A Find

I’m offering another photo as a means of a quick post tonight.  

I spent some time outdoors doing some fencing today and tonight I am cramming the last bit of formatting for the Crooked Fences newsletter.  Normally I would write more and see it through but I have an early, early morning tomorrow.  Just this week I located an adult, purebred Maremma for sale - not an easy find in our neck of the woods.  I’m off on a road trip tomorrow, heading to the next province over to go see her.   Stay tuned. 

Smiling for the Camera - Or Not

Our livestock guardian dog Glory, would frequently smile at us in greeting.  This girl though is the most frequent smiler I have come across since.

She smiled for everyone - except for the camera.  Catching her smile on camera was a tricky thing.  The only times I capture her smile is the first shot when she is still some distance away from me, and the second shot when her attention is with someone else, in this case her owner.

Each time I look at her and she looks back at me, she smiles and makes her way toward.  When I put the camera to my face to capture the next smile I know full well she'll offer, she is shy and unsure and looks away.  I lower the camera and she gives me brief but not direct eye contact and smiles again.  I capture her shy cautious look and her tongue flicks but no more smiles for the camera.

The more I try to get the photo the more she asks me to stop.  Since she is uncomfortable with her photo being taken, I leave her alone.  

So What Happens to 3600 Pounds of Wool?

After shearing where do 523 fleeces go?

People who help at shearing are invited to take  fleece or two home if they wish; this takes care of four or five fleeces. 

Twenty odd chosen fleeces are bagged individually with intent to sell to individual persons.  This is all taken care of by Andrea.  I sell the fleeces to her at the price I would receive through our wool cooperative and she does the leg work from there and keeps her profits. 

There are usually a few fleeces left over that will not fit into the large wool bags and which are not prime for selling.  I will use these as insulation and bedding in the guardian dogs houses and for the cats.  [The dog houses were a success by the way.  Well into the winter we frequently saw the dogs making use of the houses]. 

The bits of wool that litter the area after shearing are taken to our farm dump, the birds can easily pick the wool from there.  I also leave some around the trees at the yard for the birds to make use of. 

The bulk of the wool (17 large bags of it this year) will be trucked by us to a collection depot about an hour away.  Once the collection depot has enough wool to warrant a semi truck, it will be loaded and trucked East to the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers.  Here the wool is classed and graded.  The wool will be bulked together with similar wool from across the country, and sold on the international wool market. We get paid once this process is complete which will be about nine or ten months from now.  This means we won't recoup the cost of shearing until much later in the year.

I keep two or three fleeces for needle felting.  This is more than enough for me to get through washing in a year.  Sadly there is no commercial wool mill in our province so most fibre goes out of province for processing, unless you're doing it yourself or find a hobbyist to do it for you. 

I have no fancy set up for processing wool.  I wash small amounts in my kitchen sink with the use of a canning pot.  I have an old drum carder and can card wool into small batts.  For my purpose I want wool that is not overly handled and sometimes the less I do with it the better, provided I can get it clean.  I have no skills in spinning, weaving or knitting but I have seen yarn spun from our wool - and I am told it is very nice with a soft whiteness, good for colouring if desired.   

Artwork, Ranch Work, and A Picture on the Easel

I can liken this type of artwork to ranch work in many ways.  

I rise early to do either one.  The basic simplicity of the task lures me in - just get that pasture fenced, just need to vaccinate the ewes, just draw the dog… 

In the beginning is the fiddly, but easy, part of getting every thing together.  Enthusiasm gets me started but then the expansiveness of how much there is behind doing the task, how ongoing it will be, sets in.  Tediousness and tiredness arrive, and it feels like the project may never get done.  

Then the sun shines, I push on and find myself close to half way.  At some point I look back and see how the task is coming along and I’m encouraged to continue.  Enthusiasm revisits and ‘before I know it’ I am almost done.  

With this piece tediousness is setting in.  It is good place to take a photo because I always see a piece of artwork differently when it’s a photograph on the computer rather than an image on the paper that sits continually on the drawing table. 

