Friday, July 1, 2022

A wet and woolly piece of work

Steve Wyn-Harris pondered on the growing shift to shedding sheep, because had he made the move he’d be sitting at home reading a book rather than dagging wet sheep.

“Steve, can you get your sheep in tomorrow for shearing the following day?” asked Neil, my contractor.

Given the squally weather and that scanning was approaching, I’d been waiting for this call.

It didn’t trouble me that it meant I’d be shearing into the weekend.

“But Neil, the forecast is for rain middle of the day. I’ve just had a quick look at my app and it says a 90% chance. I’m not a gambling man but that’s pretty decent odds. I know you are under pressure, and I want these sheep shorn as well so tell you what, I’ll give it a go”

I didn’t tell him that I’d dragged my feet on the dagging given other work commitments but reckoned that I had enough cleaned up ahead of me to give me time to give the other 700 a clean-up on the chance a miracle happened, and it didn’t rain.

So, I got the already clean mob in and the next mob in to scrape the crap off their bums.

They’d all mostly been clean through tupping but unlike many of you we have had a couple of big dumps of rain in recent months which has grown a lot of grass and that grass hasn’t stuck to the insides of the sheep but more on the back end.

And young stock on grass haven’t done particularly well either until recently as its cooled down. 

My works lambs on crops and chicory have been great but others on pastures that appeared to be decent quality if not a bit long just haven’t delivered stock performance. 

This has been common in these parts and has persisted from weaning until now.

I’ve spent the majority of my 40-year sheep farming career dagging and crutching sheep up the race rather than across the board unless I was on fundraising crutching bees.

It’s a lot less fun on your own in an empty woolshed.

I can do more and in the last decade or so and particularly the last two years now that I’m into my sixties, it’s easier on an ageing body not having to drag them.

I turn the radio up and just get stuck in. 

Every job has its less exciting and more challenging jobs and this is a sheep farmers.

All the same, when I got back home for lunch, I repeated to Jane my new refrain along the lines that I’m getting too old for this.

She had little sympathy and pointed out that I can now afford to employ someone younger to do it, but I told her to add up how much I’d saved over 40 years and old habits are hard to break.

There might not have been much sympathy, but she had made us a bacon and egg pie, so I forgave her cold heart.

I went to have a look at the weather radar as it was getting dull and here came the rain as predicted on the screen and down it fell in real life.

After lunch, I let the wet sheep out, told Neil the inevitable news and continued with the dagging although at a much-reduced pace as I was going to keep ahead of the shearers now.

I pondered on the growing shift to shedding sheep and regretted not having been clever enough a decade earlier to forecast the decline in the fortunes of the wool industry and gone down that path.

Because I’d currently be sitting at home reading a book rather being in leggings dagging wet sheep up my race.

The next day it was blowing a howling gale so had no trouble getting dry sheep in for a night pen and for the following day as well.

Neil the contractor was the presser on the first day which was an unusual sight, but he told me what a nightmare it had become getting enough able bodied, well and eager people to make up his shearing gangs. 

He said it wasn’t unusual for other contractors to be ringing around the night before and ask if he had any spare people they could borrow.

Not easy times for the shearing contractors obviously so don’t be giving them a hard time.

I looked at the lines of nicely pressed wool bales and wondered what proportion of the shearing bill they would cover.

The decline in the value of wool has easily been the biggest disappointment of my sheep breeding career and I take my hat off to those who are valiantly attempting to turn that decline around.

So, another ewe shearing completed, and the weather has been fine and frosty since so they have bounced from their ordeal of having their clothes taken away and look contented and settled.

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