Wooly Words: March 2018

Yesterday I was sure Tulip couldn’t be any more ready to deliver her baby lamb(s) into this world, but she made me practice my patience. Blossom is definitely nearing as well, but no signs of bedding down and they are still chowing hay. Both of which are signs she is going into labor. We are just baffled the lambs are still in there! It is our first year and we definitely are antsy so of course mother nature is present to teach us we have no control in this situation. They are happy, healthy and definitely due ANYTIME now!


In addition to Tulip and Blossom’s lambs we are purchasing a few additional lambs in April for more genetic diversity. They will also be East Friesian; one ram lamb; two ewe lambs from a creamery in southwest Washington. More wonderful milk and fiber sheep! I have fallen in love with their calm energy and sweet disposition. They hop right up on the milk stand and love a good scratch on the butt. Sometimes Blossom stares into my eyes like she sees into my soul. hahaha I think I’m officially a crazy sheep lady. 🙂 Anyway…

Shearing Practice

Grant and I started our first shearing lessons this past week. Most definitely a SLOW process. The first day we flipped Tulip on her rump and laid her between Grant’s legs with her head propped. She was breathing heavily and what sounded like short quick breaths so we decided she may have been TOO pregnant to be in these awkward positions. At least we got her stomach done while she was laid down. Then, we moved her to the milk stand and were able to trim her backside at least so she is cleaned up a bit for lambing. This process of only shearing the sheep around her backside is call “crutching” and is helpful for the lambs so they do not struggle to find mama’s utter. It is best to shear sheep 4-6 weeks before lambing and we waited too long. There were quite a few cold days and I guess being that it was our first year we just were hesitant as to when to start. As long as the sheep have somewhere out of the elements after shearing they likely will not get too cold so next year we will make sure to do this in mid-February or whenever 4-6 weeks before their due date is. They keep their lanolin layer anyway so they are not completely down to skin. Likely still warmer than a hair goat or sheep!

The next shearing session was a little better. Grant flipped Blossom and sheared her belly and around the utters. Then, we put her in the milk stand and did her butt and from her front legs to her neck. We put Tulip back on the milk stand too because she was so jealous that Blossom got to go on the milk stand. 🙂 So we sheared her front legs to her neck as well.

They look like the opposite of a lion, mane-less and pretty goofy. We will do the rest in increments working our way around. We have no real reason for why we did the front part second after the belly, but again we are beginners. I know there are shearing patterns out there and have looked at them, but since we are not rolling these big hefty girls around on the ground this late in their pregnancy whatever way works for us is the way we are going to do it. I imagine each session we will be able to handle a little more shearing and hopefully improve our speed at the same time. That is not how we will do it next year, but we are teaching ourselves how to shear here! It is not easy. Technically, we want the fleece in ONE piece for spinning. That means doing the whole sheep all the way around in one sitting. Do not let the shearing videos fool you, it is HARD WORK and isn’t easy to go that fast without cutting your sheep! Our hands and forearms were cramping up after yesterday’s session. We joked about doing shearing exercises over the winter to keep our forearms and hand muscles sharp. So this first spring we are learning some valuable lessons about sheep and shearing which we will implement to become more efficient and sustainable.

Shear in February

For so many reasons I have found online, but to name a few…

  1. You can tell the contours of the ewe’s body for early signs of labor. Their backside goes concave so you can see a dent on each side over the back hip area. Also it will be easier to shear around the utter area before it starts to fill with colostrum.
  2. You cut the fiber before the ewe transfers all her energy to the lamb(s) so you get better quality wool. We learned the hard way with Blossom. She is SOOOO greasy! Cutting with a freshly sharpened pair of shears was still yielding some really tough cuts. Also, the wool starts to get unhealthy and breaks easily later into the pregnancy since all the ewe’s nutrients are going to the lambs, not their wool production.
  3. Ewes get warmer in late gestation and start to get uncomfortable and itchy so taking off that huge wool blanket I imagine would feel like a lot like getting all your hair cut off, well and your clothes… 😛 As long as we continue to provide access to an enclosed shelter and fluffy straw bedding shearing them in February should not be a problem. We just don’t want to do it so early that they have thick wool in July!

Coat Fiber Animals

The wool got so much poo, hay and other vegetable matter in it! The goal is to get as much useable wool possible from our fiber critters for spinning so I believe getting them coats will be an easy way to eliminate some excess junk in the fleece. Meaning less labor skirting the wool later. We can definitely still wash and salvage quite a bit of fleece this year, but between being a first time shearer, shearing them too late, and not coating them this year’s bounty will be small. Each year we will improve and hopefully within a few years be able to spin yarn, weave rugs, and make crafts for resale.

Use a Mobile Feeder in the Winter

In the winter months the sheep and goats pretty much go between the feeder and shelter and nowhere else so having a feeder on wheels or easily mobile would allow the land some time to repair. I would rotate the feeder weekly to reduce the impact on the land. Thankfully they are about to have 10 acres to go graze all summer so their feeder areas should get a decent break while we come up with a new design. As I have mentioned in prior posts, we will be building a barn once we build the earthship so our current set up is only temporary. This side of the property that they are currently grazing will not be their main pasture next winter since we will be fencing the other 30 acres of property this spring/ summer. We will slowly fence the property into paddocks to transfer the sheep and goats through in a sustainable way that works in harmony with the land instead of destroying it.

I am sure I could go on and on with the ways we will improve for next year, but for today I think I’ve reflected enough. It is a beautiful 40 degree day and only getting warmer so time to get some more shearing done! Stay tuned for lambing updates and earthship building permit preparations coming soon!