Sunday, 27 April 2008
Every spring the roving shearing crews roll through the country leaving flocks of naked sheep in their path! We got the call that our time was rolling around too. We know it's coming, but every year it seems like we are caught scrambling to get everything ready in time. This year was no different. Unless you count the fact that the sheep were loaded on trucks and brought back to pastures closer to our lambing grounds the day BEFORE the call came in. So on top of gathering paint, brands, applicators, food coloring, wool bags, tags, coveralls and all the other things that need to be packed to the site...we needed to move the sheep.
Keep in mind that shearing typically takes place only a couple of weeks before we start lambing. Trailing a herd of sheep from one location to another takes longer when they are pregnant and they tire easier. Plus we were still fighting deeper than normal snow drifts. We just spent all that money to truck the sheep to the right place at the wrong time! If only that call was made the day before. We could have re-routed them right to the corrals that we needed them in to be able to shear them. Luckily the shearing crew was able to work with us and pick up another client while we took the three days to trail the sheep to the right place.
We finally got the herd into the shearing corrals and the crews got started right away. The sheep are run though a series of narrowing alleys that line them up to be pushed into a chute. The chute can be used for loading trucks or, in this case, loading the shearing trailer. The crews bring an enclosed trailer with everything they need to shear a lot of sheep in a short amount of time. They show up with several camp trailers for the crew to sleep in and usually one bus or trailer to be used as a kitchen. Along with the campers is one, maybe two, shearing set-ups. Once the trailer is opened up the sheep are loaded into a raised deck to wait their turn for a haircut. Under the deck is an opening for the shearers to push the pelt out. Across from the deck there is a line-up of shearers with ceiling mounted electric clippers on swing arms. The front of the trailer holds the generators to power it all up. Each shearing stall has a door at floor level to let the sheared sheep back out into the pens. The opposite side has a door on pulleys that can be lowered for the shearer to grab a fresh sheep. They drop the door, roll the sheep onto her bottom and proceed to strip the long-johns right off. The belly wool is removed first and scooted out under the deck to handlers that sort and pack the wool. Then the rest of the pelt is removed in one large piece. All of this is done in just about ONE minute. The pelt is scooted out to be sorted and packed as well. Along with the shearing crew is a man or two that runs the packer. They start by sorting the pelts by course and fine fibers. The two are packed together separately from one another. The wool packer is a hydraulic press that packs the wool tightly into nylon packs. The wool packs, or bales, are then branded and loaded onto the trailer to be delivered to the warehouse to be sold.
Amazingly enough the whole process is done with our herd in one day...weather permitting.
Remember I said they call when they are headed our way? We typically don't get a lot of advanced notice. Weather is a huge factor for their schedule. Sometimes they call (only a couple days ahead) and are then held up by weather and don't get to us for a week. Sometimes they show up, get started and have to hold off due to rain or snow. This year they were able to wait for us to move the sheep. They came in on the morning of April 30th, set-up and set to work. Towards the end of the day, with only 90 head of ewes left, it started to snow...lightly at first, and we were able to finish shearing. We finished packing up the last bale and cleaned up. The weather report called for 1-2" of snow that evening so we turned the sheep out of the corral and instructed the herder to let them find their own shelter. Animals have better instincts than we could ever hope to have. They will find the best shelter and usually be just fine. Sadly, our 1-2" turned into 16 inches of wet heavy snow on top of freshly shorn and handled animals. We prayed through the night that the herd would all be ok. The next morning we thought that everything had turned out ok despite the weather. It wasn't until three days later that the snow finally melted and settled enough for us to see the damage. Approximately 50 head of sheep did not make it through the night's terrible storm. That's an estimated 100 lambs that never hit the ground either.
The shearing crew was also stranded on the place for another six days, due to weather, before they were able to pack up and head to the next herd. I sure hope next year is much more forgiving.
Look for more catch-up posts soon!
I'll be baa-ck!
Saturday, 26 April 2008
Jr Paleontologists April 26, 2008
Lucky for us.we got the sheep loaded from the winter range and headed back up country. Also luck that we are very close to Dinosaur National Monument! After we got the trucks loaded the kids and I headed for the headquarters at the park. National Junior Ranger Day just happened to be the same day as us shipping. What I didn't realize when I planned the side trip was that the Junior Paleontologist program going on that day was in it's unveiling. I thought that it was something that the park did every year. I knew that the kids would enjoy it and it was worth driving the extra little bit to get there. The three older kids were the 3rd, 4th and 5th ever Junior Paleontologists in the history of the program!!! We were all pretty tickled with that! When we finished at the park we went on into Vernal Utah and visited the dinosaur museums there before heading home. It was a long day for mom and the kids but well worth the time to check it out since we were in the neighborhood.
