I was thrilled to be allowed to help at Sue Wiegrefe’s Spring shearing. Time for fleece to come off the 15 Babydoll Southdown that she keeps on her 14.5 acre farm, before all the babies start arriving. The shearer was due to arrive at 10 am; I was a bit late (weather-related) but hopefully didn’t delay things too much.
Due to personality issues with the sheep, they had been separated the night before into four groups. The pregnant ewes had access to the shearing area- one of them claimed a corner and gave birth to two black lambs in the early hours of the morning. They were still damp when Sue found them. Here’s a picture of Hattie, after her own haircut, with one of the lambs. The other was sleeping in a corner, unconcerned that mamma had left, unconcerned that mamma had come back.
By the time I got there, every sheep but Hattie was fenced in together. They are small but active; even in a small area there was a lot of chasing around and around as dominance games played out. Us humans were not very impressed, btw; I don’t think I could have wrestled one to the ground but they aren’t very intimidating.
There was a small shoot to control access to the shearing floor, a couple of tables set up to act as a fleece handling area, and some goopy medical stuff stationed at the exit to be administered (It was legit, I just didn’t get the details. I don’t even know if it was oral or just rubbed into their skins, now that we could get to their skins).
I didn’t really watch the medical part as I was working with the fleece. Each fleece had to be sort of humped up on my feet and then fluffed up on itself – “like handling roll dough” I was told. It was a fluff-and-tuck technique to get the fleece into enough of a bundle I could gather it up, take it to a table and flip it. Then lightly straighten the fleece into the shape of the sheep it came off of, fold it, roll it butt-to-head, and drop it into a bag.
Right off the sheep, it is still warm. And although it is not stinky – these sheep are very clean – but it does have its own smell and gathering it up in my arms was interesting. Also interesting was trying to figure out what was the butt end and what was the head end; frequently the butt end is damp from urine, which helps me determine which end is which but I just stopped thinking about it, really, and did the job. Sue’s sheep did not have a lot of poo-dangles on the tail end, so i didn’t often have a visual clue. And my hands were quickly finely coated with lanolin and that also helped my mental game. I’m not a farmer so I kind of had to be an adult here.
The shearer was quick! Belly fleece is taken off and kicked to one side, and then the shears buzz quickly around the sheep, taking care with ears-and-face, underarms (often ticklish), and tail end. I got a bit behind towards the end but still managed to have the fleece in the bag before the next one was ready to be gathered. And it was a good team.
Over lunch, I learned that Sue will be selling some of the fleece and some of it will go to be processed. Same with the lambs – she’s got genetic bloodlines of her sheep and knows which will be sold (reservation information here), which will be kept to improve her own herd, and which will go to freezer camp. If you are interested, she will have the information on her website when ready to sell. She will also be at the April show in Decorah, Iowa – the Iowa Federation of Handweavers and Spinners have a day-long meeting with vendors and classes and demonstrations. I think it looks like a lot of fun. You can catch her here and ask her any question you might have.
All in all, it was a lovely fun morning. I want to revisit at some point in the summer so I can really explore and visit and share. There’s a green house and hazelnut plantings – I’ve spent a delightful 20 minutes reading her blog – and I would love to learn more about this permaculture farm.