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Shearing 2017

In the shearing shed

It is hard to describe shearing season. It is essential, and ridden with uncertainty. The sheep must be shorn once a year in order to remain healthy and productive. The wool is a critical part of our income. And it is overwhelmingly important that the wool be shorn before lambing commences—a point that was brought home in 2015 when the scheduled shearers did not show up, and the problems of the season were exacerbated by weather and visa issues for the crews. We had to lamb in the wool, and organize a complicated shearing/docking operation in June.

Shearing of the range sheep herds is accomplished by contractors, who hire highly skilled crews (mostly foreigners, who need H2-A visas). It is a well-paid profession, but like most essential agriculture jobs, hardly filled by Americans. The contractors spend most of the non-shearing season vetting, hiring and completing paperwork so that they will have enough skilled, hard-working shearers to fill their crew.

Ewes coming in to the corrals

The contractors seek to work for producers with a large number of sheep. This means that they don’t have to move as often, and are guaranteed a good period of work. Producers develop reputations for their facilities and respect for the crew, as well as proximity to amenities such as grocery stores and fuel.

Likewise, shearing contractors are known for their speed, care of the sheep and the wool, and above all, reliability. Producers value the good crews and strive to hire them. It is a dance every year, with the crews shifting as the situations change. Loyalty goes a long way for both partners.

bringing in the ewes

This year our good California crew returned, and sheared our sheep in good order. We had luck that they were able to show up only a couple of days after our original target date. Sometimes the delay is many days, or weeks. Producers have to “stage” the sheep, since the shearing areas are usually at a fixed site, with usually “just enough” feed to support the sheep as they cycle through the shed.

Luka and Riley helping in the chute

In the old days, producers had large fixed sheds, which were designed to facilitate the movement of sheep and efficiency for the shearer. Most of these old Australian-style sheds are gone now, and the traveling crews have portable sheds which are basically small buildings on a trailer base. These are ingeniously designed to allow the sheep to enter a long chute from which the shearers (usually six or eight to a shed) can pull them to the shearing floor. After she is shorn, the ewe goes out a trap door to the left, while the wool slides out to the right. The wool handlers are waiting to sort and bale the wool just outside. Some crews have “sorting tables” to make it easier to skirt and bale the wool.

wool packing crew hard at work

About 40 fleeces go into each bale, tamped down by a large ramrod into a rectangular wool bag. Bellies and tags (dirty short pieces) are baled separately, as are different types and grades of wool. The wool handlers, often women, are also skilled and must work fast to keep up with the shearers, who outnumber them.

Kimmy, Uribe, Luis and David on the job

The weather is a huge factor in all this. Wet sheep cannot be shorn. The wool quality is ruined if it is baled wet. Shearers won’t shear wet sheep because it can lead to “wool pneumonia”. Cold spring storms are a threat to recently shorn sheep. In a week or so, enough wool grows back to allow the sheep to have some insulation, but freshly shorn sheep are very vulnerable to cold, wet weather. A late April storm in 1984 killed a quarter million ewes in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. Some of them were ours.

All that said, we are grateful that we got through the week it takes us to shear with relatively good conditions, a good crew and healthy sheep. We have to trail to the lambing grounds now with the main bunches. The two-year-olds are already under way lambing at our lambing sheds, so all hands are busy.

Ciro and Pepe

shearing the black ewes

Uribe and Megan unbelling the black ewe

Rhen helping in the chute

Rhen and Cora pushing the ewes up

Rhen practicing mutton-busting with Uribe

Edgar pushing ewes along the chute in the shed

Maeve and Seamus playing “Throw Dirt at the Sibling While Guessing the Wind Direction”

Guard dogs with shorn ewes

McCoy, Eamon, Gramps and Pat

Meghan and Eamon conferring

Riley’s lunch for corral crew and shearing crew–a welcome sight!

Siobhan and Luka in the shed

Karen with Cora and Sam–“Come early,” I said. “It’ll be fun!” I said…and it was.

Pat contemplating the shorn ewes

 

 

 

 

 

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Llama Drama

Beulah, Maria and the bucks

There was lots of llama drama
At the shearing shed tonight,
Mama Beulah and Maria
Put up a worthy fight.

