Monday, July 23, 2012

My first sweater

posted by Andres

So, here at Wagner Farm we currently, and for another week or so have lambs. The lambs we keep here on the farm are 4-h animals, who in about a week’s time will be going to the lake county fair. These animals are grown for meat and stay lambs because once they become sheep (1 year and older) the meat is not as good. Up until a week and a half ago these were the only type of sheep/ lambs that I have ever dealt with or even seen in person. I then arranged for myself a unique opportunity to visit and help on a farm where sheep are grown for wool. The farm, which was out near Stockton, IL, is a 40 acre parcel of land which is mostly pasture for the sheep with some tenant farmers growing corn on the rest of it. The farmer, Suzy, bought the land a while back in order to start raising her sheep. Currently she has approximately 30 full grown sheep, about 18 lambs that were born this year and one llama who’s job is to protect the herd from coyotes. Now, normally Suzy would not need help caring for her animals but one day out of the year she takes what help she can get. That day is shearing day.
Despite Suzy having gone to shearing school she is not as proficient at it as she would like to be, so she calls in a professional. She also calls in any extra hands that she can find because dealing with the sheep, the lambs, and the fleeces after they are shorn is no small task. This year her help consisted of her, her husband and myself, which apparently is 1 less than she would have liked but we made it work.
My day started at about 4:30 am when I left the house and set off to Suzy’s farm to be there by about 7:30 when the shearers were scheduled to arrive. I arrived at about 7:15, met Suzy and her family, talked for a few minutes and set off to work. I was not sure what to expect except for the heat (it was the day temps reached 104), but was ready for anything. First thing was to get the sheep in the barn, separate the lambs out (for they were not to be sheared) and then get the rest of the herd into a holding chute where it would be easier to catch them one by one to be sheared. Right off the bat Suzy had asked me if I wanted to pick one to shear myself to which I replied, I will watch first and then see if I’m up to it. I’ll tell you what, after watching the first couple get shorn I decided that it was a task better left to the pros who were cruising through a shearing in an average of 4 ½ minutes. Judging by the work they were doing and the speed, confidence and precision they were doing it with I estimate that it probably would have taken me an hour or more to shear a single sheep. A challenge which normally I would not back down from, but with the heat and my inexperience I figured I wouldn’t make anyone (human or animal) suffer through it. The 30 or so sheep took between 2 ½ and 3 hours to shear, and that was with frequent water breaks because it was so darn hot. Once a sheep got it’s hair cut, the fleece (which all came off in one piece) was hauled to the top of the barn and laid out to dry.
Once, the shearing was done and we got everything cleaned up and all the fleeces laid out we had some lunch. After lunch we went back down to the barn and I helped Suzy band her lambs, a two man job that I was more than happy to help with. Once all the work was done Suzy offered me a couple of the fleeces to take home. I politely accepted her offer. She helped me skirt the fleeces (tear the dirty, manure and burr filled wool off the edges), and packed them up in garbage bags for me. I stuck them in my truck, thanked Suzy for the fleeces and the opportunity to help her out and was on my way home with a pure merino dark fleece and a hybrid merino white fleece. Now all I have to do is wash it, card it, and knit it into a sweater… Wish me luck.