Sunday, December 30, 2012

Parting is such sweet sorrow...

For those of you who do not already know, I will be leaving this week to head out to Iowa and then on to New Mexico to shear. This last month has been devoted to preparing for that trip. To be honest I have spent more time packing for this trip then I did when I packed for New Zealand! Maybe it's because Lydia is coming with me this time, but maybe it also has something to do with this being a transition phase of my life. I am now completely settled in my life as a sheep shearer, I really enjoy what I do and I like it enough to want to go find work when work around Maryland is slow. January and February are notoriously slacker months, so I find I enjoy the opportunity to see new places and meet new people on the road during these months. But with that it also means I have to figure out what is important enough to me, to justify taking up space in my little van. So this entire month has been devoted to sifting through my already meager belongings trying to figure out what I can leave behind. If you have never had to sit down and go through your things, laying out your life in objects, I don't recommend it unless you are prepared for a bit of emotional fall out from the weight of all those memories!
The first thing I did was to go out and buy bins, 10 Tupperware bins, that I put all my things into. One bin for Lydia's books, one for all the objects on the shelves, one with all my business papers, another two bins were devoted to my books, one bin had all my cooking things in. Packing it up wasn't the problem, my next task was to go through each bin to see if I felt I would need anything on the road. Do you realize that the first few times you sift through your belongings you can't imagine living without any of it!? I took several bins out at a time and stacked and restacked everything in them. I pulled out books and read them, looked through photo albums, shed a tear or two when looking over Lydia's baby things. It's nice to revisit those times in my life but it is hard to leave those things behind, even if temporarily.
Finally I got the "important stuff" narrowed down to 5 bins, 1 duffle of cloths and a duffle of odds and ends. But I still wanted to take even less stuff. Today was probably the hardest...I'm a book person, I love books with a passion. I have gotten together a tidy collection of shearing books that I just love, some of my favorite classics from when I was a kid, plus books I want to read to Lydia. The books had become my biggest hurdle. My sensible half tried to talk some sense into me..."your going to be working all the time, when are you going to have time to read?" Ok, ok, I know that but when your a book person you can't just leave them behind! It's like leaving a toe or ear off of your body. You just can't do it...but I did, sorta. I was able to narrow my books down to one small box. I know I won't read any of them but the peace of mind I have knowing they are with me is all that matters. Plus I was able to narrow it down to only my absolute favorites:)
So my journey now begins, after a few more shearing jobs I will be heading west. I have 3 bins of belongings, 1 duffle of cloths, 1 duffle of shoes, 1 backpack with a portable dvd player and some movies and Lydia has a bag of toys. I think I am ready to go. My life has been slimmed down as much as I'm ever going to get it. I'm looking forward to the adventures I will have this winter in the desert but I am already looking forward to coming back and reuniting with all I have left behind:)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

All is merry and bright:)

I don't know about all of you but I am really enjoying this stretch of warm weather in December! This is the kind of weather that really helps me catch up on all the back logged busy work I need to do. So in the last few days I have been able to wash all my mats and shearing tarps, clean out and reorganize the back of my van, grind all my blades, plus do a pretty major animal inventory at my temporary farm. It really feels good to be outside and really experiencing the animals in a way that I don't always get to when I'm just a visitor to your farms. I have really begun to bond with all the dogs and I know I'm really gonna miss them when I leave. I enjoy cursing the goats for finding every hole in the fence (have you heard of the Irish fencing method called willow fencing? That's what it's starting to look like out there!) I like calling the pigs back to the barn every evening...unaccustomed to admitting that I was wrong and that pet pigs do have there charm:) I am glad Lydia has this chance to see the day to day work of farming that our transient life sometimes neglects. Years from now I am going to look back on these two months with a whole lot of fond memories.
It has also been a good time for shearing. After thanksgiving is a huge rush of work as several of my larger clients shear now since they lamb in late December/early January. This gets the wool off before the lambs dirty it up and makes housing the sheep through the winter a whole lot cleaner. I am always a bit perplexed when people ask me about being concerned about the sheep staying warm during this part of the year. As we can all see the weather is a whole lot warmer now then it typically is in march when most people want to shear, plus one month of wool is plenty to keep them warm when the cold weather finally hits in January. Freak blizzards and freezing weather are much more common in march so I always enjoy converting as many folks to a fall schedule as I can. They are never disappointed:) So for the last few weeks I have been doing pretty consistent business shearing some larger flocks and finishing up my angora goat jobs. Most of the people I work for this time of year are wonderful and I really enjoy taking the time to really visit with people when I have the opportunity.  Today I had the privilege of shearing a few angoras for a long time friend. We had such a nice conversation, a fabulous lunch, and shared some good laughs. Days like today are such a blessing and I really enjoy them as much as I can. In the spring I can get so busy that I sometimes lose sight of the people behind the animals. I get so rushed and pressed for time that I can't fully enjoy each moment. It's days like today that really bring my work home and make me truly thankful for what I do.
At my visit today I was also able to really pick her brain about several issues that have been preying on my mind about goat care and livestock guardian dogs. I really am in awe of the vast amount of knowledge that is available to me through my clients and today was no exception. I was given some great suggestions about dealing with problem dogs, feeding goats and caring for goats that have traveled long distances. It was such an incredibly productive day. I really value the knowledge my clients are willing to share and love being able to pass it on in return to someone else needing advice. Another wonderful scenario is while I was shearing at a farm a while back I saw an unusual abscess on an animals chest. While chest sores and calluses are normal this abscess was large and circled the entire brisket of the animal. I had never seen anything like it. My client later emailed me and told me what the vets diagnosis of the sore was and also gave me the prescribed treatment. I was so happy that she thought about me and passed on that info because it means the next time I see a sore like that, I'll know it isn't a big problem and I'll know how to advise treatment. While I am not a vet the information I have gleaned through the years of wonderful people working in the trenches and seeing it all, I now really feel like I am more of an asset to people. I not only get to shear for them but if they need advice I can offer suggestions and experiences gathered from so many brilliant sheep and goat farmers. It really is an exciting place to be in. I'm truly grateful for so many people being willing to open their homes and barns to me and letting me handle their animals and being able to call so many of them friends:)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Digging deep?

