Tag Archives: shearing
In mid-winter, we shear the ewes that are going to lamb in March. When it goes well, we even shear before lambing starts! We do this for several reasons. Even though it seems early to shear, all goes better if the wool is off before the first lambs hit the ground. We raise our own bucks, which means that in order for them to be “of age”–at least some of them, by next winter, late winter/early spring is the time to be born. It is important for the ewes to be out of the wool for a couple of reasons. In cold weather, if the ewe is not cold, it doesn’t occur to her that her lambs might be cold and she should seek shelter. And when those lambs are looking for nourishment, it is helpful if tags of wool are not hanging down in strategic locations. Anyway, thanks to Cliff and Donna of Hoopes Shearing, we have spent two days shearing the early lambing ewes and the mature bucks. What did the bucks do wrong, you might ask? Well, then we don’t have to figure out how to get them staged for the main shearing in April (April, right Cliff and Donna?).
Often, well actually, always except for this year, it is pretty cold in mid-February and we feel guilty removing wool coats from the sheep while we are all wooled up in sweaters and long underwear. I don’t know if we have weather or climate change to thank, or blame, but this week, we had ideal shearing weather–not too cold, not too warm–Goldilocks Weather.
We do have a few lambs on the ground, due to errant buck lambs–born last March–you get the picture.
Sorry, but it was too dark in the shed to get shearing shots!
Ladder Ranch is host to many folks, some paid, some unpaid, and some even paying. Over the years, we have formed many wonderful friendships with the visitors who pass through our landscape. This year, we have had the great fun of hosting Will and Ali, Aussies who showed up at just the right time (right after the cook had quit and just as lambing was getting under way). They have jumped right in and helped with everything from soup (that would be Ali) and once docking commences–to nuts. Here they are helping with the shearing of the yearling ewes. I observed, “It looks like Ali is doing all the work, while Eamon and Will are standing around bullchatting.” Will responded, ” Yup, that’s pretty much what they say back home.”
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.
This year, our shearing crew arrived late. This meant that the ewes trailed, in the wool, to the Cottonwood lambing grounds to get shorn. Many years, we shear them in the Badwater pasture, some 45 miles north, then trail them on to the lambing grounds north of Dixon. This has to be done before May 1st if they are to have time to travel and be in the private, BLM and State lands when they start to lamb a week later.
Dixon is close to our community school in Baggs, and many years third-grade teacher, Miss Cobb, brings her students to watch shearing and learn about it. This year, it was easy, since the shearers were so close. The third graders were joined by the fourth grade class and their teacher, Mrs. Herold.
Cliff Hoopes, the shearing contractor, took time to show the students around. He even brought them, five at a time, into the shed so they could watch the shearers at work. This year’s shearing crew included one man from Japan, which was a first.
We were starting to lamb by the time the last sheep was sheared.
Constant Readers know that each spring, we shed lamb about 350 ewes. We raise our own bucks, Hampshire and Rambouillet, and their mothers lamb early, before the main lambing in May and June.This year, the lambs will start to come around April 1st. Lambing goes a lot better if the ewes are shorn ahead of time. A few days ago Rindy Harkness, proprietor, crew boss and shearer of Top Notch Shearing, showed up with her crew and turned out 380 sheep in six hours.
This spring, shearing was a process, not an event. In order for our spring schedule to go smoothly, the shearing crew needs to be done by May 1st. This gives us time to trail in an orderly manner to our lambing grounds, which takes four or five days. This year the crew showed up on April 30th.
It has been a phenomenally dry spring, so they had not been delayed by weather. Two reasons accounted for their late appearance. Our long-time shearing contractor had retired to his farm in New Zealand, along with his wife, a wool-packer extraordinaire, his three-year-old daughter and their newborn twin sons. The gentleman who took over his business was not nearly as experienced or efficient. In addition, our government’s jihad against legal foreign workers has taken its toll on shearing crews. Our crew did an excellent job, but was much slower than we were used to.
This year’s shearing, which lasted two weeks, took us into lambing, which starts May 8th. We had pregnancy tested many of the ewes in March, so we sent the ewes pregnant with twins on to the lambing grounds. This meant they trailed, heavy with lambs and with wool, and were sheared while they were beginning to lamb, on our private land on the lambing grounds.
Luckily for shearing, but unluckily in general, we lost only one day to rain. It was the only rain that came in a month. Hallelujah—we finally finished and were able to get on with the business of lambing.
guard dog watching sheep on the trail