Week 13, 2019 | Kristin Kimball | Mar 29, 2019

The woolies are no longer wooly, but sleek. Their fleeces are tucked safely into the big tote bags. Their hooves are trimmed too, and they’ve had their annual vaccine. All of that happened in a wild rush, between ten and four on Tuesday. Shearing day is always busy but we had 130 ewes this time, 30% more than last year. Luckily we have new handling equipment, and also had an amazing group of volunteers – I think I counted twelve, at the peak of the day – plus our own strong farm team, and our fabulous shearers, Mary Lake and Liz Willis. Anne and Charlie set up the pens and chute the day before, and corralled all the sheep early in the morning, so we were ready to go as soon as Mary and Liz arrived. After the shears went on it was non-stop action. When Mary or Liz released a newly-shorn ewe we caught her, flipped her over, trimmed her hooves, gave her her shot, and escorted her out the gate to the next pen, trying to get her out before the next sheep came off the board four minutes later. Then the fleece went to the skirting table, where all the dirty bits were removed, and it was folded and packed away. In the shorn pen the ewes sniffed each other, trying to recognize their friends with new haircuts. I love watching how the old ewes handle shearing day, in contrast to the young ones. The old gals know what is happening, and most of them relax as the shearers move through their balletic holds. The yearlings, though, will buck, kick and struggle. Next year, they will be more knowing, and their lambs will be the ones who fight.

With a few exceptions, the volunteers had never worked sheep before, but they all jumped right in, and learned quickly. At the end of the day, my pants and boots slick with lanolin, I had that good feeling of having worked hard with a great team, which is one of the best parts of farming. Then, soft from all the time at my desk, I collapsed into a hot bath and an early bed. I am pleased with the ewes’ condition and am hoping for a lot of good healthy lambs. Sadly, we had to put a yearling ewe down the day before shearing – she’d broken her leg clean through, just above the ankle – but on butchering her we found she’d been carrying twins. This was a surprise, because our first-time mothers almost always give us singles. It made me both hopeful for a great lamb crop, and fearful of managing a lot of squirrelly yearlings with twins.

We saved the rams until the end. There were two dorsets and one polypay (for terminal cross lambs), and they had been pastured next to the house since the end of breeding season. When Mary flipped the polypay to begin shearing, she found he only had one testicle, plus a scar from where he’d been banded in an attempted castration. One of his testicles must not have been descended then, but it came down later. So he wasn’t a ram at all – or half a ram at best. I feel stupid for not giving him a going over when we bought him, before turning him in for breeding. “Yeah,” Mary Lake said, “You gotta check the nuts!” True words, and a good lesson. Since he was only a quarter of the breeding force (we had another polypay in the fall, a rental) I’m hoping we won’t see too much decrease in the number of ewes bred.

Dr. Curt Stager is speaking at the Grange this Sunday at 3pm. Still Waters: A Deeper Look at Walden Pond. He has a new book out on the history of lakes and the impact of a changing climate. Details at www.thegrangehall.info. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this muddy 13th week of 2019. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Good Husbandry