S and A arrived home safely last night, and I got to weed through close to 100 photos.  S brought little treats for us–a deer antler for JR (found in the front yard at the farm) and a sample of wool for M and I (he was kind enough to clean it up a bit).  I must say, it was surprisingly smelly.  Not nearly as bad as a goat, but not incredibly pleasant either.  I’ve never noticed the smell of a sheep before.  Ya learn something new every day!  So, since the kids are napping, I will try to tell the story of how this came to be, along with some photos of the week….

S was planning to take a trip back to the farm last week, and, as usual, he had told his mom to compile a list of what she needed done around there.  Over the next few weeks, as the grass began to grow, she discussed more and more about how difficult it was to keep the grass at a manageable height that would prevent the weeds from seeding and taking over that field.  She was thinking how wonderful it would be to have something grazing out there, but needed something low maintenance.  I don’t know the details, but apparently, one of the ladies she worked with had a daughter looking to cull some of her herd since it had gotten too large.  She would let S’s mom have them for a steal of a deal!  S’s mom got very excited at the idea, and began talking to us about it.  All I knew about sheep was that they had to be sheared every year, and since I knew nothing about them, I had to start researching.  We had not considered them for the farm, as we didn’t realize their potential uses.  So I spent the next few weeks researching and learning.  The more I learned, the more in love with the idea I fell.  You can milk them, they eat a lot of the clover and weeds that other livestock often leave behind, and this particular breed is very hardy and thrives on simple pasture grazing.  S was game, and decided that having our own wool supply would only help us be more self-sufficient.  So, having already decided on how we were going to fence (we were going to do the same thing for goats in the future), I just had to find the supplier.  I placed my orders, had several discussions with the current owner about what we wanted and what she had available, and then S and A left to get started. 

Part of the area intended for the sheep pasture, and later for the orchard.

Part of the area intended for the sheep pasture, and later for the orchard.

In order to try to use our limited pastures as efficiently as possible, we had decided a while back that this pasture would be used primarily for the orchard and garden, but would permanently house the laying hens.  There will be a fence down the center later so we can control where the chickens graze somewhat to help keep them out of the garden during the main growing season.  Then, seasonally, we plan to turn goats, pigs, and now sheep into that area to forage the old crops and help prepare the soil for spring planting.  How well this plan will work, I have no idea, but it sounds good for now!  Until then, the sheep manure will be very beneficial to that soil to help prepare for our plants. 

Another view of the intended sheep pasture (complete with supplies!).  The near side will be our future orchard, and the far half closer to the barn will be our garden.

Another view of the intended sheep pasture (complete with supplies!). The near side will be our future orchard, and the far half closer to the barn will be our garden.

Digging the holes.  Doesn't he look great?! (He's taken!)

Digging the holes. Doesn't he...I mean, the fence posts look great?!

Posts are in and just need to be straightened up and the holes refilled.

Posts are in and just need to be straightened up and the holes refilled.

Installing the wire, with a little help from A and my brother-in-law's dog, Sadie.

Installing the wire, with a little help from A and my brother-in-law's dog, Sadie.

I love these flowers--lilacs, I think.  But seeing as how they got fenced inside the new pasture, I don't expect them to be there when we visit in the fall.  Hopefully I can transplant the bulbs later.

I love these flowers--lilacs, I think. But seeing as how they got fenced inside the new pasture, I don't expect them to be there when we visit in the fall. Hopefully I can transplant the bulbs later.

These 4 foot area will be a gate in the future, but since the gates didn't arrive in time, S had to install scrap wire temporarily.

This 4 foot area will be a gate in the future, but since the gates didn't arrive in time, S had to install scrap wire temporarily.

While the new pasture is lined with a new, no-climb wire fence on 2 sides, the other 2 sides utilize our original rail fence.  In the future, we will replace much of this and install no-climb wire, but in the mean time, S used electric hot-wire between the rails in hopes of keeping coyote and neighbor dogs out and sheep in.  We can only hope.

While the new pasture is lined with a new, no-climb wire fence on 2 sides, the other 2 sides utilize our original rail fence. In the future, we will replace much of this and install no-climb wire, but in the mean time, S used electric hot-wire between the rails in hopes of keeping coyote and neighbor dogs out and sheep in. We can only hope.

Apparently, it can be very difficult to find someone to help work with sheep.  The previous owner of the sheep needed some assistance to round them up, seperate them from her herd, load them, trailer them to the farm, and hopefully, shear them.  She finally found someone.  I really don’t know much about the guy, but our best guess is that he is probably a former FFA or 4-H’er who was experienced handling trained sheep for show rather than barely tame sheep.  In any case, he turned out to be a very young and inexperienced know-it-all.  So, first, the guy shows up at her place with a horse to round up and “cut” (seperate them) the sheep with.  Long story short, after a bit of chasing the sheep, apparently the horse spooked somehow and ran off.  Somehow they got the sheep vetted, seperated, and loaded.  when they got to Red Gate, S was surprised to see the guy unload his horse, then turn the sheep out of the trailer.  Not sure if he was expecting to do something else or what.  So, by now, the sheep have been thoroughly traumatized, and immediately ran for the cover of the barn stall to rest in the shade and some seclusion. 