Lets just begin this post by listing a few things I'm thankful for...first I'm thankful for an up to date tetanus shot (otherwise I might be in the throes of lock jaw and blogging would become my only means of comunication!)  Second I'm grateful for an amazing daughter who is patient, supportive and loving. Last I'm grateful for hot baths and neosporin. Ok now that I'm in a positive frame of mind I want to recount what happened yesterday. I knew yesterday was gonna be a long day, I had three stops scheduled with a total of 70 animals. We were on the road early and made it to the first stop feeling great, it was looking to be a beautiful day and the sheep were going to be great. First stop was Sue Bundy, for those of you who do not know her she is co-owner of a yarn company that creates single breed, locally sourced yarns which they sell under the name Solitude Wool. They are doing some really neat things and have lovely products. Check out her website and blog at But yesterday morning we were at her farm bright and early to shear her 20 Karakuls. I love shearing Karakuls with their goofy fat tails and luxiorious dual coats. They really are a breed with looks. This job went smoothly and was quite a pleasure. The sheep were healthy, the wool was lovely and they had a very nice setup which kept me and ths sheep very happy. Warm temperatures made my long sleeve shirt unessesary but it was such a pleasant morning. From there I went over to a neighbors house and did 10 more lovely Karakuls. More beautiful wool, more healthy sheep. This was sheaing at its beat. We got done right on time and we jumped in the car to tackle the last job. One that I knew was going to be tough, these were "dorsets" but they were huge, with most of the ewes weighing in at ram weights of 200 odd pounds (meaning at by the end of this job I can reasonably assume that I had wrestled 8000 pounds of sheep). He had 40 sheep to be done and I had scheduled him last because I knew these sheep were going to completely wear me out. But them he ran them into the barn and all you could see were the burrs. Big sheep is one thing, big sheep with burrs makes your blood run cold. Well we got set up and ready to roll. The last thing I remember was looking at my arms and thinking..."wow it feels great to have strong arms with no cuts". Then I pulled out the first one. This was the beginning of the end. As a sheep shearer people need to be aware that this is a hard job and when I was just learning, it wasn't unusual to cry over the sheep. Your back hurts, the sheep don't cooperate, the gear starts to's not an easy job but when it goes right it is such a buzz. Working on these dorsets was a major buzz kill. Big sheep fight, show type sheep typically have very long legs with wool the whole way down to the hoof. Non show type sheep tend to be fatter/rounder but there is the issue of the extra weight to move around although I find they tend to be more relaxed. Show type sheep are fighters and the long legs are always just missing your face when they kick. So we were slowly making our way through them, about ten sheep in I got a really bad fighter. This really just starts to break down your confidence. Shearing in the direct sun also didn't help and I felt my head starting to bake. By 15 sheep my arms were shredded and I had lost one sheep mid shear and another I lost trying to get her out of the gate. By 25 sheep my arms were shaking and bleeding, my head was pounding, and the sheep were still big and angry. By 30 sheep I was completely starting to break down and it was starting to get dark. Somewhere in this time I broke a blade which is so maddening since they cost $25-40 dollars depending on the brand and breaking blades on these sheep makes you really question whether its worth the fight. By 36 it was really getting dark and the sheep just kept coming. I kept asking how many were left, he had told me it was 40 and it looked to be close but there appeared to still be a lot of sheep in the barn. At 38 I asked again, "HOW MANY ARE LEFT!?!" There was still 6. It was dark and 6 sheep was going to be pretty close to another hour of shearing at the rate I was working. I crumbled. I couldn't stand up straight for the pounding in my head. My arms were bright red with cuts. I was shaking and could barely get the sheep down. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. I would like to think that had it not been dark (there were no barn lights where we were shearing) I might have pushed on. But it was dark and I was completely spent. Do you know in the movies when the high school football team has to make the last run to win the game and they dig deep and pull off the big win? I felt like I was in that scene and I wasn't able to make it. The movie of my life was completely anticlimactic and now people would feel sorry for me. The farmer kept saying it was fine and that I should be proud I did as many as I did. I hated the pity. I hated knowing I couldn't finish the last 6 sheep. I hated being weak when it means so much more because I am a girl. Some days I hate this job, and I hate the big sheep. I pulled over twice on the way home to throw up, definite heat stress. I cried, Lydia comforted me. My sensible half gave me the greatest text hug. I finally was able to eat something and I started feeling better. When I got home I took a long bath with oil and Epsom salts. Slathered my poor arms in neosporin and went to bed. Looking back on yesterday through the sunshine of today, I start to think that maybe yesterday wasn't the end, maybe at was just the sad low of the movie to let you emphasize with the heroine. Hopefully that is it. Yesterday was tough. No doubt about that. But you wanted to know the reality of this life and career...hopefully me crying "mercy" is a case of knowing my limits and not an example of my inability to dig deeper in the face of difficulty. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Living the dream!

