Right now, I’m super mad at my sheep because this morning, they called my bluff on the unwired electric netting and busted out of their pasture, attacking my newly-planted apple trees and making me chase them around in the mud for so long I could hear the Benny Hill music playing in my head. Every time I’d get one back inside, another would slip by me, and they’d be off again. Luckily, I caught them all before they completely stripped my poor little trees, but unluckily, I didn’t have time to throw on my mud boots, so I got very, very dirty and my poor Danko Midoris (which are rather precious to me because they’re discontinued) got soaked through and caked with mud. They are officially trapped in the barnyard until I can run down to the co-op, where I’m hoping they have some insulated wire I can use to join the two noncontinuous lengths of electronet.
In the meantime, I’ll try to put their bad behavior out of my mind and tell you about shearing day! This year, I didn’t have a helper, but I was very good with my prep. I took their hay up the night before so they wouldn’t be full and squirmy. A squirmy sheep is a bloody sheep on shearing day. I got all my supplies ready ahead of time, and even made a little catch pen in a corner of the barnyard. When I got the call that Danny was on his way, I led them all into the pen with a handful of hay (they were really hungry, to be lured into confinement with a handful of hay, poor things!) and took off all their coats so they’d be ready to go.
That’s Hokey Pokey and Agnes in back (facing to the right), then Ronnie (facing front), Jayne, Uncle Honeybunch (facing back), Mr Shiver’s butt, and the top edge of Fudgy in the foreground.
It’s always fun to get their coats off and get a good look at their fleeces. During the year, I only see their fleeces when I change suits, and then just one at a time.
This year, Ronnie’s fleece has been looking suspiciously Shetland-like. It’s way finer and softer than the Shetlands, and she definitely has that Merino face, but look at her fleece compared to Fudgy, even.
Ronnie’s the redder fleece in the foreground. Her fleece is much more like the Shetlands’ than her brother’s, below. He has that typical Merino a’a lava look (he’s the center fleece; that’s Fudgy behind him)
Although she’s now close to her brother’s size (they’re both runts, thanks to my utter lack of prenatal care, since they were a complete surprise), when she was born, she was way teenier. And right from the start, she had a much more open fleece, which made me suspicious they had different pops. But last year’s fleece was fairly fine and greasy, though much longer than Hokey Pokey’s. If only I had a CSI lab in my basement and I could run a genetic test on my sheep!
On to the shearing! I won’t have time to skirt and photograph the fleeces until after Yarn School, but I can give you before and after shots of each animal.
When you have a mix of colors, the shearer starts with the white sheep so their fleeces don’t get contaminated with dark fiber. Uncle Honebunch was up first, because he’s bold and has built-in handles.
A closeup of his fleece:
He was a perfect gentleman and didn’t give any trouble. I was pleased to see he wasn’t quite as fat this year as last year.
Afterwards, he didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. He kept walking out toward the pasture, thinking better of it, and walking back to the little pen holding all his compadres.
Next up was Agnes:
Here she is immediately after, looking plaintive and pathetic:
Agnes go a few little waddle nicks, but nothing too gruesome.
She, too, kept checking in on her former cellmates:
Last of the white sheep was Jayne Cobb:
Jayne looks so dashing in fleece, and so gawky and goofy shorn:
Jayne’s always had kind of a loose, lumbering stroll, and last summer he spent a few days grazing laying down when it was really hot. But now that he’s shorn and you can really see his muscles, he seems a little too loosey-goosey in the hips, so I’ve scheduled a visit with the vet the Tuesday after Yarn School. Danny said we might try giving him a shot of BO-SE, but I’m not confident enough to try anything without asking the vet first. Wouldn’t it be funny if I needed to start walking him like a dog, to strengthen him up? If it is bothering him, he doesn’t seem at all hesitant in getting up or laying down, or goofing off and getting into trouble as much as anyone else, but he does seem a bit more unstable, now that I can really see what’s going on.
Next up was our gray gentleman, Mr. Shivers.
Here’s his lovely, long fleece:
And here’s kind of a crappy “after” shot. I know he looks a little drunk, but I promise I did not let him do body shots off Agnes. He, too, was a good size (both of the Shetland boys were tubbos the last two years).
Up until this point, when there were more fleecy sheep in the pen than naked sheep outside of the pen, things were fairly calm. But right about now is when all hell breaks loose and they all start screaming bloody murder. Even the ones I haven’t heard all year, Agnes and Uncle Honeybunch, are suddenly full of opinions. (Oddly, the vocalizations lasted well after shearing was over. They were still making a stink when I put them up for the night.)
Then it was time for the black sheep. We started with Fudgy the Whale:
Fudgy after, with a better shot of Mr. Shivers. These two immediately started squaring off, and continued all evening.
She was followed by Hokey Pokey:
He always looks like a tiny Hostein when he’s been sheared:
He got a nice gash along his jaw from some inopportune bucking, his specialty. Their cuts always look so alarming–I think their loose skin means lots of wiggly connective tissue–so even if they don’t bleed, they look extra creepy and shiny and they stretch and gape with movement. They look like when you pull the skin off a raw chicken thigh, bleh. I’ll keep an eye on both him and Agnes, but I think they’ll be just fine. No bleeding or anything.
Hokey Pokey’s fleece was fine and dark again this year. And his shorn fleece looks like black velvet, albeit dusty black velvet. You just want to paint Elvis on him:
If you’re wondering why they all have a dirty butt, after shearing, Danny dragged each one off to the side, trimmed their hooves (yay! I get out of a hoof trimming!) and gave them their CD/T vaccinations (yay! I get out of giving shots!). All that’s left is the worm routine. Today I’ll give them their first formal FAMACHA check. I check them out informally year-round, whenever I’m close enough to give their eye a little tug and it strikes my fancy–but worms aren’t really an issue in winter, so I’m not super meticulous about it then; my record-keeping goes from spring to fall.
And last but not least is little Ronnie, whose fleece, as I said, is looking suspiciously Shetland-like this year:
For the most part, I stayed away from the shearing itself, fearing my fretful nature would make them react nervously, but I did get a few shots of the very end of Ronnie’s session. That darker part of the pile near his feet, that’s Ronnie. You can see her take take form near the end.
Next year, I’ll have to make a video! It’s so fun to watch. He takes the sheep, puts it on its but, then rolls it around as he shears off the fleece in one piece, like he’s peeling an orange. At the end of it, the sheep emerges, a little dazed and looking like an entirely new animal, and staggers off.
Here’s some of the ratty, weathered fleece of Ronnie’s haunch. Now this is the coarse, scraggly stuff from the top of her legs (you can see it still on her in the next picture–it’s the stuff directly below Mr. Shivers’ nose), so it’s not representative of the rest of her fleece, but it totally looks like the coarse sections of Shetland!
Here’s Mr. Shivers with Ronnie. She’s got the merino face, but if you saw her from behind, you really might think Shetland. Where’s my DNA lab?!
Once everyone was finished, they all reunited to frolic and spar.
Here they are, still nice and clean (they’re all covered with dust now, two short days later):
Just an hour before:
And a couple days ago, still in their jackets:
I’ll let them run around naked for the next couple weeks. After Yarn School, I’ll launder and mend all the jackets & treat them with the iDye UV wash before dolling them up again.
I just have a few balls of last year’s roving left, but I think I may get everyone made into yarn this year! It’s a bigger investment, but it’s very popular.
But I’ll think about that after Yarn School. Speaking of which, back to work!