I don’t think I am unlike most farmers in the fact that I love to visit other farms. I love getting ideas from other farms, checking out their old barns, new toys and just hanging out with another like minded individual. Recently, Belinda and I were invited to Bless Ewe Farm in Enumclaw for a lesson in shearing sheep and of course we jumped at the opportunity to witness a farm chore neither of us have any experience with. We arrived at the farm at about 9:30AM and watched the sheering team set up their equipment. Then the head farmer, Carolynn Harwell, took us to meet the herd. Throughout the course of the day Belinda and I, along with a handful of other guests, got a crash course in sheep, shearing and fiber. We also got to meet a lamb who is quickly becoming a Facebook icon and a sheepdog who I am convinced was sent by an angel. Below are just a few lessons I learned on our little field trip.
Sheep shearing is back breaking work!
Carolynn hired a young man to shear her sheep and although I am not sure how much she paid him, I can tell you he earned every cent. With 16 ewes to shear he had a full days work and most of it was spent trying to position a sheep that has the rigidity of a wet noodle but weighs over 100 pounds. The best way I can describe it is to imagine trying to cut a toddlers hair when they do that thing mid temper tantrum where they go limp and crumble to the ground and then imagine the toddler is the size of a teenager and then repeat that process 16 times. Watch part of the process in the video below.
The first sheep gets sheared:
Shearing sheep requires MAD skill!
Ever tried to peel an orange all in one piece? Well, that’s the goal of the sheep shearer. To get all the fleece off of the sheep in one piece. They start at the belly and work around. Even after watching him do a few I still have no idea how he does it, but when he was all done and Carolynn laid it out to be skirted it was all there in one piece. It looked like the sheep had been skinned but it was all fleece. ah-maze–zing!
Skirting is a fine art!
After the fleece is sheered it is laid out on a large table and skirted. Skirting is basically the process of removing the dirtiest, poopiest part of the fleece. Both Belinda and I tried to help with this part but found we were too excited about everything else going on that we weren’t much help. Carolynn however, could clearly do this in her sleep as she can skirt, talk and manage everything that’s going on all at the same time!
The Shepard who invented the sheep chair is a genius
Yup, not only do sheep sit in chairs, they like it! Turns out that when a sheep is placed on their hind end they completely calm down and don’t even attempt to struggle. When the shearer first started to shear he would position the sheep on her butt and start shearing her belly. When he was all done she would go to the sheep chair where she is was laid back and given her vaccination, a pedicure (hoof trim) and little trim around her face. The sheep chair serves a similar function as recliners for old men, it takes the edge off! I wonder if this would work on goats. My guess is that if it did all goat owners would own one!
It’s a good thing there aren’t any mirrors in sheep barns
I feel like if there were mirrors in sheep barns there would be more than a few tears from the sheep. After all, I know how attached I am to my long hair and I know each time I get a haircut I mourn a little for the hair that is no longer with me. I am sure it felt great for the ewes to be free of the long and dirty hair that had kept them warm all winter, but they sure did look funny all naked. Good thing it will all grow back!
There is a huge variety of fleece available and good quality fleece can be quite marketable
I had no idea who much fleece could be worth. For most of the fleece we saw being sheared, Carolynn estimated could bring her around $50-$75 without any cleaning. For cleaned fleece the price went to $200-$300. Carolynn expressed that generally speaking the fleece from her flock pays for the expense of keeping them. Which considering she also gets a return on her investment by using them to work her border collies, she is happy with their ability to pay their way on the farm! If you are looking for an educational tutorial on fleece quality watch the below video of Carolynn explaining how to judge fleece.
Watch the video of Carolynn talking about fleece quality:
Stewie is even more adorable in person!
Stewie is a whether (castrated male sheep) who was born prematurely and consequently was raised in Carolynns house. He was a twin but was actually conceived later than his womb mate because his mother cycled after she was already pregnant. When he was born it was a surprise and he was not as healthy as his fully developed sibling. Because he received so much undivided attention in his first few months on earth Stewie developed quite the personality. To Stewie, Carolynn is his mother and he treats her as such. The bond between the two is incredible! While we were visiting Carolynn let him come watch the shearing with the rest of the observers and while he was interested for a bit he eventually decided a nearby rhododendron bush was more interesting so he was banished back to the pasture. Because of his antics and adorable facial expressions Stewie has become a local Facebook celebrity among many of the small farmers on the plateau.
As you can tell we had a blast at Bless Ewe Farm! It was a great honor to be invited and I hope we get to do it again next year! If you would like to learn more about fleece or Bless Ewe farm please check out their Facebook page. In addition to great updates on the farm, Carolynn, being a freelance photographer also posts tons of adorable sheep, dog and lamb pictures! And of course you can follow the famous Facebook lamb Stewie on all his adventures!
Want more adorable sheep and dog pictures? Follow Carolynn and her herd at:
Bless Ewe Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlessEweSheepCo
Carolynn’s Blog: http://www.bcxfour.com/