Saturday, January 24, 2015


By the end of January, our sheep are very pregnant. They spend most of their time laying around and eating. When I look at them, I see potential.

I spend the last weeks before shearing skirting and washing fleeces. The wool shed must be mostly empty so that we can store  35 garbage bags full of newly shorn fleeces there.

Last years unsold fleeces will go to the woolen mill to be transformed into yarn. This year, I'll combine gray and white fleeces to produce  a light gray two ply 100% wool yarn.  I spread each fleece out on my skirting table and reassess it. Is the fleece clean or is it full of tiny bits of alfalfa or weed seeds? Does it have a lot of little short pieces of wool, the second cuts that the shearer makes to clean up how the sheep looks when he's done with her? Is it full of manure tags or fine dirt from a windy day last fall?

I can't fix any of those flaws for last year's fleeces. By the time we reach shearing day, I can really only change the way we skirt this years fleeces. I just hope that we coated the sheep early enough in the fall so that their fleeces aren't full of little bits of veggies, that we kept the pastures weed free, that we had no dust storms, and that Tom, our shearer, remembers that we don't care about bits of extra wool on our sheep but that we do care about those second cuts in our fleeces.

Next Saturday, we'll shear our sheep, releasing all that potential. Shearing day is sort of like my birthday crossed with the days when we were kids and our report cards came out. The clean fleeces without seeds or veggies or manure or dust give me such pleasure. The dirty fleeces remind me that next year I can do better.

As Tom runs his shears across a ewes belly, down her legs, and around to her backbone, I watch breathless for the minute he steps aside, shoos the sheep to her feet and out of the way. Her fleece lies on the floor, inside out,  glistening in the shadowed light of the barn, beautiful, fragrant and full of possibilities.

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