lose any to either the cold or to resulting health problems. I've got the whole list of cold-weather contingencies in the back of my mind...including, I'll try to raid the local thrift stores for wool sweater vests between now and then. The ewes looked very sharp in their Pendletons that year!

So why DO we shear so early in the year? Various reasons:

--It's one of the few weekends that the shearer isn't previously committed for an Annual Shearing Day on some other small specialty wool farm in Kansas or Missouri. Now that we've got our name penciled in for "the last Saturday in February" every year, we're sticking to it, for ease of planning.

--We like to start lambing in mid-March (i.e., when it's starting to be more pleasant, but before the main spring vegetable planting, and before Farmer's Market starts) and we like to shear before lambing.

--Shorn sheep take less space in the sheds and at the feeders, just as they are getting WIDER in late pregnancy.

--Shorn sheep don't get as wet and muddy during spring weather, and are much nicer to work with during pre-lambing and lambing.

--Shearing before lambing makes it easier to observe the ewes' body condition and udder development during late pregnancy, and to assist with difficult births if needed.

--It also makes the ewes better moms. They are cold, so they take their babies into the sheds out of the cold. They can feel if their lamb is stuck between them and the wall. The lambs can find the teats more easily, and they don't sick on dirty tags of wool.

The shearer leaves enough wool on them for basic warmth, and the new wool grows fast.

Shearing Day is fun! It has a funny fast/slow noisy rhythm all its own. The fleeces are gorgeous to see when they're cut...and the sheep look all shiny and sleek and new. They often don't recognize one another, so they vie for social status like a bunch of strangers. We have trouble recognizing them too.

It's like Christmas and New Year's all rolled up into one...the beginning of our farm year. Come join us!

Note for the squeamish and tender-hearted: It is not unheard-of for a ewe to be nicked by the blade during shearing, esp. if she struggles (they usually don't). They don't seem to feel much discomfort from these nicks, even if there is some bleeding and/or the skin appears to gap open. Since flies are not a problem this time of year, we generally don't treat shearing cuts at the time. The extra handling for treatment may be more stressful to the sheep than the untreated wound. They normally heal within a surprisingly short time. In rare instances, a bad cut may require basic suturing, which the shearer will do. We keep a close eye on shearing nicks during the days following shearing, and treat only as needed.


Joe said...

Well, I'm glad to see that proper precautions are taken to keep the sheep warm. I know I'd be pretty cold if I didn't have a few layers of wool on me!

Sandy Beverly said...

Fun to read this blog; lots of interesting info. Thanks for taking the time to share it.