Wanderer and storyteller, wise, half-blind, with a wonderful horse.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Sheep-Shearing Day at Hestholl Icelandics
The hardest part of Sheep-Shearing Day seemed to be getting the halters on. A sheep halter is not like a horse halter--at least, not like any horse halter I'm used to. There were no buckles, no obvious browbands.
The sheep halters were a noose of bright nylon rope that, looped and twisted correctly, gave you a secure grip on an obstreperous ewe but--twisted incorrectly--let her easily escape to scramble into the yard and glare at us with her yellow eyes while Jill enjoined the youngsters not to scream and not to chase her and a few sheep-savvy helpers made a loose ring behind her and urged her gently back toward the rest of her flock, penned in the open barn, where the professional sheep-shearer stood waiting in the middle of a bright green tarp. The escapee sauntered within his reach, was deftly snagged by one horn and up-ended to sit on her bottom between the shearer's knees--at which the ewe immediately relaxed and let him get on with the task of stripping her of her heavy fleece.
It was Sheep-Shearing Day, after all. The local 4H Club was there to help, though I only noticed one club member who was much help at all: She was an expert at toenail trimming. Most of us had come to Jill Merkel's Hestholl Icelandics in Richmond, VT, to take photos or otherwise gawk at the sheep, which gawked back at us.
The sheep were Icelandic sheep: black and white and brown and spotted. Some had horns, some were hornless, and some just had little nubs. Some were cooperative: They'd hop up onto a metal grooming stand and set their heads onto the headrest; they wouldn't fuss even when you tightened the noose that kept them there and systematically picked up each foot to trim their nails. Others fought back. They despised the stand--or were frightened of it. They refused to keep still, even when tied, jerking their legs as hard as they could to make Jill or young Eva, with the nail clippers, let go--though they didn't. They just waited out the jerking and squirming and then went on with the task.
Sheer off the wool, trim the nails, check the color of the membrane around the eyes (a way to see if the animal has worms), administer wormer, if required, dribble some insecticide along each spine to defeat the fleas, then on to the next sheep.
The shearing seemed to be the quickest step. It took the shearer about five minutes per sheep, using electric clippers. He finished 32 sheep in about four hours, and half the time he seemed to be standing there with a shorn sheep at the end of its rope and saying calmly, "Somebody take this sheep. Where's the next one?"
As soon as I arrived, having never helped with a sheep-shearing before, I was handed a sheep. It did not like me. It spun and kicked and squirmed and did all it could to get off that rope. Thankfully, the sheep-shearer knew how to halter a sheep and this one did not get loose.
My friend Linda, also new to sheep-shearing, first got the task of taking before and after photos. The "before" sheep were handsome and stout; the "after" sheep were lumpy here and skinny there, altogether awkward-looking beasts.
Later Linda got the more appealing task of stuffing the wool into sacks, each neatly labeled with the ewe's name. "The wool is still warm when you pick it up," she mused, "like a sweater someone has just slipped off."
Soon it will be spun and knitted into a sweater once again, and the ewe will grow a new fleece, to be shorn off next spring.