Friday, 26 May 2017

Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full

Three bags of fleece ready for Sue. 
When I last went to 'press', I was 2 days into a dry spell and praying for a third so that we could get into the sheep shearing. I need not have worried. The pressure climbed and presented us with another mini heat wave. It stayed dry through Wednesday for us to shear our lot and then Thursday and Friday (today) too, so that I could snatch Sue and Rob's sheep too.

Visitor John claims the "holder" job this year with Liz happy
to step across to photographer and caterer.
Shearing is probably my most looked-forward-to tasks about the livestock. It is hard physically and difficult technically, so a proper challenge. One that you can be very happy about and proud of when you are doing it OK. Now I'm no pro and definitely nowhere near as fast as the champions/demonstrators who can strip a ewe naked in 45 seconds without chopping any vital bits off, but we chug away and they come out reasonably clean, undamaged and stress-free. Rob and I took 90 minutes to do his four, so about 22 minutes per sheep and some of these first time "shearlings" who tend to hop about a bit.

Peeling it off from spine down to sides and legs, finishing with a
bit of nip and tuck swooping under belly, round legs and face.
Friends of the blog will know that I do mine standing upright. I tried that upside down wrestling thing you see the pro's doing but I could not get the timing down much below an hour and the poor sheep were definitely not enjoying being inverted for that long. They would be panting, start foaming at the mouth and sometimes just collapse on their sides as if they had given up the fight; good for the big long body-length "blows" with the shears but not ideal from a welfare point of view.

Not bad for a learner. Certainly cooler.
I guess if you wanted to get good at that style, you'd just go on a course and practise, practise, practise on someone else's gazillion sheep, supervised by an expert. However I decided to try mine upright last year and it worked well, so we swapped over to upright shearing as you'd do a dog (and indeed. so do I).

Very pleased with this one of Sue's girls. My cleanest yet.
We slip a big dog-collar over the sheep's neck and catch a turn of dog-lead round the gate of the cattle race. This solves most of the problems (mobility, escape etc) but does generate a couple more. Wool under the collar can get missed and the belly and armpits are trickily out of sight! Not the 'vulva' though - that's looking right at you under the tail, not down at the "far end" when you'd have the sheep's head between your thighs.

Not normal for Ireland. A hot forecast from Met √Čireann
It is all those final nips and tucks which cause me the problems and the bulk of the time. The 'comb' bit of a dog clipper is made of tiny teeth less than a mm apart, so there is no chance of any bits of sheep (folds of skin, wrinkles, teats, ears, etc) sliding down betwixt and getting nicked by the reciprocating cutter above. Not so the sheep shears, which are a much more industrial weapon. Here the comb teeth are a couple of mm apart, so plenty of opportunity to nick your victim as well as your own fingers if you are not careful.

I go in fear, then of cutting the poor sheep in these sensitive places and ease off the throttle too soon around legs and neck and face (ears, Achilles tendon etc). I tend to miss bits under the collar and on fronts and backs of legs (I am OK on the big, broad, flat 'sides' of the limb) so my sheep have trademark "frilly knickers" (as Sue says) and sometimes a "goat-beard" under their throat.

In Sue's barn
Never mind. They have had 3 inches thick of "duvet" removed from back, sides, rump and neck and a good bit pared away from the belly so they seem to straight away feel more comfortable, especially in this heat. They sprint back to their fields and dance around like new lambs. They seem very tiny, goat-like and thin compared to the almost spherical full-fleece versions they left behind in the shed. Not for them any worries about frills and dewlaps.

While I'm on shearing, a couple of amusing asides. We did Sue and Rob's in their barn with the sheep held to a solid work-bench which would only move a tiny bit even with a sheep bucking around it. When the shed is not a shearing-pen, it is used by all manner of other livestock including poultry and is currently home to at least 3 broodies one of which is on top of the workbench and no doubt cursing us for invading their quiet confinement with our noisy sheep, clattering shears and our own chat and banter.

Rosa rugosa
At one stage we paused the shears to let the latest victim have a breather and could hear, instead of annoyed broody-hen scolding clucks, the thin cheeping of a baby turkey! This hen had turkey eggs under her and one had hatched - whether it was us rocking and rolling her 'Mum' about, we will never know.

The ever reliable Dublin Bay comes into flower.
Then mid sheep on about the third, I flicked out a small wad of wool near my open mouth and promptly breathed it in. It hit the back of my throat and set off such a spasm of choking and gasping that I had to stop, drop the shears and try to make a very concerned Rob understand that I need water fast.

The first of our huge poppies opens with
plenty more buds on the clump.
I was in some trouble for a while there but got it back together leaning over a pile of tyres trying not to be sick, then glugging and gargling Rob's water. We were joking about how we'd explain to the ladies that the sheep were now all sheared but....um....... there is a bit of a problem with Matt. You might want to come and collect him. It was one of those like where you swallow a fly - you just see it flash by your face but with no chance to shut your mouth before it is in there. Farm Safety.

So that is it for this year unless some of these friends who pop up on Facebook asking if anyone can shear a couple rams needs me. They generally get sorted/claimed by someone else before I get a chance to contact them but you never know. The last few days also saw the end of the John visit. He left for Rosslare yesterday morning, headed for an 8pm sailing and texted me this afternoon to say he was back safe in Kent and off to collect his own dog, Ragworth.

Next in the news? Our expectant Mums. 
Next into the spotlight for this blog, may well be our geese, who have been sitting on eggs for 32 days now and may well have a happy event or two over the next few days. Watch this space.

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