This is a dog I visited in Montana.  She (and the sheep) had grown accustomed to me and the camera although she wasn’t game for any overly friendly overtures.  She had just moved onto a rise to sit near the ewes and I was able to lay on the ground nearby and photograph her. 

Post Shearing Repeat

The last two weeks have been chalk full of sheep, a great deal wool handling and photographing more livestock guardian dogs.  The above photo reflects a bit how I feel today. Yesterday was a six hour round trip to help at another day long shearing and meet these pups (three of the five dogs that are here).  The dogs enjoyed visiting but during all the action they camped out in this area where the sheep are released to.

These ewes produced gorgeous and huge fleeces but I held my ground and did not bring any more wool home.  The art room closet is chalk full and there are fleeces still sitting on the skirting table.  

As the pace settles down this week it will be necessary to make a trip to town and to the city to restock with food for ourselves and the dogs, purchase vaccines for the flock and ear tags for our upcoming lambing season.  

the place holder ewe

Post Shearing

We did not have any major task to tackle right after shearing so we took a couple days put everything back into place and return borrowed chairs etc.  the building still looks like a wool fest took place and there is a table full of fleeces left over I have to decide what to do with.  

I am off to help out at another shearing day tomorrow and hopefully to net a few more photos of these guys.  These are a few photos taken when I was at a friends place last Tuesday, for their shearing day. 

Shorn 2016

Without a doubt, our shearing days are very full, fruitful and fortunate days. We kept the ewes dry through a day of rain previous to shearing and had warm sunny weather for the day of.

For Allen and I (and those who traveled out) the day started early with some last minute details. By 7 am the dogs and I were moving the flocks and bringing sheep in. People began arriving by 8 am and shearing was underway right around 9 am; shearing wrapped up around 5 pm.

With six shearers there is a constant flow of fleeces coming off the sheep. Several wonderful people came out to help us which meant we were able to set up for skirting the fleeces although with skirting, packing, and sweeping we barely managed to keep up with the shearing crew. We had three skirting tables and two wool packers running plus a bag stand for tags and belly pieces.

523 fleeces, 17 bags of wool (approximately 3600 pounds), and one TV interview later we were done.
There were a few cameras clicking away, however mine never made it out of the house so I had to borrow photos for this post. The festivities of the day did make the local news that evening though as a local news station arrived mid morning for an interview with the shearing crew and quick chat with me and Allen.

The wool harvest is complete for another year. Andrea, Cathy, Joan, Jared, Jill, Peggy, Judith, Matt, Bill, (and Liezel - I know you really wanted to make it) - we can’t say enough thank you’s. You keep coming back year after year. The crew of shearers - Lorrie, Laverne, Logan, Charles, Bonnie and Reba - gosh what would we do without you.

Overall the fleeces were very nice and decently clean and twenty odd fleeces were saved and taken home. I only kept a couple for myself as my stash is well stocked at the moment. I did keep a Correidale fleece and one of the crossbred ewe fleeces.

 The ewes are happy to be back to eating although they would prefer we open the gates and let them back out to pasture. We’re keeping them near home for a week to let the grass take off. After such a nice rain we expect it will show up very soon.

The two photos give an idea of our set up.  If you have any questions I'd be happy to answer them.
The first photo (taken by Lorrie Reed - head shearer) shows the majority the flock, locked up the day before due to rain.  There is another smaller group of ewes in the Quonset.  We were able to release all the sheep late that evening and for shearing day they remained outside.  There is a wide alleyway all the way along the right side of this building (on the outside), and a bugle set up to lead animals around back of the building and through a half door where they find themselves in the single file raceway which travels all the way up to the right side of the shearing floor.  The shearing crew will attach their set up to ours  and it will run along the right side of that plywood floor.

Photo by Lorrie Reed

At the shearing floor is a homemade shearing brace to hang shearing machines.  Each cross member slides front to back and side to side so the shearers can adjust them and set up so they have elbow room.  Our skirting table is just sheep panels set on barrels, plus Andrea brought a homemade one.  The two wool packers are just outside the front door (to the right).  Probably the worst thing about this set up is that when the sheep are released they have to travel past all the set up.  Some will go out the front door, the majority will return to the back of the building.  There are two lady shearers in this crew of six, it's always a treat to see them.