“Can’t you see it’s cold out,
Can’t you see our frosty breath?
It’s not weather fit for shearing.
No fleece could bring our death!”

 

 

“We have barns to give you shelter,
We have cozy straw for bed,
There will be no frozen llamas,
You have no need for dread”

“But we can see those rams
Who have lost their wooly coats,
They no longer look majestic,
They look more like hairy goats.”

Pepe and Maria

“Step right up here, ladies,
To the Ladder Ranch salon.
You’ll soon sport the latest style,
Your wavy locks will soon be gone.”

“No, we like our flowing locks.
We like it long and swirly,
We like it warm and thick.
Our best look is llama curly”

 

 

“Your new look will be most stylish.
Your new look will be most sleek.
You’ll have the latest, greatest ‘dos,
Your llama glamour all will seek.”

“Whoa, what is all this racket?
What is this clank and clatter?
We don’t want a crew cut hair cut!
Our opinion doesn’t matter?!”

Holding the spitting mad llama

“Never mind those four strong guys,
Just ignore that noisy shearer,
Lie right down here on the platform.
There’s no need for fear here.”

“Wait, I’m on my back now!
You’ve stretched me stem to stern!
Those blades are on my skin!
Are you sure that it won’t burn?”

“Don’t struggle so, my llama,
Soon this shearing will be done.
From your fleece you’ll soon be parted,
And your hide will soon see sun.”

“No—I won’t take this lying down,
It will make this llama sad.
Why, this humiliation
Just makes me spitting mad!”

“Now you can look just lovely,
With your new stylish trendy ‘do,
You can join your sheep friends,
With a cut that’s cute and new!”

Edgar assisting with the shearing of Beulah

“No, I don’t want this summer haircut,
Can’t you tell that it’s still cold!
I don’t like those noisy clippers
I don’t like this strongarm hold!”

“We can let her go now,
Her shearing is complete.
Oh, yuck! What is this vile goo
That’s spattered on my feet?!”

“That’s my mama llama spit,
You deserve that sticky blast.
Maybe next year you’ll remember
And this trim will be my last!”

 

 

Yup, it was lots of llama drama
At the Ladder Ranch tonight,
If you don’t mind a little spit
They’re quite the stylish sight!

Beulah and Maria, looking like the camelids they are!

 

 

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Lambs on the ground

Mama ewe on the alert

 

 

It must be spring! We’ve got lots of baby lambs on the ground. We lamb the purebred Hampshires and Rambouillets in March at Powder Flat. These babies grow up to be rams and replacement ewes, and a few will even become 4-H lambs.

Thanks to our great crew–Edgar, Luis, Uribe and David for all your hard work and long nights. Now we pray for warm rains and green grass.

Home on the hay pile

morning in the corral

Rhen with a crossbred lamb

Rhen watching Luis on the run

NOT wanting to lie down with the lion

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2017 in Animals, Sheep

 

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Minnesota Bound

Thinking about lower country

Thinking about lower country

Every fall, we have what we call “the good old ewes.”  These ewes are still sound, but aren’t quite up for another winter on the Red Desert. They are Minnesota bound. Sheep producers around Pipestone can offer them a comfier life at a lower altitude, with more shelter. They will be able to produce lambs and wool for several more years.

Pepe, Edgar and Raylor bringing up the ewes

Pepe, Edgar and Taylor bringing up the ewes

Meghan at the cutting gate

Meghan at the cutting gate

Ned, the brand inspector, and the trucker, loading.

Ned, the brand inspector, and the trucker, loading.

Now underemployed Guard Dog

Now underemployed Guard Dog

Meghan and Ned

Meghan and Ned

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

 

 

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Out like a ram: sorting the bucks

Edgar checking the bucks

Edgar checking the bucks

The bucks have done their job and are back on the Home Ranch for another ten months of bachelorhood.  It’s easy enough for them. In the meantime, the ewes carry their pregnancy to term, trail 100 miles or so, get sheared, and have their lambs. The ewes then trail to the Forest with their lambs, raise them–dodging coyotes, bears and ravens, and trail back to the ranch for weaning.

