Time to shear the sheep, mid June and warming up. My friend and fellow Portland sheep breeder, Darren, was able to come help. Shearing is a skill to be respected, I am truly in awe, watching as these sheep are flipped and turned, the electric clipper never stopping as the fleece finally comes off in one big piece.
The sheep must be dry in order to shear. We had a good spell of dry warm weather. The evening before we moved all the sheep down to the open shed and penned them up by group, no rams near the ewes, of course. Darren arrived early, set up, and he was off. As each sheep was done, Darren’s daughter, Annabelle, and I tossed the fleece out on a clean board, picked off all the yucky bits, then rolled them up. Thirty eight sheep later we were finished, hot, sweaty and pooped. But the sheep looked happy with their warm woolly coats removed.
Then for a bit of chaos - the lambs don’t recognise their lovely smelly mums anymore! There is plenty of bleating and crying and ewes shoving away mixed-up lambs trying to get a drink. Sheep were returned via the trailer back to their fields and peace and quiet soon returned.
Farmers send their fleeces to the British Wool Board where is is graded, clean and sold to buyers from all over the world. The fleeces are not very valuable. Wool help build the British Empire and sheep were once raised for their wool, the meat was a by-product. How times have changed.
But there is movement in the UK promoting wool, and entrepreneurs are finding new ways to use this most amazing and unique fibre. Scientists cannot replicate wool in the lab, it is a living fibre that adjusts to weather and humidity, helping regulate the sheep’s temperature.
I bought a little second hand spinning wheel last summer and have been trying to give it a go. I carded the wool to straighten the fibres, and have had a few attempts at spinning. I used an unwashed fleece, and the lanolin softens your hands, really lovely. I don’t knit, though, so find myself a bit unmotivated by the whole process.
I attended a needle felting workshop recenty, and having no idea what to expect, was pleasantly surprised to create small hare ‘sculpture’ using some grey Shetland wool. Next day I got busy washing a fleece. After consulting a few friends and discovering various techniques, I took the plunge. With the dirty fleece placed in the biggest net wash bag I could find, I then filled the bathtub with warm water and some eco soap. Gently, gently, as agitating the fleece will make the fibres cling together tighter and tighter. Filthy water! After rinsing the water was gently pressed out and then I transferred the fleece to a drying rack and let it dry slowly.
My not-so-creative juices began to flow. First projects are a Portland ewe and lamb, and a sheep brooch for my hat...
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.