Photo by Lorrie Reed

Rainy Day Shearing Prep

It’s a late night blog post.  Yesterday was a full day of travel and shearing at a friends place while Allen did some leg work to get ready for our shearing day.  Today was another full day with lots of sheep moving since it rained throughout the day.  The ewes were in a nearby paddock where Allen set them last night.  Coyote Mic and BJ were put to work to move them to the building quickly.  Once everyone was in I released a group and moved them over to the Quonset building in the yard.  This gave everyone a bit more room and space while keeping them under cover.  The rain hung around all afternoon, washing away all the winter dust.  The ewes just wanted back outside. 

Since the flock needed to be indoors some of the prep work was held up in order to give them as much room as possible.  The shearing crew arrived and did what set up they needed to.  

The rainy weather cleared off around supper time so we released the girls back outdoors, headed in for a quick supper and then back out to finish setting up.  Now I’m doing some cooking for tomorrow meals, my least favorite part of prepping but very necessary.  

At first light the dogs and I will be back out to round the ewes and rams up once again; shortly after that begins another full day of shearing.  I'm ready for sleep but looking forward to tomorrow.   

Favorite Rubbing Tree

This area of bush is located in a large hollow that stays dry.  The ewes favour this spot on windy days and the trees have become favorite rubbing trees.  

Shearing day is just around the corner, soon the ewes will have little to rub about. The shearing floor is swept clean and the building is ready should we have to house sheep in a hurry due to rain.  We are expecting five shearers and great friends and company to help us out.

Since the sheep are traveling during the day I am once again taking a stock dog with me each evening to gather and settle the flock for the night.  It is familiar, routine work for both the dogs and I - a casual way to re-enter our heavy working summer season.  

If the ewes are traveling the guardian dogs are as well.  With a meal in their belly, early evening finds them ready to catch a cat nap.  

It will be some time before the earth thaws completely, but all the snow is gone and a couple friends and I have started getting together each week to work herding dogs.  Steadily the season is filling with activity. 

All Dogs In On A Days Work

The stock dogs and I enjoyed a good morning of work as we sorted the rams from the ewe flock.  This winter we let the rams stay with the ewes long past the usual breeding time frame since we were away from home and leaving the rams was the easiest in terms of winter time management.  We wanted the boys sorted out in preparation for shearing day next week though.   

It would be a tougher job for me to get this flock where needed without the dogs

With having a few stock dogs to work I find myself choosing which dog to use for which task or which pair of dogs to put together to best help me out.  I try to put each dog in various situations so they’re well rounded with experience, yet I like to take advantage of the chance to put more than one dog to work in a days outing. This morning of sheep work allowed me to do just that.  I took Cajun and BJ out to the pasture to collect the flock.  Turns out there was a great setup with a large group of ewes situated across a wetland but with only one way back.  They could not circle the wetland because the water cut them off (picture a boomerang shape of land and the sheep being at one end).  Cajun went wide and deep to collect on the only side he could - the exact reason I like this dog on pasture.  

BJ was eager to go too but I waited, letting Cajun have this task because it is such a highlight for him.  Once we had that group collected and near my feet I put BJ down with Cajun and we moved up to join with the other half of the flock.  BJ loves the flock work because it doesn’t involve precision or me picking at her to follow commands; this was perfect for her.  The two dogs were a little overzealous on a couple occasions, rushing too fast causing a single to cut back.  After that the two dogs brought the flock along well enough, taking the sheep up to the east paddock where we left the ewes alone while Allen and I went ahead to rearrange the sorting set up at the building.  

