Shearing 2.0

I was able to return to a shearing day at a friend’s this year. Shearing days are always busy, and this was no exception. With 570+ sheep to do, 8 shearers in all (6 or 7 going at once), skirting fleeces and keeping the flow of sheep going there were plenty of jobs, and plenty of help.

The shorn sheep in front and the sheep to be shorn behind. They came up the chute on the right to the shearing floor.

It is always enjoyable to meet other sheep and fiber enthusiasts and spend the day talking mostly about the two. I manage to resist bringing home any fleeces, which given the large pile of my own was probably wise, but it was hard to pass on some of the lovely crimpy ones.

Many hands make light work. Several ladies discussing the merits of this fleece while it is being skirted.

I also sheared a sheep for the first time, which was a good experience but I’m not planning a career change! It is tiring work, and the professionals make it look easy, so I’m happy to pay them to do it.

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Searching for spring

Spring is being very elusive this year. It seems like January was warmer than March and April. While this was certainly nice in January, we are missing the warm weather now. Normally we have very few calves like this one that need to be warmed up when they are first born whereas this year we’ve already had several in to dry off. Middle of the night checks, also rare in a normal year, are happening every night, in case any new calves are born and need to be warmed up. The forecast is for somewhat warmer, but unsettled weather for this week, so hopefully spring will finally arrive.

I find myself wishing for warmer weather for several reasons, one of which is a desire to exchange winter attire for summer. I don’t recall feeling this way in previous years but this year I’m desperate to ditch the heavy warm coveralls and winter boots for lighter coveralls (or even none at all!) and my comfortable boots. I’m itching to walk without mud, puddles, and especially ice and cold dictating my choice of footwear and the path I take. Until mother nature chooses to oblige us, I’ll be stuck tromping around in my winter wear and looking forward to warm summer weather. I know that wishing won’t make it so, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Shear madness

Shearing day came and went Thursday and ran fairly smoothly. I was fervently checking the forecast all day Wednesday, as snow was forecast (by some weather sources) but amount and timing was up for debate. In the end, we put all the sheep into a few various sheds and the new fabric topped building so that they stayed dry if the snow did happen to fall.

This turned out to be a wise choice as a small dusting fell Wednesday night and flurries came and went until mid afternoon on Thursday.

This year we skirted all the fleeces, so they were picked up and thrown onto a makeshift skirting table where any manure, areas with a lot of hay matter, and anything else undesirable was pulled out. Then the fleece was folded and rolled and packed in the bag. This should increase the price per pound of our wool. The belly wool and skirtings were packed separately, and are also sold but are of lower value.

The flow: sheep are pulled out of a chute on the left and shorn on the shearing floor. When done, they exit out the door I’m standing in. Fleeces are skirted on the right and then packed into a wool bag using the machine on the far right.

This year I had also sold several fleeces privately, so with the help of a friend who has more experience with using wool than me, we chose some of the best fleeces to set aside. I will go though these fleeces again over the next few weeks to prepare them for shipping across the country. I ended up with about 10 extra as well, so I will have to find another outlet for these.

Some of the individual fleeces.

One of the loveliest fleeces of the day.

Marketing wool is a new venture for me, and I am excited to see where this side of the farm will take me.

Hustle and Bustle

Winter has slipped away and spring has arrived (if by date and not necessarily weather). With the arrival of spring comes all the jobs that go along with it. The last week or so has been spent readying the new fabric topped building for shearing. Today I will be sorting the sheep into black and white coloured fleece so that we can keep the wool separate when it is packed and sold. The forecast is for a chance of snow, so we will try to get as many sheep as we can under cover to make sure they are dry; wet sheep are hard to shear and the fleece cannot be packed wet.

I’ll also be making sure all the animals have sufficient feed to last through tomorrow, with a full day of shearing there is little time to feed other than what is necessary.

Our first calf arrived yesterday (other than the 4 resulting from a bull escape), and with the forecast for temperatures dropping to -20°C this weekend, it looks like the busy season has arrived.

Inherent desire 

The weather has been unseasonably warm and the snow is all but gone again. We are feeding all the livestock, but I have been surprised by the amount of grazing they are doing. While some of the pastures have some stockpiled grass, others have little because of the dry growing season. The amount or quality doesn’t seem to deter the animals however. They seem to be eating only the best hay and leaving everything else, preferring instead to move around the pasture and pick at the dormant grass. 

Watching this makes me wonder what it is that urges the animals to do this. They could easily get their fill by staying at the hay, so it is unlikely hunger that moves them on. It may be that these dormant grasses are quite tasty, or it may be some inherent desire that makes grazing animals want to graze. They have evolved to do just that, so it maybe should not come as a surprise that they prefer it, and feel content to fill a good portion of their time by moving across the land in search of feed. I also have to wonder if animals which are not given the opportunity to graze have the desire to do so, even if they are given ample feed. 

On the other side of this is the grass. I have rarely worried about winter grazing, and usually encourage the animals to do so, but this year, with some pastures having very little late season growth, I worry that we are taking too much of the grass and may impact the growth next year, particularly if we have a dry spring. I will be moving the sheep off one particular pasture soon, and try to balance the health of the pasture with the animals which rely on it.

November update

Another month has nearly passed. The calves are weaned and settled into their winter quarters and the cows and sheep are bale grazing in their perspective pastures. The first batch of pigs has gone for slaughter, and the rest have moved into the straw filled shed. Winter routines are starting to take hold.

Also this month, another pup (herding dog this time) has arrived. Tess is a Kelpie x Border Collie and is about 4 months old now. She is a fairly mellow pup, and seems to be quick to learn. 

We are also thrilled to welcome another family member, with my sister and brother in law having another daughter. It will be exciting to watch her grow and change over the next few months and years.

Snow days

We had hoped to continue to use some fall regrowth to stretch our grazing season and to prevent getting into our winter feed, but mother nature had other plans. A considerable amount of snow fell this week, and while we are glad to see the moisture, it is making grazing difficult for the animals. Sheep are quite efficient at grazing through snow and will paw it away to reach the green growth, while cattle use their nose to push into the snow or grab onto the tops of the grass and pull it out.

Sheep grazing. You can see the ewe on the left is pawing the snow away.

After this blast of snow, I was unsure the sheep would be able to get enough by grazing, as their pasture did not have large amounts of tall grass. The other day I took them a couple bales of hay, and they quite quickly ate them all up. That solidified my decision to bring them closer to the yard where they are easier to feed. This afternoon, I set out to move them. 

First I spread some hay in their new pasture, then proceeded to go collect the sheep. The few bales I had taken them previously reminded them about being fed, so when I arrived in the pasture, it only took a few moments for them to start to move towards the tractor. They began to follow, until I reached the space where I had taken down the electric wire. They knew exactly where that fence had been, and it took a few moments for them to determine it was safe to cross.

The ewes are just deciding whether to cross the invisible line

Once the first ewes cross over the place where the fence was, the rest quickly follow.

While most stick to the tracks, occasionally one ewe branches off the path

We headed across another piece between their old pasture and new one. I wasn’t sure if they would want to explore this pasture, but they were mostly content to see where I was taking them.

As we reached the hay, the ewes ran past to their feed, although as I followed, I still saw some sheep nibbling at the grass uncovered in the tracks.

And while the sheep are happy to have feed, the dogs like hay for other reasons.