Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sheep shearing

We usually try to have our sheep shorn in mid-April, but this year, we had to keep putting off shearing as we were hit with spring storm after spring storm. Even after the rains stop, the wool has to dry before we can shear. We were finally able to shear this week, just in time for lambing to begin. The top photo is of me trailing the sheep to the shearing pen, complete with guard dogs and burro.

Trailing the sheep is relaxing. I walk with them, and laugh as they zig-zag through the sagebrush, flushing sage grouse and jackrabbits as we go. The photo below is of sweet Rena's dirty face after she swam in the river, thieved a fish carcass dropped by an osprey, then buried the fish out in the dirt.

The sheep turn to go into the pasture. That's a burro butt in front. Blue Rim in the back, husband Jim's head is somewhere in between.

Nice purple color on the sheep shearing plant, isn't it? That's a freshly shorn ewe coming out one side.

Shearing is a necessary evil. We have fine-wooled sheep, so the wool is magnificent. But shearing day is stressful on the animals, especially when they are so pregnant. The guy in the cool shades below is my son Cass, skipping school to help out.

We hired a new sheep shearing crew this year, since our regular shearer went out of the business. The new crew, consisting of a seven-man shearing plant, included shearers from Peru, New Zealand, Australia, and even a couple of Americans (a rarity in shearing). It takes about three to four minutes to shear each sheep.

The photo below shows the wool that is kicked out the front of the shearing plant, sorted according to wool grade, then baled.

At last, naked sheep. Our wool was sold to the United States Army this year – a first for us. We sell with our friend Pete, so it leaves here in 400-pound bales stacked on semi-tractor trailers headed to the railroad. Our wool usually goes overseas for designer clothing, but this year, it stays in the U.S. I like that notion.


Matt Mullenix said...

Cat it's interesting to think that those mittens the Army is making of your wool may wind up in an Afghan mountain range on my brother's hands.

He is deploying this January.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Matt, Godspeed to him. My nephew is serving in Iraq now. I have no idea what the Army will do with the wool, but to be frank, I'm betting it's for the fine wool uniforms worn by the high-ranking men. All I can say is if the wool itches, it's not from us. It is amazing how range sheep in the West eat sparse sagebrush/desert forage and convert that into this soft, fine wool. Be nice to think our wool will cloak American soldiers serving in mountain country. A warm hug from home.

Matt Mullenix said...

Cat my brother is an Army surgeon and (I hope) stays well away from the fighting when in country. But I know it will be cold when he's there and he'll appreciate all his issued gear.

Pete said...

Cat, great post. Do the dogs get a free haircut at least for a winter's worth of work??

Cat Urbigkit said...

Sometimes the dogs get haircuts, but this year, they were already very shedded out - no waiting for the shearers. The main female that stays with this bunch stayed in the pens with the sheep, jumping over the top of the chutes/fences/panels to check on various sheep in various places. She never did let the friendly shearers so much as pet her. She was relieved when we turned her herd back out, and she took them back to the lambing ground where they belong.

Rachel Dickinson said...

I love this series of photos. Thanks for posting them. Really gives me an idea of what happens at shearing time.