A few days ago I started shearing the older ewes. The process of starting to grow a new fleece (and shedding of the old) starts later for ewes with lambs: protein got from grazing goes to providing lambs with milk, not making wool. But now – six to eight weeks after the boys and the younger girls – it is at last the turn of the matriarchs.
At this time of year, with the ewes and lambs out on the common grazings, I feed them with sheepnuts – just a small ration – to encourage them to come to me each morning, allowing me to count them, look out for any problems, and – if the weather’s dry …
… to catch one!
With the ewes huddled together, heads down, I let them get on with their sheepnuts whilst I decide which ewe to catch, and stand poised ready for the moment she’s finished feeding and is about to set off into the wilds with the others.
I’ve had enough with rounding them up and shearing the lot. It’s too exhausting for me, too stressful for me as well as the sheep, and inevitably results in cuts and other minor hurts, and the fleeces end up just a pile of bits.
I trialled the new technique on the hogs – last year’s lambs, whilst they and their mums and the new lambs were still down on our own croft fields. That trial went so well, I realized I didn’t need to have the sheep confined at all: I could do exactly the same thing out on the common grazing.
For the hogs – last year’s lambs, it was their first ever shearing (which means they can now be referred to as shearlings): I expected them to put up a bit of a struggle ; and that’s what I got. Though, that said, they were much easier to handle than in previous years, when after being driven into a fank with the help of a neighbour and his sheep dogs, the hogs were wild-eyed and reckless.
For the ewes, however, this year will be their eighth shearing: they know exactly what it’s about, what to expect – and by now their heavy old fleeces are a burden – especially in hot summer sunshine. All those I’ve sheared so far have been calm and quiet, there have been no cuts or knicks to me or them, and the fleece has come of clean and whole, with no secondary cuts. For the first time in eight years of shearing, I feel unqualified pleasure and satisfaction in my own work.
Yesterday, the weather was gloriously sunny and warm: in fact, too bright and burning for my red-head complexion! I’d taken my Canon DSLR camera with me up the hill : so, with the shearing done, I sat in the warm morning sunshine, looking across our croft, Carrick and the Sound of Eriskay – across to the glens and hills of South Uist. And this is what I saw. A work place with a view.
But how do you fancy coming with me on a stormy day, with a sheep missing? No?
But yesterday was exceptional : so rather than head back down to the croft with the fleece and all the gear, I left it there to come back to later, and headed off into the wilds of Eriskay to see the sights. Despite being ‘on our doorstep’, I very rarely get out just for the pleasure of a walk – free of any work-related purpose, so a spontaneous walk like this (still in boiler suit and wellington boots!) is a delight to treasure and remember.
But, why don’t you come with me, and see for yourself? The walk runs anti-clockwise from the hill gate ◊ We’ll be walking for about three miles over rough terrain, and it’ll take an hour and half. Don’t worry – we’ll be back in time for lunch!
Here’s an interactive map, with embedded photos. It’s easier to use in the full-screen mode – click on the control at top right of the box. This interactive map not be visible at all on the WordPress Reader.
Did you enjoy that?
Having spent ages creating the interactive map, I’m disappointed that the photos are so small and inconvenient to access – there’s no pop-up. Here’s a mosaic of all the images. Click any image for a slide show of them all.
After a few days of clear skies and warm summer sunshine, and more than week since the last rain, today’s low cloud and drizzle are good for the walled garden and the croft ; but they also make the morning rounds just a bit harder work – not least climbing the hill in waterproof jacket and trousers.
I reach the hill gate to find none of the sheep waiting for me – not even little Windy, anxious for her morning bottle of milk. (I’m going to have to start weaning her, soon.) I climb to a prominent high point and call Trobhaibh! Trobhaibh (Come hither! Come hither!), and listen for the echo resounding from the steep north face of Beinn Eisabhal. Satisfying, but unlikely to reach far in the low cloud.
I wait a while and listen: distant bleating: but from where ; from whom? And what’s that … neighing, too?
The cloud swirls and clears, opening up a view of the corrie above Seonaidh‘s crofts. In the distance, appearing over the high ground between Bun a Mhuillin and Roisinis, appears a few black heads, and the bleating becomes clearer and just perceptibly louder.
Suddenly, looming out of the cloud to the right, not the corrie below, appear two white Eriskay mares. A trail of others appear behind them. All uninvited guests, here for a free breakfast!
They’re friendly enough, and one older mare accepts my strokes around her head, but is more interested in the bag I have with me, containing the sheep’s morning ration. Within moments, I have twenty Eriskays pestering me for sheep nuts. “No way! These are for Queenie and her flock : you can [beep] off!”
Queenie herself soon appears at the head of the rise, Windy close behind, and the rest of the flock trailing along, all bleating ‘Wait for me!” “Don’t forget me” and more on that theme.
I lay down big fistfuls of sheepnuts, arranged in an irregular line (as tussocks and puddles permit), keeping it short so that the sheep crowd together and there’s few opportunities for the ponies to stick their heads in and steal.
But the sheep are skittish, nervous of the (to them) huge Eriskays: I stomp around the ewes in a circle, defending them and their breakfast from any disturbance by the avaricious Eriskays.
Soon, the sheep have had their fill, and move on: the ponies move in and comb the ground with their soft whiskers, their lips parting as they detect the occasional sheepnut missed by the sheep.