Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Piles and Piles of Fleeces

Shearing day has left piles and piles of fleeces. John Sanchez sheared seventeen Shetland ewes, twenty one corriedale-cross ewes, three Shetland rams, one Wensleydale ram, and one Shetland wether. He started close to 10am and he was done at 1pm. Although he works fast, he takes time with each sheep and unlike many shearers, almost never nicks a sheep. As a plus, he is so calm and careful, the sheep, for the most part—there is always at least one complainer—placidly let him waltz them around to rid them of their lovely wool.  While I worked with Johnny on the floor of the barn, we had two skilled fleece skirters, Gina and Patricia, working the tables and Marlie helping visitors by explaining the process and selling the fleeces.  Skirting is the process of examining the fleece and taking off the bits with vegetable matter, short hairs from the legs or edges, or stained fleece.

Long ago, when I first began farming, I was entranced with the coated fleeces that I saw at county fairs.  Consequently, I bought, at great expense, a large number of coats for my sheep, twenty I think, in a variety of sizes, and began the process of fitting the sheep with coats the moment they were sheared, changing out the coats after three or four months as their fleece grew, and refitting them into larger coats just months before shearing the next year. 

Of course, the process was not smooth and well regulated.  I would come out to find a sheep stumbling around with the coat half off.  That sheep had to be caught, the foot, front or back, eased into its proper position, and then sent on its way.  Then there were the sheep, not so hog-tied, to mix metaphors, with a coat torn half-off, flapping in the wind, scaring the poor sheep.

Well, after about six months of catching ill-coated sheep, trying to repair torn coats, and a constant flow of language ill-suited to a loving shepherdess, I abandoned coating my sheep.  When I realized the benefits of shearing before lambing: you can see how soon the ewe will be lambing, you can see the lamb suckling, and you can see the udder, to check for mastitis, and the sheep are smaller, the better to fit them in a small barn during the rainy season, and they dry faster, among a myriad of other benefits, I discovered the fleeces were naturally clean as well.

We started out the shearing with a special breakfast for our CSA members.  ( For more information on our CSA, check out  Although early-spring-nippy, the sun was warm and we sat outside in the courtyard for our farmers’ breakfast of fruit salad, Marlie-made quiche from Windrush eggs, garden-fresh breakfast potatoes, and sausage from a Chileno Valley farmer’s pigs, all the emphasis on local.

Johnny arrived  set up his shearing equipment in the barn,  and soon had on his special shearing "mocs"

Gina and Patricia, both fiber artists who have spent a lot of time on the farm and buy and wash fleeces were amazed.  Last year, with the rains, the fleeces were clear of vegetable matter, but dirty from the bog in the pastures from all that wonderful rain.  This year, that was not our problem.
The fleeces were grand this year.  The early rains and the long dry periods provided just the right combination of rain-washing and air dry-cleaning with the result that the fleeces glowed with luster and came out spic and span with no vegetable matter.

We started off the shearing with the rams, which I had shooed up from the bottom pasture and lodged in the barn. When they were done, Johnny sheared the sheep Marlie and I had chosen to make the yarn for the CSA members.  Cookie, Vanilla, and Chocolate gave up their fleeces for the cause.  Last week, Marlie and I added a couple of lambs' wool fleeces to make sure we had enough to fulfill all the expectations of our CSA members.

Lots of folks, big and small, loved getting their hands into the fleece.

Marlie and I were so pleased to have met new spinners, and some people came with projects made from LOCAL PASTURES wool.  We were thrilled. 

What a day!  Lots of people came, with many spinners new to the farm, and the most fabulous potluck lunch ever.  We could have fed an army with all the generous donations to the potluck, and such delicious things!

We  opened the farm store, and Marlie brought one of her designs she is working on for a Local Pastures knitting kit.  Coming soon, so keep checking in.

At the end of the day, we had lots of well-shorn sheep and a mountain of wool. This wool community is just the best.  Thanks to all of you!  We plan a May Lamb Day on the farm so everyone can come  meet the lambs and have a great spinning day on the farm. Knitters welcome, of course, in fact, any and all fiber people and their families.  May Day will be on Mother's Day this year, Sunday, May 13th.

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