This morning as I was giving Everest, our ram, some water, I noticed huge chunks of his wool in the floor of his shed. It reminded me that this is shearing time for owners of wool sheep.
For about 15 years we had Suffolk sheep. I loved them dearly. They were friendly, funny, and beautiful. Suffolk sheep are one of the few breeds that truly "flock." They travel in a "V" pattern with the lead sheep at the point of the "V" and the ram at one of the ends.
Wool sheep are time consuming. We spent many long hours in maintaining the flock. Every three months or so you have to run them through a foot bath of chemicals to help prevent foot rot. My son works at a boat factory and he was given an old mold that we adapted for this purpose.
After the foot bath, Greg would have to trim the hooves, much as you do a horse's. We had a sling chair to put them into for this. Sheep can not lie on their backs or they will suffocate, so the chair kept them upright, but immobile.
And then, there was shearing. In order for a professional shearer to come to the farm we needed 30 or more animals, but we only had about 14. So Greg bought shears and learned to do it himself.
It was hard work. At first he sheared them lying on the ground, but soon developed a method for shearing them while they stood.
We didn't coat them, or take special precautions for the wool since we didn't have enough sheep to make selling it profitable. But then an old family friend asked if she could have it as she was wanting to learn how to process and spin wool.
Mary Patrick is an amazing woman. She weaves baskets from grape vines, does stained glass, has one of the most fabulous gardens around, and has completely remodeled a single wide trailer into a magnificent house.
Mary took our wool and began by washing it in her hot tub. Then she carded it, and spun it on her spinning wheel. Once it was spooled, she wound the threads into a usable hank. From that she would sit for hours at her loom working the natural fibers into lovely patterns for horse blankets and wool rugs.
Eventually, the physical stress of shearing sheep took its toll, and we sold my beloved Suffolk flock and bought hair sheep. They are much lower maintenance. We check their hooves a couple of times a year, and they shed their coats much like a dog.
I love my new hair sheep, but I still miss my lovely flock of black and white Suffolks. I am glad Greg no longer has the hard job of shearing, but I will always miss the days of working with them. It was hard work, but very rewarding. I think it was probably some of the best days of my life.
Photos property of Leah McAllister.