Thursday, February 22, 2007

A break in his contract

As you can see Ike has decide to go back on the contract he made with us to supply us with a full one piece fleece this spring. When I went to scratch him the other day my hand got tangled and as I pulled back----out came a hunk of fleece. Look how white it is underneath! By the way--that's my son holding Ike still and my hand pulling the fleece. After that picture that chunk was no longer attached to Ike :-)

This "break" is actually a natural occurrence for some "primitive" breeds of sheep. Unlike Merino sheep (and many other sheep breeds) who have to be sheared to divest them of their fleeces---Icelandics will naturally "break" their fleece in preparation for spring/summer. So for those of you that have always wanted a sheep---but didn't want to mess with shearing---one of the primitive breeds could be the sheep for you!
We actually watch for this period (Ike has started a bit early) and try and correspond shearing with it. If you didn't roo you could still hand shear at this time instead of using electric shears (we know how to use both) and it still comes off like butter. The natural break helps make the cutting easier. Each sheep is a bit different in the way they "break" each year too. Some we never notice it on---we shear them along with the others but never see the "breaks". Other's like Ike---make a point of being obvious about it. So far---only Ike this year. Last year we had two but that was in early March.

As a solution to this problem, I could decide to "roo" him and just finish off the process without ever shearing him --which is how people of antiquities would collect fibers to make into their clothing eons ago. It is also how some fibers are still collected in this day and age since some species are too wild to shear---musk ox and buffalo come to mind. Well, in actuality the buffalo are turned into meat and then sheared---a bit drastic to get some yarn don't you think :-) :


To pluck the wool from the fleece of a sheep.

The word is closely associated with the crofting communities of Orkney and Shetland, though the technique is now rarely practised because it takes so long. As you might guess from its heartland, it’s a Scandinavian term, brought to the islands by Norse settlers more than a thousand years ago, and which has modern equivalents in such languages as Norwegian and Icelandic. In such harsh northern climates, to shear sheep would be to put them at risk of dying from the cold and wet, even in summer. However, the local breeds naturally shed their old wool in the Spring as the new fleece grows out. With a lot of painstaking work that required nimble fingers, local women would pluck or roo the old wool close to the sheep’s skin as it grew out on various parts of the body. The new fleece was left in place, providing protection for the skin against the elements. One of the advantages of this method was that the fibres, being uncut, had no sharp ends and so the spun wool was softer than that obtained by shearing.

What we have decided to do with Ike though, is to let him keep dropping his fleece all over and I will just collect it each day to use for potential felting projects for the future. When my freshly sharpened blades and combs come back from the "sharpening place" and we get a bit more into March---we will shear whatever is left on him off. He will look really really bad for a while as pieces fall off and drag the ground around him. Since his fall fleece isn't his best it's not that big of a deal.
Ram fleeces sometimes are kind of "hanky" after they go through the fall, winter and rut and some of the older rams can stink a bit--not anything like a goat---but it does not always wash completely out so they get tossed to the compost piles. Ike's fleece doesn't smell rammy at all---but it is a bit short and has a couple of yukked up spots. His summer fleece will be much much nicer. Summer fleeces have the advantage of not being in rut (they don't eat as well then and use up more energy pacing around) or pregnant in the case of ewes, and having the longer days that cause them to grow much nicer summer fleeces. Add to that the fact that they aren't eating hay then, with all its corresponding chaff to get caught in the fleeces and you have the perfect situation to grow beautiful fleeces without the bother of covering them.

Soon we will have to set aside a couple of days to shear every one. In with their thick long fleeces and wide wide selves and out they will go with their skinny silly looking selves. The rams with horns always look top heavy as do the ewes. Even though they might be big "meaty" animals----freshly shaved they all look like skinny twigs with horns hanging off their heads. Yes, we will be shearing a bit earlier than people in the North---but we have corresponded our shearings to work with our weather patterns--not theirs. We don't get any less of a fleece than they do---we just get them at different times.

And what a fracus that goes on after shearing! Sheep studies show that sheep actually remember others not only by smell but also by looks. So, when a sheep is first sheared and thrown back into an un-sheared bunch they are "unrecognizable"----they get chased, butted a bit, harassed, and overall annoyed until everyone figures out "oh it's just ______. I recognize her/him now without the fleece!" The rams even go crazy with each other and do love bites and "sweet talking" to each other! Oh ho!---there's a new lady in the pasture!-- Wait that's not a ewe!

Stay tuned---within the month shearing will commence! Come back to see before and after pictures.
Raw Icelandic fleeces will be for sale at that time for anyone interested.

SmallMeadow Farm Icelandic sheep, Irish Dexters and heritage chickens


Cheryl said...

How interesting - I had no idea that some sheep just naturally drop their wool.
The imagery of the sheep not recognizing each other after shearing is too funny!

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Another breeder once told a hilarious story about shearing day and approx. 100 ewes and their very new---less than 2 weeks old-- babies. The babies were terrified of all these "sheep" trying to claim them---their mothers had hair by dang it! She said she was practically in tears over what to do, but the sun set, night fell and none could see that any one sheep looked different and babies figured out who was their mother by sound. The next day---all was right in the world! So would you say dumb animals---or very observant smart animals? Funny story though :-D

Karen said...

Flint is loosing his fleece too, except up here in the cold north, it's a bit early! However, he's inside for now, so it doesn't matter too much. What's funny is that he seems to enjoy having me pull the old fleece off his neck, and as soon as I stop, he wags his tail and stands there as if to say "Keep going!" :-)

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Karen: Yes, they do seem to love it don't they!?! Sometimes I feel like I pull so hard that it should hurt---but I can practically see his eyes roll back in ecstasy --and his tail wag when I stop :-D

PALocalvore said...

I love Icelandic wool to spin- and your sheep look lovely. I'm envious.

The first fleece I ever took from "sheep to shawl" all by myself was a Shetland ram lamb- and he was pretty stinky!


farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Yes Willa: I do know that some of them can be pretty stinky--we have one ram who always has been. When we learned to shear we learned on a "q-tip" type sheep. (Some white mixed breed---way taller than ours) and they not only smelled a bit more--even the ewes---but had a lot more lanolin. My pants had curly shaped grease spots all over them! I was surprised. From what I remember though I think Shetlands are a lot more like my sheep than the Q-tips are.
Have a great day!