Saturday, 26 April 2008
Coming Home April 26, 2008
The time has come to load em' up and haul em' out! The semi-trucks are lined up and a small crew has been gathered to get the sheep loaded and shipped back up to our spring feeding ground and to get the sheep headed for the lambing grounds. That is the pasture land that we use during the time that the herd is delivering the babies. It's also time to get Dad/Hubby back a little closer to home. There are four little guys around here who have not taken well to having dad gone this early. We all know that he will move out and live on the lambing grounds for a month until the majority of the herd has lambed. That is a tough time for us. But we know its coming. Extending it by three weeks and moving out on very short notice is something we were not ready for. We were all excited to get headed north!
Monday, 21 April 2008
For the past 100 days the sheep weren't the only things around here that were WOOLY! As part of our City's 100th Anniversary celebration the hubby participated in a Beard Growing Contest! "Brother's of the Brush" they were called! A similar contest was also held during the city's 50th anniversary! Tonight was the end of the 100 days of growing the beards. At the celebration's kick-off ceremony the "Brothers" were judged on color, length, the bushiest, the most futile attempt and the Santa award (although the REAL Santa was there, he didn't mind sharing the title for the occasion). There were gray, white, red, blonde, black and the most colorful! Albert took home the award for the most colorful with red, gray, black AND brown!!! We even had two gentlemen who both participated in the beard contest 50 years ago! There were 11 "winners" and there was a great turn-out. Watch for an update to this entry soon with the before and after and some of the other winners too!
Happy 100th Birthday Craig!
Friday, 18 April 2008
This was started on 4/6. I'm finally getting time to finish the draft and get it posted! Here is an update on the whole show..
It sure has been busy around here, but I thought I would catch up the diary for now! Although it is snowing as I write this...it has been melting quite a bit too. We were finally able to move the sheep to another permit and some eagerly awaited Green Spring grass shoots. We did loose more sheep during this harsher winter than normal and we are bidding it a fond farewell to say the least. Like everyone else in the country we have been groaning about the fuel prices in our neck of the woods. The feed prices weren't something to be excited about either. On the other hand...the moisture that has gone into the ground this winter and early spring will surely not be complained about. Even if it means we are fighting mud all through lambing! It's easy for me to say that, of course, I'm not the one who will be fighting it every day.
Every day now gets closer to the big herd starting to drop lambs. We will be getting ready to shear them as soon as the roving shearing crews give us a date. Not that the date they give us is the date we will likely end up shearing! Spring is kind of a funny time. We do a lot of hurry up & wait! The crews that bring their campers and shearing trailers through the country this time of year will get here when they get here. Sometimes we have a couple days notice, sometimes not. They are pretty much at the mercy of the weather since most of the outfits they shear for aren't fortunate enough to be indoors during the crazy spring weather. Even a little bit of moisture on the sheep can delay the start of shearing by half a day or more. Then there are the storms that roll in when half the herd is done and we have to wait for everything to dry out to start again on the other half. We usually try to shear while the herd is still on our winter permits. They are a little farther away from actually having the lambs than they are if we ship them by semi-trucks up to the lambing grounds. We prefer to not shear them too close to them having the lambs. We don't really have a say though! The crews that shear for us travel this area for a couple months working their way from operation to operation, state to state, leaving naked sheep in their wake. Since we are still getting wet weather they will likely be delayed in getting to us this year. The best we can do is get everything (paint to brand, wool bags, portable corral etc.) ready and then Hurry up & Wait!
Closer to home...we are getting closer to the end of the school year and the kids are getting stir crazy. I'll be glad when we can send them out for a while without having mud caked everywhere when it's time to come in. The oldest just competed in his Cub Scout packs Pinewood Derby. It was a fun day with friends and family there to cheer him on. It must have worked. He and his car (the "SideWinder") took First Place in his Wolf Pack and First Place Overall within the pack. Looks like we will have a trip to the District Derby coming up. He originally wanted a Wolf painted on his car, so Grandpa was surprised when we said the car didn't have a wolf. The clues we gave were "It was finger painted and we used Lace, but it wasn't a Girlie car!" - Little Sis ended up giving it away that it was a "Snake, Grandpa!" Mom helped with the outline of the snake then after his base coat was dry he used his fingerprints in a darker color for the scale pattern. Finally he used a strip of lace to make the diamond pattern on the snake's back and then Mom helped again with the eyes and tongue. It was fun watching the little guys race today and Districts should be fun too! We even got to see him race this year's car against one that his Dad built 34 years ago! His cousin raced his car from last year, he had this years and Dad's managed to come in 3rd of 3!!
UPDATE: After forgetting the derby car on the dining-room table and heading to the District races without it.Grandma & Grandpa did some fancy driving to meet me South of town grab the car and "race to the races" they made weigh-in just in time. The car didn't place in the top two spots for speed but took second overall for design! YEAH Big Brother!
Thursday, 17 April 2008
We had a treat in the form of a Senior Field Studies shadow...here is her "Guest Blog" enjoy!
