Trailing, shearing 2010
Creston Junction, Wyoming
Modesto puts the lone lamb into the car
Faithful readers may have noticed a dearth of entries lately. I have two excuses. The first
(and lamest) is that May is one of our absolute busiest months of the year, hence leaving me little time to record profound thoughts and images. The second ( and unarguable) is that my computer absolutely crashed. Luckily my beloved son-in-law (I hope he reads this!) and resident computer expert was able to restore almost everything. I often tell him that we trade babysitting for computer expertise, but I think I am actually in the hole!
Speaking of which, on about April 15th each year, we plunge down the rabbit hole of spring work.
Faithful readers know that in mid-April, we start trailing the sheep, who have just spent the winter on our BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish leases on Wyoming’s Red Desert. The winter grazing on the desert carries a constant worry of bad storms, but it is basically good country with feed and shelter. When we leave there, we cross a patchwork of public and private lands to get to Badwater, a leased checkerboard pasture (BLM and private) of 46 sections. We follow a trail designated by the BLM, and cross our neighbors’ lands with their permission.
We must shear the ewes in late April, since they start lambing around May 8th. As soon as the heavily pregnant ewes are on the trail, we are constantly checking the weather and the schedule of the shearers. They are skilled workers in a very specialized field, and come, mostly from New Zealand, on visas to perform this specific job. We are one of their last jobs, and most go on to the British Islands to continue shearing there. It is critical that we find a window of good weather.
This has been a blessedly wet spring. Last year it rained almost every day, and we ended up shearing on three occasions and in two different locations. Last year the shearing crew had problems with injuries, illness and expiring visas. We prayed for a break in the weather and a strong crew, and received both.
One shearer on this crew could shear 300 sheep in a nine hour day, and all of them could do at least 200. We were able to get through the “main line”—the pregnant ewes—in three days, with rain threatening both the beginning and the end. The crew went on to shear pregnant ewes in other ranches, and we waited to do the yearling ewes, which are open.
Shearing, at last
Carbon County, Wyoming
Rod packing wool
Under a looming sky
Pat and Siobhan in the corrals
Richar moving the shorn sheep
Pepe (not actually a Vietnam Vet) and Simeon
Unlike last year, when we had to push the ewes hard in order to get to the lambing grounds, some 45 or so miles away, we were able to leave Badwater and trail to the lambing grounds in a timely way. They trailed in two bunches, arriving on the 7th and 8th—just in time to start lambing.
Rod, the shearing crew boss was calling most days so we could get the yearlings done. We had a stretch of cold weather the first week of May, so we put it off until we were confident it was safe. We lost some ewes to the cold after the main shearing, and yearlings are even more vulnerable to cold wet weather post shearing. Finally, we saw a good day, and the crew boss pointed out that he, himself, was leaving for Ireland the following day. They crew of five guys came in and finished 1500 yearlings in one day. We also had the fun of meeting Jessica, the baby daughter of Rod and Gemma.
Siobhan with guard dog puppy
Gemma: wool handler and new Mom
with Jessica and George
2010 shearing crew
It is a relief to get through this time of trailing and shearing. It is a three week window that requires the coordination and skills of a lot of people, not least our sheepherders. It is their job to have the sheep be where they need to be, all the time keeping them together, on good feed and watered, and watching for predators and problems.
We are sending our wool to the wool warehouse in Roswell, New Mexico, from whence it will be marketed. We loaded most of it a couple of days ago. Again, the dirt road leading into the shearing site in Badwater, was iffy due to mud. The young truck driver was from Honduras. He jumped right in and helped wrestle the 500 pounds bales into place on his semi trailer.
We drove to a vantage point to watch him and his big rig negotiate the steep slick hill that leads to the highway. He made it, our year’s production of wool on board.
Touch and go
The red semi tractor, silver trailer
Come all the way from Virginia
To the high desert, Badwater pasture
To haul wool.
Our future depends on
Its safe journey to New Mexico
Then on to mills.
Fine fibers bound for China
Seeking his way from Honduras
Following America’s roads.
Touch and go,
Guiding that big rig
Up the muddy two track
From the shearing grounds.
Siobhan on the wool stack
First lambs, born on the trail