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!
Jonathan: The snow has continued on and off all day – we now have more than 150mm and the roads uncleared. No deliveries, so I have now today run out of feed for the sheep and they can’t get to the grass for the snow. I’ve made a make-shift hay-rack and loaded it with straw, and though there’s precious little nutrition in that it’s at least better than the rough grasses these Hebrideans usually make do with. I had intended during this week to move the sheep to the next field, but engineering work has had to take priority. I need to fix the the electric fencing first, but that won’t be possible in heavy snow; and anyway the sheep won’t get to the grass there either. Milder weather would be a god-send, but right now what I need most is some bags of Sheep Nuts!
Jonathan: Another cold frosty morning! Temperatures are around zero – so nothing dramatic, but the raw north-east wind has a nasty bite!! The Hebridean sheep are hardy enough to stand all this and far worse without any fussing over, but even so the winter grass is not very appetizing and offering them some tasty treats from a bag helps to keep them used to me and easier to handle. One of this year’s lambs – from Catherine MacLennan – ate from my hand this morning! In fact all the ewes from Catherine – both last and this year – are confident, and the biggest of them (she’s the biggest of all the sheep in fact) will try and eat out of the bucket as I’m walking along! In January – when the township rams have done their work for this year – I plan to let my ewes out onto the unfenced upper crofts and train them to keep fairly close to home and used to my voice. Whether, in future years, they will do that when they have lambs, is another matter!