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 may not be visible at all on the WordPress Reader.
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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.