For those who may be wondering, Whitefish Bay Farm and its occupants have not fallen off the edge of the earth. My apologies for being rather quiet during the last few weeks. For those who may not remember, in mid-November I managed to sustain a rather severe high right ankle sprain, complements of Ulmer, the ram. Until early January my movements were significantly limited by a large boot which encased my foot and lower leg 24 hours a day.
In January the boot was replaced by a much smaller brace and I was given the go-ahead to proceed with physical therapy. I have been at it ever since, under the watchful eye and tutelage of Ann, my physical therapist. It is truly humbling to find out just how much muscle atrophy can occur when you do not use your lower leg for that length of time. Nonetheless, the tendons and ligaments are healing and the muscles starting to strengthen. Thank you Ann! Without your help I would not be nearly as far along as I am. And thank you Gretchen, my co-worker and spouse, who picked up so much slack for me during this excruciating winter.
Once into the recovery mode, my goal was to be able to handle all my normal duties before we reached the date when the sheep were to be sheared. The secondary goal was to shed all the excess weight that was gained while I sat around and did lots of reading. I made it to shearing; the weight loss is still a work in progress. In that regard, we purchased a stationary stand for my old Gitane bicycle, so that I can ride indoors during the winter. I am now riding from Faaborg to Korinth and back (in Denmark) every day (or at least trying to visualize the trip). Cycle shops, however, are dangerous places for me to visit. Needing a trip odometer for the Gitane, I also ended up purchasing a new Trek cycle: further incentive to finish recovery and get on with spring! Perhaps by summer’s end I will get into a century ride.
Of course, shearing takes precedent over just about everything else in late February. Once again we assembled a topnotch crew (some veterans and some new members) to assist our shearer, Dave. For once, the weather has co-operated. It has been unseasonably warm for February and as a result the sheep have managed to stay comfortable without their full fleeces. We sheared all 129 sheep in less than two days.
The next step is to prepare each fleece for sale. We can work on a maximum of seven fleeces a day in the warmth of our basement. Each fleece needs to be spread out on a rack to air. Under good light Gretchen then skirts the poorer quality wool (generally the wool not covered by the sheep coats). When all the fleeces are processed, we will weigh each one, group them by shades and color patterns and then price them for sale. With any luck they will be ready for sale in mid April. (Anyone who is not already on our list and who would like an opportunity to purchase one or more of our fleeces, should check out the Fleece Page on our web site for instructions on how to get your name on the notification list.
We would have the fleeces ready much sooner, save for one “minor” interruption. On about March 8th, our ewes will begin presenting their new lambs. From that point and for the next four weeks our schedule is not our own. Fleeces get processed only when the ewes are not in labor and the lambs not in need of attention. Shearing is exciting, both in terms of seeing the beauty of the fleeces as they come off the sheep and also in terms of being able to see just how far along are the ewes’ pregnancies.
Of course, life goes on for the rest of the farm as well. The wild Turkeys make periodic raids on the areas under the bird feeders. The White-tailed Deer seem to be herding up. Recently we counted 13 in the back yard. Once lambing begins we will be stumbling upon both groups of animals as we work our way to and from the barn.
So stay tuned, we should be able to share news and “baby” pictures soon!