Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ugly Naked Sheep Day

I personally think that people look better in clothes. It's not that I'm against nudity, but a flattering waistline or a good pair of jeans can enhance one's...erm...assets. It turns out sheep are the same. In their wool, sheep look sort of plump and snuggly -

Once sheared however, sheep look spindly and not at all like sheep in a children's picture book -

As you can see, my Polled Dorset ewes were hiding a thick covering of fat under their sheep-fros. A mild winter and a daily handful of barley each has gone straight to their hips. I probably didn't want them to be quite so fat before the ram visits in a few weeks, but too fat now is better than too thin. I have cut out their barley rations though.

Shearing day - my own personal Hell - came a bit late this year due to the rain, but still too soon for my liking. If I kept a smaller, less woolly variety, I wouldn't find shearing such a trauma. I know, I say this every year. The trauma was compounded by a shoulder injury I sustained falling off of Alan the day before we sheared. Blame the rain again for washing out the bridle path. Alan's legs went out from under him sideways and it threw me into the hedge. I rolled under him, but he's so sensible that instead of kicking me in the head while panicking to stand up, he actually waited for me to crawl out from under him before getting on his feet. Alan is my new best friend.

I was too scared to tell Steve my shearer/drill sergeant that I was a bit stiff. These are tough farming men, and professing any weakness is just not done. So I pulled up my big girl shearing trousers, washed down a Vicodin with a cup of cold black coffee, and said nothing. By the time we sheared the seven lambs and three half-breed sheep, my shoulder was burning and there were beads of sweat on my forehead. I suggested lunch to buy some recovery time before we started on the ewes.

Setting up in the paddock to shear the ewes

By now my energy was spent and the Vicodin was wearing off. I sheared the first couple of sheep trembling with muscle fatigue. That fact that Polled Dorset sheep are notorious fidgets and kickers only exacerbated the situation. I focused on my reward: opening a good bottle of red wine when it was all over. Even Steve was beginning to tire, and slipped with the clippers. One sheep got an ear wound so gory that Tarantino could have used it in a film -

As blood is only about the sixth most disgusting substance I come in regular contact with, I was happy to play nurse and clean up the wound while Steve wrestled with more fat, woolly, uncooperative ewes.

We finished twenty sheep by 6pm. Our neighbour the professional shepherd did a flock of 50 Polled Dorsets, alongside his son, and they were finished by 2 o'clock. And his son sheared with a hernia!

I will collect this year's Ram / baby daddy in a fortnight. By the time all the little lambs are born I will have forgotten all about shearing, and be complaining about the sleepless nights on birth watch. I will never give up shearing my own sheep, if only for the perverse pleasure I get from farmers complimenting me on 'having a go at it'. Props from a farmer is praise indeed.

But you don't have to wait until October for pictures of cute baby animals. I've hatched some more chickens, including Buff Orpingtons and Welsummers -

And some French Copper Marans, which will eventually lay deep chocolate-coloured eggs -

The Orpington/Welsummer batch is being mothered by a Buff Orpington hen -

The Copper Marans are being mothered, appropriately enough, by a Chocolate Orpington who we've named Mrs. Cadbury. I don't mind a few more chickens around the place, they don't need shearing.

My shoulder, I'm pleased to tell you, is completely healed. And I enjoyed my job-done-for-another-year glass of wine immensely. Now, to get that vegetable garden under control...


Maria said...

God you are brave / good at soldiering on. I'm glad you enjoyed your post-shearing red wine, and very glad Alan was too sensible to kick you in the head!
The chicks are adorable in their fluffiness, of course.
And I'm happy to see a new post from you, as always.

megan said...

I walked away from a shearing course when one of the instructors said that if we drop his blade and ding it, we have to buy him a new one. The next instructor was far kinder, but led with "if you nick a teat, she's useless, and we have to kill her." Right. No pressure then. If I had my own, I think I would be in the same camp as you - I.Will.Learn.This.

Peruby said...

I hate that "burning" sensation you speak of. I hope it is healed completely and does not resurface at a later date.

Jennifer Montero said...

Megan, what a crappy experience! I also got the 'Nick a teat and we kill her' speech on my course but the tutor was supportive and showed us how *not* to do that. I still get palpitations shearing around teats and eyes.

Though my technique's improved lots, I couldn't have done it in one day without Steve. He offered to lend me the shears next year, and I may try to tackle a few a day without help next time. Of course, you're more than welcome to come and give me a hand. We pay in cake and wine.

Jennifer Montero said...

I'm less afraid of pain than I am of Steve, so it was a no-brainer.

Having re-read my posts and seen numerous references to wine and pills, it reads like I'm a substance-abusing smallholder. It really is medicinal, I assure you, because I'm so clumsy and injury-prone. Though I suppose we could be classed as animal hoarders if Mike brings home one more dog.

Jennifer Montero said...

Peruby - it was my good shoulder that took the hit this time so I'm sure it will be fine, at least until it wears out as much as my bad one has!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Brava! And thank you for making it clear that sheep are absolutely, positively not for me. Although I'm mighty curious about what it's like to shear a sheep, I want to do the big, flat bits and then hand her over to Steve. Once.

And I don't begrudge you that Vicodin one little bit.

Janice Bendixen said...

That wd be working animal hoarders. And yes, Alan is now my favorite animal also! After my Airedale terrorist Cherni Girl, of course...

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

You enjoyed your glass of wine? I would have been far bolder and said, "I earned, and enjoyed my BOTTLE of wine. WITHOUT the nicety of a glass." I, too, hate that burning sensation of pain. Sharp pain is almost easier than the incessant, ongoing burning. But, glad you are better, glad sheeps are sheared (I will come next time and provide EMT duty for the bloody ones...), glad you have babies (I am excitedly awaiting my new batch of chicks, including 3 Copper Marans for their Chocolate colored eggs) and I, who don't really "get" horses, now love Alan. What a good guy!

Fran in Australia said...

Got to say that I just love the look of your shorn, plump Poll Dorset ewe. And good on you for getting in and doing some shearing yourself. We have a magnificent shearing shed (three stands) but I don't have any sheep on the place - a bit of a bone of contention as I want sheep and he doesn't but then he doesn't knit or spin or weave and I do. Rnjoy your blog too BTW.