hell among yearlings
Besides myself, about a dozen other people were taking the hands-on course. There was a retired Norwegian broadcaster from New York City, and a woman (who along with her husband), was starting meat CSA in Mass. There were people who just got lambs last night, and people like me who have no idea how the hell they’ll ever pull this life off... All of us together at Smokey House Farm, a kind of agricultural-based outward bound center that was hosting the University of Vermont for the day, (who was running the show.)
The day started in an old farmhouse-turned-classroom, with a three-hour lecture for beginners. As far as lectures go, this was done right. There was a full spread of bagels, fruit, juice, coffee and apple pie. All us wannabees sat in wooden chairs and benches spooning in yummies while Chet, our instructor, talked to us about all things sheep. We covered everything from wool specific breeds to shelter building - we hummed together over the finer points of second cut to first cut hay (and when to feed which.) There were videos and slide shows and a long lunch by a pond. I got to meet people from all over New England and hold and a taxidermed ram stomach. It was the bee’s knees.
After the morning book learning, we headed out to the barn. There we got to get our hands on the animals, learning to tell their weight by feeling their spines. After a few examples I could tell a skinny sheep from a fat one (not always easy when covered in wool.) We saw a hoof-trimming demo and watched a lamb with a curled eyelid get a shot of penicillin (three of us had to hold down that bugger). All the while there were lambs and a llama mulling about our feet. If Chet started talking about the correct way to dock a tail or tag an ear I could reach down on the floor and touch a ewe’s to see for myself. I don’t care how many books or videos you read about farm stuff, sometimes you gotta grab an ear.
During all the barn demostrations there was a little ram lamb that wouldn’t leave us alone. He was this little black guy with a white blaze on his head. If I stopped petting him he’d chew on my jeans, so I just crouched down by him and let him lean against my side while Chet talked about foot rot. It was my own private fan club, it was a nice little self-esteme boost when you're covered in sheep manure from the knees down.
I got a lot out of the class. It was my first time (outside of books) learning anything about taking care of a small flock. I was worried it would get me over excited and I’d start pounding fence posts soon as I got home, but it didn’t. The class was exactly what I needed, and introduction. It showed me just how much time and money and effort needs to go into my sheep and how much preparation I’d need. It won’t be until I have a farm of my own someday that I’ll start calling fence builders and looking for Columbias (I think after today, it’s the breed for me). Right now, the closest thing I’ll have to a shearing day is whenever I get my new Angora Rabbits and need to trim them… but someday this highland girl will have sheep. The day that those hooves first touch my pasture, will become an official holiday in my home.
From that first anniversary on that date becomes holy. I won’t go into work. The kids will stay home from school. And the phone will be taken off the hook. And all of us, including Saven the Border Collie, will sit on the hill and watch the sheep. There will be homemade wine and fruit pies and a bonfire in the honor of all three-stomached beings (even you giraffes!) You can all come and get wild with us, it’s going to be a hell of a time.