It has been a busy couple years since my last update, very sorry for the delay.
In the past couple years I have completed a Permaculture Design Certificate and have been focusing on shifting the site towards Permaculture, using rotational grazing, planted over 3000 trees last years, developing swales, delayed haying to increase and protect wildlife such as birds that nest in tall grasses, and much more.
I will write more about the Permaculture later, as it deserves its own full page.
Anyhow, I also have been recently diagnosed with ADHD, and have been learning a lot about that too, and it has helped me understand a lot about myself and why I constantly have a million tasks going on at once, and then lack the spoons to do things like update my blog posts, lol.
So please bare with me as I do my best, and thank you for your support along the way. I do welcome custom spinning jobs, and feel free to contact me about fibre requests.
This year, we have or will be attending 6 fibre festivals or local fairs where you can come find our lovely fibre products. There will be many things that will be available at the fairs only, and then only added to inventory online after (so that I don't mess up the inventory) so if you want to see the newest of the new, come to the shows!
Ok, so onto shearing news. This year I have been shearing the sheep myself!
I have had much advice from other farmers first, and did lots of observing, live and on video, and do the sheep really slow, stopping every few minutes to pet the sheep, reassure them, and myself, catch my breath (asthma) and let the blades cool down (they heat up quick) and reapply oil to the shears often. I can now shear a sheep and do hoof trim, in about 30 mins; which is much faster than my starting rate but turtle pace compared to a pro. I am ok with this. I have actually had a couple sheep wag their tails with enjoyment from all the attention between on and off mode of the shears. I also LOVE that I can inspect them thoroughly as I go, to learn their bodies, check skin, eyes, for health concerns such as parasites or mineral deficiencies, see finer detail of fleeces that I wouldn't notice in a rush on a skirting table. It has been a wonderful surprise to notice things like where the staples vary closer to the the stomach, or where there are tons of lanolin deposits (for future reference if I can ever get the hang of collecting lanolin for use in soaps or hand cream etc). Plus, I purely enjoy time spent with my flock one-on-one and getting to know them each better.
I have been doing between 1-3 a day. I saunter into the barn, and see who is around and in need of shearing and do that. I started with the smaller and easier ones, and did many to build up my confidence and a tad bit of experience before tackling the larger and more complex ones, which I then tackled with a friend to help add extra hand to keep the skin taught such as around the neck areas of sheep that had lots of skin there, such as the Rambouillets. That was so scary.
Professionals make it look easy, and it is not. They stretch the neck back and angle it to have the tightest skin possible, as skin on sheep are very loose from their muscle and cuts very easy to begin with, but with extra skin like wrinkles, it is more at risk. Most of my sheep don't have wrinkles, but the Rambouillet has a bit extra skin on their necks. To make it more of a challenge the Rambouillet are HUGE sheep, and so it was hard for me to get them to sit down, so I did try it standing style, but they are so bit they were too big to go on my shearing stand, lol. So eventually, I did get the hang of seating them, and doing it that way.
I have an average of about 0-1 nick per sheep; nothing serious, but aiming to improve that. I tried shearing a sheep with scissors a few years ago, but didn't understand how loose and thin the skin is, and just a tiny nick split the skin open to a toony sized circle! Very little bleeding somehow, but I called my vet anyhow, and got an expensive lesson about shearing. My vet reassured me that it looked worse then it was, and would heal in a few days. It is part of a protection feature of sheep that their skin is loose and tares easy so that if a predator gets a hold of them, they can hopefully tare free, without muscle damage.
I had tried to find shearing lessons after that, but they are few and far between, and far! I found one guy in Ontario, quite a few hours drive away, so I was all excited about signing up for that, but then the only problem was that it was in fall, and I didn't want my sheep to wait for fall for shearing.
The price of shearing has also gone up, with quotes for shearing- including hoof trimming and vaccine administration (but not including cost of vaccines) is about 17 per sheep, more for Llamas, and some shearers also charge gas/mileage, as they have to drive far from site to site. Add in cost of vaccines, medicines, feed, and bedding, let alone land cost for housing, and those fleece costs start going up. YET, customers don't want to pay prices higher then they were paying probably 20 years ago.
I am going to rant here, just briefly. It is very insulting when people try to barter down the cost of a fleece, quoting it cheaper somewhere else. Why do you expect my sheep feed to be cheaper then your cat food? Think about the cost of your cat or dog food for 1 year, and then expect my sheep to cost a tenth of it?
I almost quite this year after, and am still considering it, as I cannot afford to continue if people are not willing to pay at least the cost of production. Other people who charge less, are likely not profiting, but have partially retired, and no longer have mortgages to pay for, but even still will not be able to maintain that prices, as their feed prices and barn repairs will catch up, and you will see the continuing trend of people selling their farms because they cannot afford to keep them. A new farmer, does understand the cost of land in the equation, and so many of them also do sheep for meat to help make ends meet. But my house is vegetarian, so we don't do meat, and raise our sheep for fibre only. That also means I can't run as many sheep or have as many fleeces for sale, and my feed costs are higher as I have more sheep in winter. A meat farm will encourage as many lambs as possible in spring, fatten them up asap, and bring all (or or most) the boys and some of the girls to slaughter in fall after shearing them, so they get the money for the meat, that wool, and save on winter feed as less mouths during times when they cannot graze on the grass. Winter feed involves buying grains and cereals, bales of hay, minerals, fresh water daily, and also a clean place to eat which means bales of straw too. This doesn't even take into consideration the labour time of chores, such as shoveling shit, fluffing straw, going daily or a couple times daily to make sure water is clean and available, not frozen over or pooped in (surprisingly often). Or the physical labour of carrying 50lb bags of feed, again shoveling poop, rolling bales. It is also quite a physical task sometimes catching sheep or herding them back when the escape into the neighbours fields. And shearing. It really gets my asthma going, and by the time I am done a couple I am dripping with sweat and often covered in shit, from rolling in it (imagine wresting with a sheep that has just pooped and peed on the spot). Which I am sure to do less of as I get better at holding them in place with my knees. Ok rant done and back to the talk of shearing.
I asked around, and cost of shearing has gone up too, and many people I spoke to shear their own sheep, and encouraged me to watch lots of videos and give it a try. So I did and am now actually enjoying the process too. This year I am saving 600$ on shearing cost, which can go towards vet costs :)
I am using a pretty cheap electric shearer, that had good reviews, and works well. I only got a cheap one to see if I liked shearing, and to have around for emergencies or small jobs like like crutching around utters when lambs are born but it may be too cold for full shearing yet. We do try to have our lambs in May, but accidents can happen and weather is more and more unpredictable.
Not only am I enjoying shearing though, I am looking forward to getting better at it so that I can help other small flocks that have trouble finding shearers to do flocks of less than 10. Well that is all for now. Happy wooling and yarning my friends, and thanks again for the patience and support. :)
Looking forward to seeing you at the next festival!