Each year, we plan, and we plan, and we plan. Other than the weather, the annual shearing of the sheep is the most critical step in the ovine year over which we have little control. For their health and well-being, and for our financial bottom line, each sheep must be shorn each spring. We shear later than most other producers in our region, due to our high altitude and the dates dictated by our federal leases. This means that all the days the shearing crew loses throughout the spring due to weather, mechanical problems and other delays, pile up at the end while we anxiously await their arrival. We plan our trailing schedule around the anticipated commencement of shearing. We leave our winter quarters on the Red Desert around April 15th and head for our Badwater pasture, some five trailing days to the south. We like to shear there before trailing on to the Cottonwood lambing grounds, where the lambs start dropping about May 8th. May 8th also happens to be our “on-date” for the BLM portion of the lambing grounds, and it is pretty close to the date that the green grass starts popping.
It is another five or six days trailing from our Badwater pasture to Cottonwood, so ideally, the shearing is done by May 1st. This year, we scheduled shearing to commence on May 25th. If all goes well, it takes about six days to shear all the pregnant ewes, so this is still cutting it pretty close. It is stressful for the ewes to be shorn so close to lambing, but it is better for ewes, lambs and lambers for the shearing to be done. We have the facilities to shear on our private land on Cottonwood, but it is always a balancing act to make sure there is enough green grass there to sustain the ewes before, during and after the shearing takes place.
As it happened, the shearing crew was able to arrive on May 2nd, due to weather, wind and other circumstances. We made the executive decision to send on one band of ewes on to Cottonwood, while we sheared the other two winter bunches at Badwater. It is hard on the ewes, heavy with lambs, to trail with the additional 10 pounds of wool on their backs. It is worse to be lambing on the trail, while we follow behind with horse trailers, picking up ewes with newborns. So we tried to find a balance, with the ewes carrying the replacement ewe lambs going ahead to be sure to be on the lambing grounds.
The shearing crew, Hoopes Shearing, is an eclectic international group of professional shearers. The contractors, Cliff and Dawna Hoopes, spend much of the year lining up visas to ensure that they have a crew on hand. This year’s crew was a multinational group of Aussies, Kiwis, Americans and even one Japanese guy. As it happened, the wool packing machine broke down on day two. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “We are in the oil field, and we can find a mobile welder.” Sure enough, we were able to find a welder who could travel to our broken down packer and repair it.
We had some problems due to stress on the ewes from being sheared so close to lambing. We also had stress on Meghan and Sharon since the ranch cook quit right before shearing. We were feeding our ground crew and the shearing crew, and the crew back at the ranch, AND working on the ground crew. We did manage, and nobody went hungry.
Everyone did their jobs, and the sheep did get sheared, first at Badwater and then at Cottonwood. We still have to shear the yearlings, since the Hoopes crew had to move on to other pregnant ewes.