My name is Hallie. I am currently a senior in high school up near Denver. Thanks to an awesome program at my school called Senior Field Studies, I got the chance to spend this past week with the Villard's. I was learning about what really goes into operating a sheep ranch. This week was part of our "rural" unit. Each of us was assigned a host family that could teach us about a kind of life most of us were completely naive to. As the youngest of only two children in my family raised in a quiet Littleton suburb, coming here to the ranch to live with the Villards and their four rambunctious children was quite an adjustment, but definitely a lot of fun! The first day I got here, we went to feed the sheep, and I was very excited to see that someone else had arrived the same day as me, a newborn baby lamb! He was adorable and the perfect introduction to the week following his birth. Throughout the next seven days, I was privileged to experience many things that I never would have been able to experience in my sheltered city lifestyle. I learned to drive a huge tractor and transport an enormous hay bale through the pasture and into the horse's feeder. Later in the week, I went to sheep camp, where I got to experience life as a novice sheep herder. Albert and I rode on horseback down a canyon and through some very rough terrain to retrieve a group of run away sheep. This was very exciting for me, as it combined my familiar love of horses with a new and exciting twist. We went through a second time with a truck and I was allowed to drive all around the property in search of additional renegade sheep. The day was a lot of work and gave me some insight into the typical activities involved in maintaining the ranch. Being a staunch vegetarian from the age of four, I was initially a little nervous about coming to visit an operation focused around raising animals raised for meat, but I soon learned that the Villards do truly care about the animals they raise and were very open-minded concerning my lifestyle. Melody was extremely kind and prepared several delicious homemade meat-free meals, one of which we enjoyed along with about twenty close friends and relatives. This was yet another unique experience for me, coming from a relatively small and very scattered extended family, but it didn't take me long to feel at home. I also spent parts of two days and a night with a friend of mine from Senior Field Studies named Jessica, and her host family to learn about the Cattle ranch they operate. This was completely different from the stay with the Villards but also a lot of fun. Jessica and I explored the property on a four wheeler looking for a lost Angus calf. The calf's mother had rejected him and he was being fostered by a mother Normandy Cow who had lost her own calf. The cow allowed the foreign baby to nurse as long as one of us stayed and prevented her from walking away. This visit was interrupted by news of a fire that started at a nearby sawmill. Upon driving out to the site of the fire, I was amazed to see the size of the blazing woodpile. Even more impressive was how the community had pulled together to help alleviate the disaster through the use of bulldozers and bobcats carrying mass amounts of snow. This visit was full of excitement and was a great addition to my stay. I can't thank the Villards enough for opening their home and their hearts to allow me this opportunity and I will be sure to keep in touch!
I hope you enjoyed her take on things around here! I have a ton to catch up...but it's only going to get busier here for a while, so for now...this is it.
I'll be Baa-ck!
Sunday, 13 April 2008
Frustration - April 13, 2008
Albert and our Senior Field Studies student (Hallie, our guest blogger) made the trip to sheep camp to check on the herder and the herd and to deliver groceries. Everything seemed normal. They visited with the herder checked the sheep and the horse, delivered the groceries and headed back home. That was Friday the 11th. Sunday the 13th we received a call from the herder. He had left the sheep alone and was somewhere in Grand Junction. GREAT!!! So we found a baby sitter for the kids and started the 90 mile trip to check on where the sheep where and to make sure the horse and dogs had been fed. Unfortunately he didn't call the day he left. He skipped out on his sheep herding contract, the same one that gives him the legal right to be in the United States on a work Visa. He left the sheep alone for two days to scatter from one end of our winter country to the other. He also left the horse tied up next to the pond with half a bale of hay. Needless to say the horse was glad to see us. We untangled the chain he was tied up with and fed him some hay which he greedily ate without giving us another thought. We fed the dogs and surveyed the mess of scattered sheep we were going to have to do something about.
The good news.horseback ride! The bad news.3 hours through steep rocky country chasing little bunches of sheep that were allowed several days to scatter. Some of them cooperated and were gathered on the pond. Others.not so much! We had a few wild bunches that wanted nothing to do with the direction we were trying to impose upon them. So after a beautiful day of chasing sheep we loaded up the horses and riders and made yet another long trip home. Did I mention fuel prices.UGH!
Now is where I share the part about how difficult it has become to get help! Even through the H2A labor program. With increased security and scrutiny since 9/11/01 it takes months sometimes to get a new contract herder. Unfortunately this meant we didn't have a herder and weren't going to have one soon. So, my husband moved out! Albert gathered enough to stay at camp with the sheep until we could get a replacement herder. I guess it's true when they say "careful what you wish for". All winter Albert had been giving me a hard time about me making the bi-weekly 180 mile round trip to & from camp. Since we've been married I've been giving him a hard time about getting an English speaking sheep herder. We BOTH got what we wanted.overnight! Albert took on the role of sheep herder (his English is Very Good!!) and I was the camp tender!
While Albert spent the next week trying to get the "wild bunch" of sheep gathered back up, I went into training as the straw boss! Thank goodness we were just about finished lambing in town. But that is more of a story for another entry!
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