When it came time to bring the sheep the rest of the way to the building I brought out Gibson and Coyote Mic.  I let Gibson do the first cast knowing he’d go wide enough to do so and hence bring everyone.  Once the group was loosely bunched I let Coyote Mic go, accepting that she’d run tighter and push harder.  She did.  These two dogs ended doing a lot of work over a short move.  The ewes streamed out of the paddock but were unwilling to travel straight ahead along the trail due to a small section of water they had to cross there.  Instead the ewes took a turn after exiting which meant the dogs had to work to keep the back of the flock going through the gate rather than following the front of the flock now streaming along the fence line.  After all the sheep in the mob exited the dogs had to recollect the lead and turn the whole flock again, then had to hold pressure while the front sheep contemplated the muddy trail.  The trail is bordered by water on one side (hence the run off across the trail) and fence on the other, so there is no way for the ewes to get around the wet spot.  If you can picture getting five or six sheep through a Y-chute on a trial course, well this is getting 500 through a naturally created Y chute with a water crossing.  They did it.  

We took the ewes toward the building and moved them into the wide outdoor alleyway to a back holding pen.  From here we can cut the flock in half and bring the first group through the bugle set up and send them single file down the raceway.  But first I switched dogs again.  Coyote Mic doesn’t have a lot of flock work under her belt yet and I thought what we just handled was enough for her.  This next part of work was going to be in close quarters with a lot of sheep, and ewes facing off with her, something she is still uncomfortable with.  

I kept Gibson out and brought back BJ.  Gibson like to stay off his sheep, and forcing for him is harder but he’ll stand up for himself, and BJ loves to force.  Her downfall is that she does bark when forcing, something I’m encouraging her not to do.  At this point it was our job to keep a steady flow of sheep heading into the raceway.  Allen was at the sort gate, cutting the rams out.  It felt like it took no time at all, but that’s the beauty of doing just a sort without stopping to tag or needle anything.  The animals just flow through and are free to go at the other end.  They have the stress of being moved and temporarily crowded, but nothing else happens to them in the raceway.  

It was a surprisingly good day for a first back-to-work job of the Spring.  

A Seasons Worth of Hay Residue

So what does a seasons worth of hay residue on the pasture look like in the Spring? This is the same area talked about in the post where the sheep sleep. The guardian dog houses are on the lower right (second photo). 

Throughout the winter we like to feed hay over a large area, rolling out bales in a new spot each day so the residue is spread as much as possible. We fed and bedded the ewes in this particular spot on more than a few occasions though, because of the shelter it offered them. So this spot is the area of heaviest residue cover this year. We are deciding on whether or not to harrow this area to assist with the breakdown of the residue.

With too much residue the grass growth is held back in the spring while the opportunistic weeds get the upper hand. We have patches of thistle where this has occurred in the past. Over time, provided the same area is not over used each year (like many barn paddocks end up being used), the grasses will catch up and this will be a lovely well fertilized piece of pasture with diversity of species.


I have been trying and trying to capture an in focus photo of this bird in flight.  This one is at quite a distance so not quite as much detail, but got the focus. 

Numerous places in North America are familiar with the Magpie, the crafty games the birds play, their benefits and the trouble they can cause. Allen has nothing fond to say about the birds.  I get a kick out of how aware the birds are of what we’re doing, and how they are always at hand to take advantage if there is anything to their liking (come to think of it - it’s kind of like some people I know).  One of the things to their liking includes new born lambs though. 

We always seem to have one guardian dog who despises the birds - it’s usually the dog who doesn’t eat their meal right meal away.  The Magpie’s are always nearby, waiting to snitch from the stash as soon as the coast is clear.   In our group of dogs right now that dog is Lily. 

I think the ewes get annoyed with Magpies too but sometimes the effort to shake them off is too much to bother with.  This particular bird is going from ewe to ewe, head to head, then hops to the ground and then back up to take a look around.  No one seems particularly upset with it's presence. 

On The Easel

Life is a little busier with a few day-long meetings I have to travel for, but otherwise I’m blessed to have some free time in the art room. Our busy outdoor season is almost upon us so I treasure this time I have to do artwork. Shearing takes place in a couple weeks, and vaccinating the ewes right after that. 

A large pencil drawing is on the easel and a large needle felting project is on the felting table. This is where I got to with the previous felting project and here it sits.  My table light is giving causing some glare in the photo. 

This color pencil drawing piece will finally be sent in the mail to the individual who requested it. Doing this little fellow gave me the chance to practice doing white dog hair which I find quite tricky to do but foresee doing a lot of it in the future.  :-) 

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