Some of the rams have given their all, and won’t make it to another breeding season. We sorted out the bucks who are old, thin, and/or no teeth, These will be sold and are destined to be buckburgers or dog food.

The rams do lead a good life, and we take care of them until the end.

Brittany, Meghan and Katie checking teeth

Brittany, Meghan and Katie checking teeth

Tiarnan and Meghan

Tiarnan and Meghan

crew: Katie, Brittany, Randy, Tiarnan, Meghan, bucks, Randall, Cody, and Edgar

crew: Katie, Brittany, Randy, Tiarnan, Meghan, bucks, Randall, Cody, and Edgar

 

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On to the Red Desert

On to the Red Desert

December 1st is the on date for our winter sheep grazing allotments on the Red Desert, north of I80 and Wamsutter, Wyoming.  The sheep walk a five-day trail from our late fall pasture, Badwater, to the checkerboard Chain Lakes allotment,  with the private owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  It also serves as critical winter habitat for antelope.  We maintain the water and the fences, and provide “boots on the ground.”  One band of sheep winters in Chain Lakes and two move on to the aptly named Cyclone Rim allotment.  A few weeks ago, this blog showed photos of our search for water holes on Cyclone Rim.

We are still thirsty for snow and watering spots.  For almost the first time ever, the sheep had dry days on the trail, although not back-to-back. Normally by this time of year, we have enough snow for the sheep to eat for water.  They are very hardy, and most years go much of the winter surviving on snow and without access to fresh water.  The sheepherders are asking us for snow, as if we could bring it like firewood and dog food.  We tell them, “Do what we do, pray!”

Richar, Afrenio, Timeteo and Christian bringing up the sheep

Richar, Afrenio, Timeteo and Christian bringing up the sheep

waiting their turn

waiting their turn

The bucks will be turned in with the ewes in a few days, in order to bring those spring lambs. To make sure the ewes are in optimal condition, we decided to worm them in advance of bucking.  On this day, it was coldish and windyish, but certainly a relatively pleasant day.

looking forward

looking forward

two noses:  yearling ewe and Edgar

two noses: yearling ewe and Edgar

done and done

done and done

guard dog with supply wagon

guard dog supervising

evening grazing

evening grazing

a day off

a day off

 
 

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Dads count too–or counting on the dads–or

Dads count too–or counting on the dads–or

Most of the year, we think about the ewes–are they eating enough?  are they pregnant?  did they lamb? did they have twins?  did they elude the coyotes and bears?

Of course, in order to have those little lambs hit the ground in May and June, we need to have dads.  In the livestock world, dads (be they bucks, bulls, or stallions) count too, and we want them to be the best most productive sires we can find.  And, since it costs money and opportunity to support them for most of the year (well, actually, for all of the year, but they only work for a couple of months), we want to make sure they are the optimal sort of dad.

Who you gonna call?  Optimal Livestock Services of course!  Each fall, retired Colorado State University vet Dr. Cleon Kimberling, and his partner and sidekick Vet Tech Geri Parsons travel throughout the Rockies to test rams.  They check rams for fertility, disease, and other factors, such as age and condition, that can influence their ability to breed ewes.

Dr. Kimberling mans a traveling lab, where he examines sperm samples from rams.  Geri, with help from our crew, collects the samples in test tubes, records information about each individual, and gives all the info to Cleon, who studies and collates it.  At the end of the process, we growers are given a computer printout that rates each ram according to fertility, health, age, and other variables.

We then mark the rams who fail to make the grade.  They get a truck ride which ends in a vacation in Mexico.  I’ve never asked Dr. Kimberling what happened to his vet students who failed to make the grade.

Geri testing buck

Geri marking a test tube

Dr. Kimberling at the microscope

Maeve helping Dr. K.

Pepe and Timoteo securing a ram

Crew hard at work: Pepe, Sharon, Geri and Christian

Edgar and Sadie

Pepe, George and Pat, photo by Maeve

Pepe and friend by Maeve

Free at last!

 

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