Fall sheep shearing was last weekend; I intended to post this sooner, but the professional work requests have kept on coming. Not complaining at all…much like our bees need to pack their honey supers as much as they can while the flowers are in bloom, those of us who work in politics and opinion research must do the same in even numbered years (up until the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, anyhow).
For the shepherd of a fine wool flock like Icelandics, a good shearer is beyond price. It’s easy to get someone to fleece a bunch of meat-breed sheep whose wool is good for little other than insulation or tennis balls. It’s another matter to find someone who can pull a fleece off in a single piece and in a manner that maximizes its value for processing. Our “sheep shearing lady,” Lisa, is such a person. She’s been coming to our farm since we had just four animals (in late 2002), and from her home base in Indiana covers a wide territory. Now that we’re in Michigan, she coordinates our spring and fall shearing dates with those of other clients up here. Last Sunday was our day.
Lisa does much more than cut the fleece from the sheep neatly. She helps us inspect and evaluate each animal as she works with it; she’s seen and held orders of magnitude more sheep than we ever will, and is alert to potential health issues that we may not have noticed. A couple of quick examples: I’m well aware of two telltale signs of worm infestation. Last weekend, Lisa pointed out several more that we should be on the lookout for (not currently present in our flock, but that she’s seen elsewhere). Also, during last fall’s shearing, she identified a ram lamb with a hernia; she advised us not only not to keep him for breeding, but to butcher him before any other lamb — before the hernia could develop into a life-threatening condition. She also helps us identify the lambs whose body types and conformations would make them the best breeders.
I could go on, but you get the idea. For the adults and lambs we’re keeping as breeders, Lisa also trims their hooves and helps us de-worm them. In addition, she gives every animal a drench of about 20-30 cc’s of apple cider vinegar cut 50-50 with water. She also trims the hooves of all our dairy goats.
This time, we had a special additional task: removing the horns of one of our breeding rams. I can’t believe we still haven’t named this particular ram; we kept him as a backup breeder in case anything happened to Dilemma, but we never got around to naming him. He’s now over a year and a half old, and had developed a stunning set of horns. But there was a big problem: as frequently happens, the curve of the horn was starting to press against his face. If we let it go much longer, the growing horns would either crush his skull or prevent him from eating. Either way, we’d lose him.
So, just as we had to do with Dilemma this spring, we used a pair of halters to secure the ram between two rings in the barn doorway. At first he lunged and jumped and struggled to free himself. But once he calmed down, the procedure went off very quickly and without incident.
We used a metal cable to saw back and forth through the horn, and this time used a heavier material than we did with Dilemma. The friction of the sawing action creates so much heat, the blood flow through the horn is largely cauterized immediately. We applied bandages, and secured them with duct tape, to stanch the rest of the bleeding.
We sold Dilemma’s horns to a knife maker, who wanted to use them to make knife handles. I’m trying to locate a buyer for these horns now as well; if anyone is interested, please email me. We’d like to get $25 for the pair. That includes shipping to anywhere in the USA.