Today was the day for shearing sheep. Not a very nice day here, in fact, it was cold. I don't think the thermometer ever got above 20 degrees but there was no wind which seems to make such a difference to us.
The ewes are due to begin lambing in the coming week and so it's important for us to have them sheared before the lambs start dropping. Once the warm, heavy fleece is peeled from their bodies, the chill makes the ewes want to go into the shed. They definitely feel the change in the weather. Shearing also makes it easier for newborn lambs to suck when the wool is sheared away from the teats, and that is a very important part of lambing. We will be shed-lambing which means what it says. All the lambs will be born in the shed or near the shed and will be processed through the barn so that we can be sure that the mothers and their lambs are a working pair.
I'll take you through the process of shearing with some pictures that I snapped between cooking for the crew and the coffee break. First off, the sheep are in full wool as in the top picture. They are brought into the barn and up through some pens and alleys and up into the shearing trailer.
Here you see the sheep going through the alley and walking up a slope into the trailer that is pulled near the door outside. Our job, mainly, is to feed the sheep up into the trailer for the shearers. The alley goes all the way through the trailer and there is a trap door for each shearer to open and grab a sheep. There is no tying or wrangling much. The shearing process is smooth and fluid. The shearer pulls the sheep close to him, lays her on her back and shears the belly first, then the head and neck, up the legs and then lastly over the back so that the fleece is entirely in tact when the shearer is done. I absolutely love to watch a good shearer do his work. It looks as though he is slicing through warm butter as the fleece is shorn away from the body.
We had three men here to shear our 204 head of sheep. The men get paid double for the bucks since they are more than double in size in comparison to the ewes. Plus, they are usually hard-headed and naughty. The men got their work done in about four hour's time and that was setting up and tearing down and driving to our house for dinner. See the young fella in the back? C. is a 17 year old who just won the champion shearing award for the beginner's division at the Black Hills Stock Show shearing contest. This is his second year shearing with this particular crew. The two fellas in front have been shearing for us since I came here about 28 years ago. These men all belong to our rural community. Boy, did they give C. a lot of ribbing and man talk about being a champion shearer. He took it in stride, though, as young men should.
Do you see how the fleece is all in tact as Chuck shears the ewe? He keeps gently rolling her around to make long, smooth swipes with his shears.
Out the door she goes! Once the ewe is sheared, the fleece is kicked out one side of the trailer and the trap door on this side is opened by foot release to let the sheep out.
These two are skirting the wool. The fleece is kicked out on their side of the trailer and they throw each fleece over that round skirting table and inspect it, removing any undesirable wool from the fleece. They are particular about removing pieces of the belly wool and the dirty, rough wool from the britches or backside of the sheep. The "bellies" as the undesirable wool is called, are thrown into the white sack standing in the frame, and the good wool is thrown into that machine that says "stand clear." The machine is the sacker which receives the wool and presses it compactly into a bale that will be laced closed and taken to the wool house in town to be sold. Back in the old days, a man would continuously tromp the wool into the sacks and lace them up
I just love the look of freshly shorn sheep. They always reminds me of this verse.
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool." ~Isaiah 1:18 It won't be very many days and the ewes you see here will not be white as snow. The dirt and dust and hay will stick to their lanolin-greased sides and they will blend in with the landscape once again -- if it isn't snowy.
I always think of how God compares us to sheep. We really are a lot alike, you know. We are followers, we are social, and if one is disturbed or alarmed, she disturbs the whole bunch. Even their coughing and sneezing sounds like human coughs and sneezes. When the lambs start to come, we see all sorts of personalities show up. Some ewes are good, strong mothers and others don't give a flip about their lambs and would rather run off with the herd, leaving their lambs cold and alone. We must force this kind to mother up. I won't tell you how, but let's say that part of it is solitary confinement -- with her lambs.
I'm looking forward to lambing season. It is hard work, but there's something about animal husbandry that is so rewarding and satisfying. I enjoy helping with the cows and calves, but the sheep are my favorites because they are easier for women and children to handle. And who can resist the scrawny, helpless little lambies?
"We all like sheep have gone astray...." ~Isaiah 53:6
"We are the sheep of his pasture..." ~Psalm 100:3
"My sheep hear my voice..." John 10:27
Addendum: The wool bales were taken to the wool house and weighed. We averaged the weight per fleece and it came out to approximately 10 pounds each which is quite a good, heavy fleece especially when the sheep were sheared a month earlier than last year. Perhaps the colder weather we've had produced that heavier fleece.