I never thought blogging would ever become something that I would do, just like smoking cigarettes, in middle school every child will tell you they will NEVER do that but come high school most children will give it a try. I hope blogging turns out to be just as addictive:) A brief introduction about myself, I am currently 28 years old, and I sheared my first sheep when I was 16 at the Maryland Shearing School. From there I went on to shear for friends and relatives, slowly building up a loyal clientele to the point where about 5 years ago I decided to pursue shearing full time and I have never looked back.  I have a 6 year old daughter named Lydia whom you will meet often within this forum. As I stated before I am a full time sheep shearer who works mostly in Maryland and Virginia but also travels...well...pretty much everywhere else to shear when things get slow back home. Last summer I was able to visit Ireland to shear in competition, I did not get an opportunity to shear on the farms there since it rained the entire time but the country, it's people and its competition were enough to sustain me. I spent the winter of 2012 in New Zealand shearing for 6 weeks in the sheds on lambs and then competing in the Golden Shears World Sheep Shearing Championships. I was a United States representative in the blade shearing even though I do not consider myself a blade shearer, I do it more as a hobby. That was an unbelievable experience. More information on that trip can be found on my website ( where I did a valiant attempt and charting my shearing progress in the Canterbury region. Lets just sum it up by saying my high tally was 236 and yes it hurt:) This summer I spent a great deal of time shearing in Iowa and surrounding states with my sensible half (I wouldn't call him my better half as we both have our vices, but I do let him do all the thinking when we are together...he is just better at that kinda stuff). Shearing in the Midwest is also a bit of an eye opener. I was able to keep working on the skills I learned in New Zealand and was able to broaden my knowledge of raising sheep in America. I am always fascinated by the different ways people do things and adding those ideas to my forever expanding library of thoughts. My current situation finds me residing in Palmyra Virginia where I am farm sitting for a dear friend till after Christmas. Most of my posts between now and them will be more on the farming and the day to day life and observances. As an itinerant worker, I can get arrogant sometimes in offering up advice and forgetting about the actual bonds these animals forge in out hearts and the mindless day to day work that goes into the product I get to gladly harvest when it's ready. Anyway enough about me:) Today has proven to be a wonderful day so far, rising with the sun (for some reason I'm trying to keep my body on summer time so I am rising at 5:00 every morning because it will make it easier to get up at 6:00 in the spring...I hope...if this backfires I'll let you know!) I took care of all my animal charges which involved feeding 6 dogs, watering everybody and then catching a calf to wean her from her mother. Needless to say there has been a lot of bawling coming from the barn all day! When that was finished I was able to make an actual farm breakfast of organic eggs, sheep sausage and blue potato hash-browns with onions and peppers. It was glorious! I usually don't get to eat a real meal most mornings because the best shearing starts early. So a day off puts a delicious meal in my belly and I feel all domestic and motherly:) the rest of the morning has found me making phone calls and emails as driving and shearing most days does not allow much time for the day to day book work that is necessary in running your own business, but somehow It all seems to come together. Now I am getting ready to go back outside to check and feed everyone again. With mild weather and healthy animals, farming can be such a pleasure on days like these:)