Shearing Time

Warblers don’t check the long range forecast before they migrate north for breeding.  No one knows quite how they know when to pack up and head for the buggy northern spring time.  Maybe it’s a change in the temperatures in Central and South America.  Maybe it’s a change in daylight.  Maybe it’s a long-ingrained tradition carried through in their genetics.  Either way, when they arrive up north, whether they meet with drippy, dreary icy rainy May weather, or a grueling heat wave, or a delicious fresh hatch of black flies remains a mystery.  They just have to take their chances and weather it out!
Sheep farmers face the same conundrum.  On the day they decide to turn a ram in with the ewes, the sheep farmer gambles that about 120 days later, they’ll be able to shear sheep.  And he or she hopes and prays that, 152 days later, the weather will be comfortable enough for the ewes to lamb.
That’s because most farmers like to shear the flock before lambing season.  If they’re bringing the ewes into the barn to lamb, removing the fleeces beforehand helps to reduce the moisture and humidity.  It’s also easier to keep the conditions cleaner, and for the lambs to learn to suckle on their mamas (Imagine how many false starts a poor little lamb could have, nursing on a wad of fleece.  Yuck.).  Farmers who are going to sell their fleeces to us also try to shear before bringing them in to the barn because it keeps the fleeces cleaner.  Barn life and lambing is hard on a fleece, and can ruin it, requiring toxic chemicals to get them clean.  And that practice is bad for the planet, bad for the workers, and bad for the customer who wants to bury their face in clean, soft wool.
Thus, each spring, our farmers shear with an eye toward the skies, and with a lot of hopes and prayers. They take note of the weather each year, and try to make the best plan they can, timing the moment they introduce the ram with their records of when weather gets comfortable enough to enable shearing with minimal stress.
Some years, it works out great.  The fleeces come off, and the sheep feel the sweet release of the weight in time to bear their lambs.  But some years, just like the warblers, the farmers and their flocks have to weather it out, bearing up under driving rains and late spring snows, shoring up the barn to protect them from the elements; or finding ample shade before the trees have leafed out to keep them from getting sunburns and heat stress once their fleeces are stripped.  These are just a few of the many variables that mother nature adds to the farmers’ work.  And we’re grateful to them and their flocks for the supply of wool they give us for our products.  And we’re grateful for those little warblers, too, brightening up our spring days, even when the weather is dreary….And for going after those black flies!  
   

 


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