We are not the faithful gardeners that we would like to be. I've said time and again that we can only focus on so much at once, and we grow the wool. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my veggies, and we plant more than we are able to maintain well in the earth nearly every year. I still get to put some abundance away here and there every summer. We do, however, get to faithfully glean from our wooly gardens!
To prepare before shearing season, every day is spent with a bit of evaluation and contemplation for our wooly gardens: How are the minerals? Have caloric needs changed? Is our co-grazing working for the health of the fields and peace of all involved species? Oh no - Is that burdock coming to attack and stick in fleeces? Is it time to rotate etc., etc., etc. A farmer always looks for the thing on the top of the list.
Keeping hay out of fleeces in the winter is a real thing. Some people put coats on their sheep which seems like a great idea... but for expense, time, and the fact that we do live in the South and humidity plus coats often leads to felting. Plus, Finns have wonderfully easy-care fleeces that tend to shed much of the VM, etc. As a side note - If you plan to keep sheep for wool, remember this: the lower the hay, the less VM (vegetable matter) you get in the fleece. Sheep eat overtop and under and squeeze in from the side to get their little snacks and nibbles. Low feeders prevent chaff in the Spring fleeces which tend to suffer the consequences. We often use a high quality round bale with a configured cattle panel to keep the hay intact and clean inside while pushing the sheep away from falling fiber matter. I'm am sure that there are better ways that I have not yet discovered, but this seems to suit our numbers and needs for now. During the lambing season, the littles will often crawl inside for some much loved bed and breakfast time. It's a sweet time of year! I love the Spring, and the fleeces are nice with some thought to management, etc., but Fall is where my Wooly Garden shines!
Last year, a very kind shepherd friend of ours gifted the kids with some retired and beloved blade shears - all in varying conditions and sizes. Well, my children have all wanted to shear! This was elating to them! And this Fall, they were able to live those dreams and graduate from shearing angora rabbits to their very own Finn flocks.
And now we enter into the moment. Our wooly friends have been carefully washed on stands and the electronet fencing is set up in our yard waiting to receive the freshly washed wooly friends who are turned out to dry. The other sheep faithfully mow while they wait to get their transforming baths. The first-timer Spring lambs complain a bit at first until they realize that the itchy accumulation of dirt and some lanolin are being rinsed away. Occasionally, we'll find a neglected thistle or other debris wound into their wool, and we dislodge it. The older sheep mostly seem to know the drill and settle into their contented state awaiting the primping and manicuring. They know that soon they will be breezy free and that this process will soon free them from all the locked in itchies that have begun to plague them. They know that we work admiring their gift and giving extra scratches and love. Many of our sheep don't even need the stand, but stands make the work easier on our backs, etc. The stands are not always available, however, and so the rams are often tied to a convenient tree. Most will stand stock still for shearing. And the most exciting part about this year - everyone can help!
I watch as my daughters and sons carefully part the fleece to start the clip. The wool "waste" has been removed and will be not wasted but used for felting or dryer balls or compost or mulch depending. Straight down the backline they move to get a line of entrance, then clipping carefully down the sides as cascades of beautifully dry and perfect Finn fleece is freed from the patient sheep. I am always amazed by the colors underneath. Growing fleeces may be tipped with gold by the sun; the fleece may have hidden treasure underneath. We all stand to help catch the soft treasure as it is peeled back with the quiet and slow snip-snip-snip sound that humbly pronounces the great reveal. I am amazed by my children's confidence as they move with exact precision along the anatomy of our beloved friends. There is an unspoken awe in the air. A silent joy but for the occasional bleating as the sheep inquire as to their new routine on occasion.
This year Ida-Down-Dilly, a black Spring ewe, is being shorn for the first time. Ida has been rubbed all over since the beginning of her life. She is used to people picking up feet for fun, hugging her belly, rubbing underneath and will gleefully follow for love and the occasional botanical treat. She is puzzled by the new routine. We put Ida on the stand and begin. She has already been washed... a process which she is not sure she needed, but apparently did not put her off enough to be worried about shearing. The clip begins. My husband makes short work of her underbelly wool with the electric shears... a bit short for use, but remarkably clean. We might be able to save this for something later. The electric shears give her a start! Loud and warm, vibrations tickle through her whole body. Yes, this is not something Ida approves of, and she is not afraid to let us know! This is quickly done, however, with no damage and Ida settles down as the slow snip-snip-snip begins. We talk to her, telling her how beautiful she is. Tall shepherds reach into the covering branches for leaves to offer as treats. Pretty soon, Ida-Down-Dilly is sure she must be in the best place in the whole world! Scratches, cool, treats, family loving and surrounding her. She still glories in this as the last bit of fleece is removed and her feet are clipped.
When Ida is let off the stand, she shakes and is surprised to see that her skin is so light and breezy. She looks to her shepherd in curiosity. She seems a little unsure of herself, and follows her Elizabeth to the chair that holds her fleece. She sniffs. And sniffs again. And looks back at us in wonder. And sniffs again with a nibble. We then take her just that little bit further to her friends. Ida looks back at us in gratitude, then bounces up the slight hill to play and show-off her new found freedom. And we are left with her abandoned soft black gold.
Yes, the shearing season is full of work and pleasure. Seeing our babies thriving, enjoying their emerging personalities and delights, feeling and smelling that sweet wool from their person which also springs from our pasture and care. Dreaming of skipping through the fields or walking the city streets with Ida-Down-Dilly in our hearts and on our sleeves. Fall is a time of great harvest for the shepherd. Clean wool abounds, happy sheep skip lightly on their feet, and our hearts swell with the bliss of it all!
This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.