Well, it has been a while since I have posted. This has been a busy spring for us. Relocating to Cape Girardeau Missouri, moving our sheep (temporarily) to the Sundowner Farm in Tennessee, and of course all the crazy things that have been happening during the first half of 2020! We have been blessed that everyone is safe and healthy, not a small thing with the Covid-19 virus spreading globally. I am very grateful that the owners of the Sundowner Farm, Allan and Stacy Brown are hosting our sheep for a while. And it's been fantastic building a friendship with Allan as we build fence together at his place! It's also been great getting to know folks here in Cape, and building friendships with the great set of professors (and their families) that I work with at Southeast Missouri State University. A piece of icing on the cake has been connecting with an old friend and mentor Kent Boyer who lives in Missouri. And there has even been an upside to the lock-down. I've spent more time just hanging out, playing cards, talking and basically 'connecting with' my wonderful wife Terri than I have been able to for a long time! So there have been some real blessings amid all the craziness.
Having said that, I do have to admit that I really miss having a farm (we are living in town until we find a new farm here in Southeast Missouri). There are so many rhythms that are a part of living on a farm that you just don't realize you miss until they aren't there. The sound of sheep when they see you and start baaing asking for food, or the beauty of big white Great Pyrenees guard dogs contrasted against the green pasture as they watch over the sheep. Or just that daily rhythm of getting up early to feed and smelling the cool fresh morning air as you feel the dampness leftover from morning dew. There is a literal aching in my soul for all these daily rhythms on the farm.
However, I did get to experience something recently that is an annual rhythm on the farm. A few weeks ago we had our annual sheering which took place on the Brown's Sundowner farm. This is something we do every year, and it is really one of the highlights of the year for us. We bring in a professional sheerer (Paul Ahren out of Arkansas did a great job for us this year) to trim the wool on our Merino, Rambouillet, Cormo and Scottish Blackface sheep. It takes a lot of skill and expertise to do this efficiently, and especially with 'fine wool' sheep such as ours. Good sheering is key to getting the full value out of the fleece (that is the name for the wool after it is sheered off of the sheep). This picture shows Dolly getting the 'full treatment' during what we call 'spa day'. You can see her fleece on the mat in the last picture, and what's really cool is how the sheerer is able to bring the fleece off in a single piece. Something I have never managed to do, even after going to sheering school!
The full treatment includes sheering, trimming hooves, getting vaccinations, and checking for parasites using Famacia scoring. Paul is the guy doing the sheering in these pictures, and I'm the guy bent over trimming hooves. This is a full family operation. Eric, my son, handles the sheep getting them to Paul. Then I take them and put them into the "lounger" (the chair Dolly is laying in), trim their hooves, give them a CDT shoot, and give them dewormer (if needed) and do a general health check up. While I'm doing this, Terri takes the fleece and skirts it. That is the process of pulling out sub-par quality wool, any junk in the wool, etc. She also weighs the fleece, pulls out part of the wool for quality testing at a lab, and records the weight of the wool and any thing we did with the sheep as far as vaccinations, etc. This year Allan Brown also chipped in and helped - which was much appreciated.
This is a really intense couple of days with a lot of preparations, a full day of team work, hard physical labor (it took three of us to get our over 250 lb ram positioned for sheering), and a fair bit of planning. But it is worth it. It is amazing to feel the luxurious, soft wool that is produced by our sheep. Our girls really do produce some of the best wool available. In fact, this is what one of our customers said "I can't believe how fine this wool is, wow. I've never felt sheep's wool like it (and I've worked with a LOT of wool)! The description is 100% correct, probably one of the finest wools you'll ever work with." Our customers are predominantly 'hand spinners' who are very discriminating about the quality of their wool - so to get this kind of feedback is an amazing compliment. That is the kind of comment that makes all the hard work worth while!
So in a year of disruption, calamity, and really all around chaos - it was really wonderful to still experience one of the annual rhythms associated with farming, and to see the results of this last years hard work come to fruition.
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The Gentleman Farmer