With this post, Pegg has made me quite appreciative of my elderly male dog. Thankfully, someone is willing to do it. 🙂
Wool: The Dirty Little Secret
There are times when I wonder at the sanity of a person, like me, who raises sheep. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a shepherd. I love everything about it. But let me explain.
At five-thirty one morning, in minus thirteen degree temperatures, I knelt by a ewe, toweling off her twin lambs. It was a race against nature to get them dry enough to keep from freezing. After my third change of gloves and several towels that had frozen stiff, I gave up and put the lambs in a box. Wading through snow drifts well above my knees, I got the lambs into the house. An hour near the stove had them dry, warm, and crying for MaaMaa. I pulled on all my warm clothing and headed out into the storm, wading through even deeper drifts with head down against the wind and a wobbling box full of active lambs in my arms.
Handspinners call me on the phone and ask, “Do you have fleece for sale? I’m running low.” They do this without wading through drifts, without pulling off freezing wet gloves, without birth fluids soaking into their knees.
Another ewe, just a yearling, delivered twins to both our surprise. I was surprised because yearlings normally have singles. She was surprised because “those things” came out of her. She was looking at me as if to say, “Those aren’t mine!” I was encouraging her and telling her, “Yes they are!” This went on for about an hour. She was particularly sure that “those things” were not supposed to go anywhere near her udder. I was equally sure that they should. I’m awfully glad nobody was around with a video camera at the time. With patience and persistence, things eventually worked out.
Handspinners e-mail me and ask, “Did you shear Duchess yet? I really liked spinning her fleece from last year.” They do this without getting bruised by a nervous new mom who tramples over the top of them trying to get away from “those things.”
Most ewes go about the business of delivering lambs without any interference from me. I keep my eye on them, make sure everything is progressing normally, and try to stay out of their way until the lambs are born. They know I’m near and for the most part they ignore me. But occasionally, after repeated attempts to push out a lamb, there will be a change in the ewe’s voice. She’ll give a strident sort of baa. To the untrained ear, it just sounds like “Baa!” To the experienced shepherd this translates to, “Are you just going to stand over there looking stupid or are you going to do something?” At that point it’s time to lend a helping hand. This requires pealing warm coveralls down to the waist and pushing a nice, warm sleeve up over the elbow, leaving a goosebump-covered arm to go exploring. Sorting out tangled twins or triplets is a necessary part of being a shepherd, but slides far down on the list of fabulous things to do on a Saturday night.
Handspinners ask me to send my fleeces on to the processor for them so they don’t have to deal with the “dirty stuff.” If they only knew.
PEGG lives on a small farm in Northern Michigan with her husband of mumble years. When not riding her old horse, shearing a sheep, or chasing a stray chicken, you’ll find her puttering in her garden or the kitchen. A self-proclaimed “history geek,” Pegg writes historical fiction with a touch of humor.