Traveling shearer; traveling shepherds

March, 2011

A shearer from Asheville came into the area late last week and sheared four flocks owned by women in Wake and Orange Counties. We all went from one flock to the next, helping out with each others’ flocks, lending a hand where necessary, supporting the heavy and unique work of shepherding. Sheep need to be caught, lambs held while their ewe is getting her heavy wool sweater shorn from her back for the hot weather to come, Angora goats caught and held until the shearer is ready for them, tetanus shots handed over to the shearer one by one when he’s completed shearing and hoof-trimming, to protect the sheep from possible infection when they get scratched on something in the pasture. Sometimes there’s even time to skirt some fleeces, and save the shepherd some of that labor which needs to be done at some point. The fiber-growers in this area have bonded to form a mutually-supportive group, where veterinary knowledge is shared, which is necessary in a world where even NCSU, home of the Polled Dorset, no longer has a sheep flock for their vet students to work with. Our local vets do their best, but the many cumulative years of experience of shepherds, some of them sad experiences, but mostly useful ones, is extremely helpful. After the last shearing was complete, and about 200 animals from four farms had been shorn, and their preventive health needs met, we all went out for a leisurely meal at Virlie’s in Pittsboro, NC, and relaxed among our friends, before going home to collapse for some well-earned rest.

The occasional spinning student that stays the night may get a view of our local possums. Two of them, I believe it’s a Mr. and Mrs., visit my sunflower seed on our back deck for an evening snack. I sometimes put out a couple tablespoons of peanut butter on the suet, and they enjoy that, based on the speed with which it disappears. I’m sad to sometimes see a teaspoon of blood on the deck rail where they’ve climbed the 15 ft. from the ground up the rambling rose bush to the height of the deck, and stepped on a thorn no doubt. I think they feel pretty safe tucked into their thorny hidey-hole, since they’ll be there for 2-3 hours sometimes, just hanging out. Becky, our Aussie, always knows when they arrive, and is barking to get out there and try to catch them. Once she had one, and I got to see the “playing possum” action. Becky had him by the back, she and the possum were lying on the deck side by side, the possum not moving a muscle, and Becky, very disappointed. The chase, obviously, was over. There was no blood anywhere, but the possum’s very impressive rows of teeth were showing… I captured Becky and brought her in the house, when went back outside with a handful of raisins, which possums also eat, and tossed them right in front of his nose to see if he’d respond. (I wasn’t going to get my hands anywhere those teeth!) He hopped up and was gone in a second!

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