Spring Chores

hand shears
(click for larger version)

Spring on our Maine farm also means ‘shearing the sheep,” job I truly dread since it requires hours of my time hunched over a squirming fragrant animal when both of us would rather be elsewhere doing other things. (We used to hire someone to do this for us using the more efficient electric shears, except there are very few professional sheep shearers available these days, and those that do are reluctant to travel and set-up for two or three sheep…) As a result I often put off the job until the black flies begin to appear, which turns an unpleasant job unbearable (these flies, which I promise to describe in detail soon for those unfamiliar, fly in clouds and naturally gravitate to your head and face to land and begin biting… if you don’t inhale them first…). This is one of the biggest reasons we now use cows to mow our fields instead of more sheep.

during
before
after

However, it must be done, so this morning Alison and I got up early (before the flies get bad) and finished shearing our two remaining sheep — our sixteen year old virgin ewe “Butter” who has now outlived her twin brother “Lindt” aka “Butthead” by two years; and our one-year old Jacob ram “Jamie.” Jaime is a dividend from boarding a flock of Jacob Sheep last year for a friend who unexpectedly lost his access to the island pasture where they had been living. He is meant to keep Butter company through her fading (weeks? months? years?), then become the centerpiece of a future picnic barbecue. Happily it is still cool (45 °F) in the mornings, and there was a fresh breeze that kept the flies away until we were done. The fleeces are worthless for spinning (Jamie’s fleece is mostly “hair” instead of wool, and since Butter is so old her fibers have grown weak and would shatter rather than twist and clutch each other) so they have gone to mulch two young apple trees.

during
In addition to the sheep chore, Alison pruned our climbing rose which has easily survived the Maine winter so we expect a few beautiful long-stemmed cream and blush red blossoms by July Fourth, and a growing pillar of glossy green leaves in its nook on the southern side of our house.

Spectator
Corky watches the action (click for full size image)

4 thoughts on “Spring Chores

  1. Any details on those primitive-looking shears?

    p.s. Is that, like, a German Shepherd-dachshund mix or is it just really big scenery?

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  2. btw, a couple beekeeper’s veils and you’d be laughing at those sorry Simuliidae. Or are you afraid that you’d lose yer Maine farmer cred with the neighbors?

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  3. The short answer to the question is “yes, we’ve tried head nets.” They don’t really work (the flies are too small and pesky). People in rural Maine have tried EVERYTHING to combat the evil Simuliidae; suffice to say that it’s not an accident that both Alison and I wear white wide brimmed hats, which actually work better than a head net. I will elaborate in detail in my future fly feature.

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  4. The shears are probably a primitive design (after all, humans have cultivated sheep for fiber harvest for thousands of years), but our pair were brand new when we bought them ten years ago. They’re quite effective but much slower to use than electric shears. Our shears now have acquired a pleasing patina through annual use, don’t you think?

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