Jonathan: This afternoon, two long-running threads came together for a long-overdue sheepy excursion ‘down north’ (as they say here in Uist). Back in late summer we placed an ad in Am Paipear saying we were buying fleeces, and Raghnall MacIain in N Uist phoned us to say he’d got some we might be interested in. It’s a very long way for just a few fleeces, so we needed to combine the trip with something else, and only a few days ago – many weeks later – did the arrangements for the afternoon’s two activities come into synchronicity. We met up with Raghnall at the quarry he owns. The fleeces were in the kind of tonne bag used for aggregates or fertilisers, sat in the middle of a vast industrial shed. As with most fleeces we’ve been to look at, the sheep were shorn far too late, when the old fleece has already separated from the new and has become matted and dry. Most of the fleeces were useless, but we agreed terms for taking a few which we could extract bits for use for hand-spinning lessons. After business on the international trading floor was complete for the day, we returned to Raghnall and Karen’s croft in Middlequarter (near Solas) where we had a brief look at High Bank Pioneer, a 4-year old Hebridean ram we’d tentatively agreed to swap with our own. Short of catching him and inspecting him closely – and there was no dog to do this – all I could do was look quickly at his profile, fleece condition, whether his feet were causing him difficulty, shape of horns …. there’s so much that can be taken in – almost subconsciously – by just watching a sheep moving for a few seconds. Anyway he looked good enough – though to be honest there’s not a lot of choice, and we certainly have no use for our own ram, as he’s closely related to all the ewes. That settled (the swap will happen when we get our own ram back from his desert island) we turned south again, stopping off in Haclete to pick up Rona’s six wedders, which we’ll grow on until next spring. Just one thing, though: the six ready and waiting for us in the fank (Rona had to go out) appeared to be eight and one of them a ewe! No answer on Rona’s mobile, so what to do? Well it would be reasonable enough to assume that in fact there were 7 spare wedders in the end, not 6, she’d not had a chance to warn us; but when asked if we wanted any more ewes, I’d actually answered no not this time. Left on her own in the fank, the young ewe was getting very anxious and trying to jump the fence, so we decided the best thing would be to take her with the others and sort out any mess afterwards. Back home in the evening from checking, dosing and releasing the sheep at the croft, Rona called: and the upshot of that is that our flock is now up to 33 Hebrideans, not the 31 we’d planned for. That’s now 1 registered ram, 16 registered breeding ewes, 15 wedder lambs, 1 ewe lamb.
Jonathan: This afternoon I drove down north to Aird in Benbecula to collect eight sheep I’d agreed to buy. One Hebridean from Catherine: we already have five ewes from her flock and very nice they are too; but this time it’s a wedder – a castrated male intended solely for the butcher. The others were from her neighbour Alasdair – a model crofter if ever there was one. These too are wedders, but whilst six are Hebrideans, one is a cross of a Hebridean on a Boreray ewe, and so has white fleece. Though now 6 months old and with lovely long fleeces, they are still just youngsters really, and very cute. We’ll be growing them on for another year, when they will go into the freezer as hogget lamb for sale from Xmas 2012 and into summer 2013. They travelled extremely well: with a generous layer of fresh straw in the trailer, they were reasonably comfortable, despite the dreadful weather. Arrived at the croft D and I took details from their ear tags, dosed them against fluke and ticks etc, checked their feet (trimming as necessary) and then let them out into the field. A lot of bleating from those first out back to their friends still in the trailer, but otherwise they got straight on with what’s important to a sheep – eating. Both D and I are very pleased with the good shape and weight of these lambs, even the two smaller ones (one Heb and the BorererayX), so hopefully we’ll improve on that over the coming year. Here’s me with the BoreraryX.
Jonathan: By mid afternoon the day looked set to end as it started – dreary. Not windy – a flat calm. Not wet – nothing more than a spot or two. Not grimly overcast – just a dull grey blanket of cloud. Just dreary. Not that we couldn’t work outdoors if we really wanted to: but dreary seemed a good – or bad – enough excuse to spend the day on indoors jobs. But just as we were clearing up from our evening meal, the sky lightened and cleared … and out we went to sort wool. Our neighbour DJ sheared most of his sheep yesterday: they’re a motley lot, and as much Blackface as Cheviot. But fresh from the shears and sorted and graded as soon as possible we can make something decent with them: in this case a white blend to complement and contrast with the black Hebridean. So out at the front of the house we set up a couple of make-shift benches; we dragged the woolsack back out of the store; and in the course of a couple of hours we’d worked through the lot: softest and finest set aside for hand spinning, but the greater part of the whole lot back into the woolpack for sending to thee mill for spinning. The waste – mostly the kemp and the dags – piled up on the ground as we worked, with Tilly woffling her nose into the smelliest bits and the cats chasing locks caught in the wind. So there we are with greasy hands, wisps of wool stuck to my beard and a lock of wool behind D’s ear, and into the garden comes a very petite woman, very neatly dressed, looking for some eggs to buy. What a contrast!
Denise: With the usual Saturday ‘turnaround’ work done, I had a quick look at J’s fleeces, and I have to say I’m pretty impressed. it was lovely to be outside on a lovely sunny afternoon with all the fleeces spread out on the lawn. All of the fleeces are a good size, clean and with very little waste, but about five or six are so good that it would be a waste to send them away for mill-spinning; they are especially fine and soft and long-stapled, and certainly good enough for spinning by hand. So that’s them sorted into two piles for now: one third for our own hand-spinning (with most of the higher sales prices retained by us!); two-thirds to go away for mill-spinning. Well done J!
Jonathan: The unusually warm weather in April caused the natural shedding of a sheep’s fleece to be triggered several weeks early, and as a result some of our sheep have been looking increasingly scraggy. Yesterday evening, with the help of our neighbour Seonaidh and his dogs Bess and Jack, all our 16 Hebridean sheep were rounded up – the tiresome threesome included for once! – and by 7pm they were all secure in the fank. Then we set to work shearing – with hand shears: what a cussed, wriggly lot those Hebrideans are! I may have been slow compared to Seonaidh, but the finished fleeces looked good enough – almost all of in one piece, cut close to the body, and following the natural break line. But I’m not so sure the sheep were so impressed, with quite a few nicks to their skin to nurse (I sprayed anti-bacterial solution on to the wounds, of course). By the time the light was starting to fade at 1030pm we’d dosed them with the milky looking ‘drench’ that keeps fluke worms at bay, and I’d loaded all the fleeces up into the car to take home. At 7:30am this morning I was back to finish the job – the sheep having spent the night securely in the fold. I checked over their feet: for the first time I was seeing some early indications of footrot, so treated for that; and I dosed them all with SpotOn – against ticks, lice and blowfly. And then I gave them all an individual kiss and a cuddle, told them how much I loved them … no actually I just untied the fold gate and they shot out with great leaps and jumps!