The sheep arrived.  As you can see, they are pretty dirty compared to the internet photo I posted the other day.  4 adult ewes (females) and a ewe lamb.

The sheep arrived. As you can see, they are pretty dirty compared to the internet photo I posted the other day. 4 adult ewes (females) and a ewe lamb.

 I guess the the previous owner had worked it out for the guy to sheer the sheep.  They had brought electric clippers with them.  So then, after they were out grazing finally, he decided to chase them down again to catch them to shear.  They finally caught one.  Now, mind you, I know nothing about shearing sheep.  I have seen shorn sheep at the fair, and know what the end result should look like.  However, S and I watched many shearing videos and read a ton of stuff about how to do it before he left.  So, we at least had a pretty good idea.  The way the professionals do sheep is the grab the sheep by their front feet and gently (but quickly) sit them on their rump.  Even the wildest sheep will apparently become quite docile in this vulnerable position.  Then they just lay there and hardly move while the shearer sets to work.  Everything we read and watched instructed to set the clippers as close to the skin as possible Which still leaves a good layer of fuzz when using the wool attachment on the clippers) and remove all the yucky wool from the belly area.  Then, rotate the sheep as needed to clip the remainder of the body in similiar fashion.  When done correctly, the end result is the trashy wool from the belly and tail area, and one large blanket-like section of wool called a “fleece”.   The entire process can take a professional about 2-5 minutes.

Within minutes of the process at Red Gate, though, S realized this guy was clueless.  

First, he lassoed her around the neck, formed a make shift halter and tied her up tight to a barn post.  Mind you, any animal that has not been trained to wear a halter or be tied up will struggle to get free.  She did, and she struggled a lot.  These girls were no bigger than a grown man’s knee, and there were 3 people trying to hold her still.  Then it went from bad to worse.  Turns out the clipper blades were rusted, which means dull.  When the guy had trouble clipping through the wool, he removed the sheep wool attachment, and tried using a horse attachment.  That was a useless attempt.  Furthermore, instead of clipping down to the skin in one shave, he tried to clip the wool in layers, starting with the top couple of inches (aka, the absolute dirtiest wool there was)!  This only succeeded in gunking the clippers up with dirt and lanolin oils from the wool.  In the mean time, trying to prove his knowledge, the guy began talking about how you never sheer the belly wool off or they will get infections and you don’t clip too close to the skin or it would be dangerous (neither of which was true).  Finally, after struggling like this for over a half-hour, the guy gave up.  S gladly saw him out of the barn, returned to untie the sheep from her nightmare.  Unfortunately, the guy had made such a mess of her that S was forced to try to clean her up a bit.  As we had read/watched, he flipped her on her rump.  Amazingly, the frantic sheep immediately relaxed into his arms.  He held her there for a while to just let her calm down from her torturous experience.  After a few moments, he did the bare minimum he could to prevent problems with the fleece being shorn incorrectly, and let her go. 

S was so relieved when the torture ended.  Poor girl!
S was so relieved when the torture ended. Poor girl!
By the next morning, the sheep had calmed down enough to actually eat out of S and his mom’s hand.  They are still very leary and jumpy, but I suspect with Grandma there to visit frequently, they will likely tame down soon enough. 
Mom is a one-year-old ewe, and this is her lamb from earlier this year.  Isn't she a cutie?
Mom is a one-year-old ewe, and this is her lamb from earlier this year. Isn’t she a cutie?

S had to return home, so he didn’t have time to buy a set of clippers and do them all.  After making a few calls, I located a REAL shearer nearby who was willing to do the job.  It’s what he does for a living.  He should get the girls taken care of in the next couple of weeks.  In the future, S and I will be doing the clipping.  We will invest in a set for next year, and hopefully give them a much more pleasant experience.  But then again, I have never sheared before, so we’ll see how it goes next year!

Enjoying their new pasture.  I love the one on the right.  My understanding is that she is the oldest at 3 years old, but her coat of wool just cracks me up.  It almost drags the ground.  When you realize that her body is probably 1/3 of that size, it is a rather impressive coat of wool.  I can only imagine how relieved she will be to have it sheared!
Enjoying their new pasture. I love the one in the back center. My understanding is that she is the oldest at 3 years old, but her coat of wool just cracks me up. It almost drags the ground. When you realize that her body is probably 1/3 of that size, it is a rather impressive coat of wool. I can only imagine how relieved she will be to have it sheared! The one in the front center is the poor girl who suffered at the hands of the inexperienced shearer. You can see how rough she looks!

Whether these particular ewes will stay on the farm or go with S’s mom when she moves next door is yet to be determined.  but either way, I think we are now in the sheep business, and will likely expand the flock as soon as we move there. 

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