Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Our Memorial Monday Shearing Marathon went the way of "the best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men", when we discovered that the sheep, members of a species not noted for manual dexterity, had managed to unhook the chain on the barn gate. Pushing open the now unsecured gate, they headed out to pasture just in time for an early morning rainstorm to turn their dry coats into a sodden, unshearable mess. I shouldn't have been surprised. A single sheep is, by definition, an accident waiting to happen. Several sheep are a chain of accidents waiting to happen. Putting seventeen together in an enclosed area has the same effect on the laws of probability that a black hole has on the laws of physics. One can only look on with a kind of despairing awe while muttering "no, that's just not possible."

Faced with an empty barn and a field full of walking wet wool, we gave up on shearing and decided to inspect the remainder of this year's lambs. After a few sales, and some losses due to the hard winter, we still have over forty running around the place. We selected five of the larger ones to go off to the auction in Winchester this morning to help cover the winter feed bills. Selling lambs is the point of the enterprise, but it still hurts a little every time we load the truck. Last year we reduced the size of the flock by half and selection was one of the hardest things we have done on the farm. One old ewe, a favorite of my wife's, had not had a lamb in two years. Making the rational economic decision, we tagged to her to go. As we were loading the trailer, she stepped out of the flock and walked over to my wife to greet her and have her chin scratched. She is still with us. She made it through the worst of the Winter, but will probably not last until Summer. Age has caught up with her and the decline has been rapid. For the last day or so, she has been resting near the fence, in a spot shaded in the day, out of the worst of the rain. There is good grass within easy reach and the rest of the flock is in view. I checked on her this evening and she was too weak to stand. I made her as comfortable as possible as we wait.
A break in the rain and a hint of blue this evening:

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I would put up a new picture today, except that last Sunday's still serves very well. We have had more rain in the last few weeks than we did in the months of June and July last Summer. Already the light greens of Spring have given way to something darker and more lustrous. The ground squishes when you walk in low lying areas. The pasture springs that feed into Gooney Run at the foot of our hill are flowing freely. If I am quiet, I can hear the sound of rushing water all the way up at the house. The end of May is normally sheep shearing time, but that has been delayed as our flock walks in knee high wet pastures, rain soaking into their thick, sodden wool coats.

Yesterday we took advantage of a break between showers to put seventeen ewes from the flock into the barn to dry out for a Memorial Day Morning Shearing Marathon. A professional could shear our entire flock (well over a hundred, counting this year's lambs) in a day. We move a bit slower, taking a while to get up to speed each year. My wife is also very picky about her girls' appearance after their annual cut, and spends extra time on each to make sure they look sharp before they head back out to the pasture.

Some of the sheep take very well to the process, and seem relieved to have winter's wool off as summer's heat kicks in. Others want nothing to do with it and fight you every step of the way. It has to be done though, as they would be dead from heat exhaustion by August if we let them keep their coats. The yearlings are the worst. Imagine a hundred and fifty pound toddler getting his first haircut and you begin to get the idea. My back hurts just thinking about it.

Some years we actually have a volunteer or two come out for a real hands-on farming experience. There are some things that they don't have the experience to do, but extra hands are always welcome. There is an art to shearing in the traditional fashion that involves throwing, balancing and turning the sheep as much as it does actually using the clippers. We shear a few of the flock that way, but in the interest of being able to stand up and function at our day jobs, most of the flock will be cranked up on a show stand and trimmed out with a minimum of bending and turning. It is slower, but easier on the shearer. It also makes it possible for the amateur volunteer to help without immanent disaster involving escaping sheep, power cords, and sharp blades on electric shears.

We will be at it most evenings and weekends for the next couple of weeks. Come on out and lend a hand!

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Rain on a Sunday Afternoon

Thursday, May 15, 2003

These lambs were at the Warren County fairgrounds to be weighed and tagged for competition in the 4-H sheep show in August. They took the truck ride in stride, but were happy to get back to the barnyard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Posting has been lighter than usual lately. We start jury selection on a homicide trial on Friday. There are upwards of seventy witnesses subpoenaed and trial preparation has turned into a great black hole, bending time and sucking in vast amounts of energy. We are also into the first part of the local election cycle. Almost all the elected slots in County government, including the position of my own boss, the current Commonwealth's Attorney, are up for grabs. By the end of next week we should know one way or another about both the trial and the candidate slate for the upcoming elections.

Already the muscles in my neck and back are stiffening up to the point where I feel like the Tin Man before Dorothy found the oil can. Fortunately I found my own Dorothy and Wizard rolled into one fifteen years and nine days ago when I met Susan who first shook me loose and then, miraculously, gave me a heart. When you have all that, what's a little extra stress?

There are some longer posts in the works on a variety of topics once the crunch is over. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures.
We had a break in the rain today, giving us this view an hour after sunrise this morning:

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Rain, 5-10-03

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Morning Mist, 6:45 a.m.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

April showers, continuing now into May, have made the pastures flourish with a kind of rich green the digital camera has trouble capturing. This doesn't stop our sheep flock from deciding the grass in the yard has to be better than what is on their side of the fence. Every evening when I get home, I find lambs arrayed on the front yard like living lawn ornaments. I tried to get them to stand still for a group picture, but they had grass to eat and places to go, so left me walking behind as they cruised the fence line.