Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Best-Laid Plans

It was 7:45Am on Shearing Day and everything was going as planned. The sheep were penned and their location had extension cords at the ready. The chores were done early so Liz had my full attention and assistance grabbing and moving sheep. The check was laid out on the coffee table. The weather was gorgeous. Everything was perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

Liz pulled into the driveway right on schedule and I helped her carry the shearing board, her tool box, and the cords and gear needed for the work. I do what I can to help with professional when they come to the farm to help with skills I don't possess. I am right there with the butchers on kill dates, helping carry animals or unload meat hooks. I am with the farrier when he is trimming and shaping the horses feet, asking questions about their care and condition. And I am always with the shearer to ask her about the animals' overall health, body condition, and wool. Which was the exact plan when I opened the pen gate and Liz walked in with her board and me with the other gear.


Hannah the black sheep ran and leapt over the 4ft fence like a gazelle on poppers. Seeing this amazing feet, Joseph the 225lb wether tried to do the same and ended up just crashing onto the fence and crushing the woven wire, making a dip that any respectable sheep could traverse in a hop. It took about 5 seconds for the rest of the flock to be out like a hole in a bucket. The shearer gasped. I let out a four letter word of choice. We both watched them run far away from us towards the forest and back pasture.

My first thoughts were racing and angry. It has taken so long to actually book a traveling sheep shearer for a farm this small and I couldn't lose the appointment. It was already late in the season for shearing, something that is usually done in March or April. I had promoted sales and soap like mad on Twitter to raise up the money for the job. I set the appointment. I did all the things, and yet...

I have learned in moments like this not to panic or waste any energy on the problem, just start the first step of the solution. I told Liz I was sorry but I could get this all sorted, I just needed an hour or so. I told her to head down the road to Jon Katz's farm first and take care of his flock. (He was less than two miles away and also had her scheduled to shear.) While she did that I would herd the sheep back, get them into their pole barn, get the pen repaired and when she returned it would be smooth sailing towards Naked Sheep Island.

It took me, the dogs, a bucket of grain, some fence tools, a t-post pounder, baling twine, and a hammer and nails to get the job done but we got it done!

I will admit the trick I use when things go wrong, when problems need to be dealt with fast. I imagine myself swaying in the hammock at the end of the day, sipping a cold drink, reading my Kindle as the fireflies start to come out. I imagine the feeling of accomplishment of a big task like shearing day done, the box checked, the ewes shorn and ripping grass while Gibson, Friday, and I watch on. That is what I thought about as I gathered supplies and got to the messy work of battening down hatches.

I let the sheep graze and wander the farm as I repaired the broken area of fence first. Once that was sound again I cut a section of woven wire a little larger than the pole barn's door. I nailed it on one side and set the hammer and nails to the other for what I called "Action Time!" Then I got a large piece of chain link fence that was being used to plug another fence hole in the pasture and set that near the barn's door. Okay. I was ready for the dogs.

Friday and Gibson worked as a scrappy team getting Monday off the lawn and back into the pasture. Then they got Jessa and her little lamb to run into the pen, followed my Marnie and Hannah. Last to go into the pen by dog escort was Monday, Brick, and Joseph. Soon all six adults and one little lamb were in the pen. I told the dogs to lie down by the main gate and poured some grain into the barn. Soon all the sheep were inside ACTION TIME and I nailed the woven wire gate shut. Then I set the chain link section over that. HA HA! They were in.

Liz arrived with her daily schedule in tact. Swapping farm times was a lucky break, and I am grateful to Jon that he welcomed her earlier than planned. That's the kind of communication and neighborly goodwill we need around here to keep everyone sane.

It didn't take long to pull the sheep from the fortress one at a time. I warned Liz that Brick, being the oldest ewe of around 13 or 14, might be nothing but skin and bones under that wool. Feeling her back it felt boney. But she was plump and well and her eyes were pink under the lids. It is a really good feeling when the oldest sheep you have looks that chunky and bonnie. What a grand sight she was shorn! I'll post a pic of the old girl when I can grab one!

When shearing was done I invited Liz inside to discuss a possible logo for her business and to work out a barter for a possible new ram for next season. I wrote her the check for the day's work plus tip (always tip your hairdresser) and thanked her again for being flexible and so great with the sheep.  She headed back out on the road to shear at two farms back in Vermont.

So the day didn't go as planned but the work got done. When sunset fell and the evening chores were finished I did end up in that hammock. I did have a cold drink. I did read as the fireflies circled around me. This isn't always the case, but when it happens I sway with it.