Thursday, 12 May 2011

What to do with sheep fleece

The days here have been very hot of late, so hot that the sheep can hardly walk to and fro betwixt field and barn. They didn't even evacuate the barn when I was cleaning it ready to put fresh bedding down for them. Builds up muscles that does, cleaning the sheep barn floor: scraping up the soiled straw, then shovelling it into the wheelbarrow to be then taken up the Paddock, down the drive, through the Courtyard, and down to the Woodland Veg Plot, there to be unloaded.

A goodly pile of sheep manure I managed yesterday: two barrowloads. Chickens haven't managed to find it yet but when they do, they will eat the poo and scatter the straw all over the place.
Message to self: remember to cover the manure before those chickens get at it! If they want sheep poo then they will have to stop being lazy and go into the barn and help themselves, which they used to do before they decided it was too much effort. Great teamwork, I thought, when they were scratching about in the barn. Helped me no end because they fluffed up the straw as well. Then they stopped becoming team players and left me to do the job myself, hence my attitude towards that fresh pile of manure I made yesterday and my intent to cover it so they can't get to it.

Anyway, there I was, scooping up the manure watched by the sheep who were as hot as I was, and breathing just as heavily. So we had a chat about this and that, and it came into my mind that they really ought to be divested of their coats. After all, I had now disrobed from thermals and loads of layers, and was now wearing shorts and t-shirt so it was only fair that they should be equally as disrobed.

But although the days are hot, the nights can be chilly and when out in the field the other day moving the electric fencing in preparation for the day's grazing, I saw drifts of frost along some blades of grass signalling that there had been a snatch of coldness.  So not time to shear them yet. Nude skin plus a cold night would not be good for them. I can put an extra duvet on the bed if I am cold, they can't!

And as I scooped and shovelled, it came into my mind that sometime in the next few weeks I am going to have a humungous pile of new fleeces to do something with. This made me ponder for quite some time because I have only managed to spin three of the nine fleeces we got last year from our sheep. This year we will have fifteen fleeces. OOoppps! What to do!

And another ponder: that we really could do with three of me. One to do the farmwork while Lester continues on with the day job which robs him of farmwork time, one to do domestic duties including spinning, and the other to carry on with my other work which is writing.

Ah, great.... wheelbarrow loaded, emptied, then on to the task of pulling out hay from the hay bale. Good for my back and arm muscles, but makes me even hotter and now wet from sweat. Put the hay on the floor. Sheep still standing down one end of the barn, looking dozy, and less hot. A couple of them walk over and lay down on the new bedding. There is some space left. I almost, really almost, nearly couldn't stop myself almost, lay down on that lovely hay as well! But I didn't, because the piglets were shouting at me that they needed attention as well. Ah the joys of homesteading.

So: If my maths are correct, I will have nearly twenty fleeces soon. Oh, and plus one coming in from a neighbour which is dark brown in colour so will be useful to have when I finally get around to knitting with the yarn I am spinning.

Ideas already gathered from experience, some Internet searching and my head:
- Use the fleece as insulation in the house. Probably not.
- Use some fleece as a mulch around the roots of the two kiwi plants that are suffering from the heat and wilting, one of these plants is unfortunately the male. The three other kiwis are doing well, and have made lots of flowers. They are female and need fertilizing by the very reluctant male who is still undecided about whether he wants to live or not.
- Keep some cleaner but still unwashed fleece, to one side for rubbing onto my skin in the dry spots - the lanolin contained in the fleece really does soften these bits of me.
- Keep some unwashed fleece for dusting the house. It picks up dust wonderfully well, and once full of dust can be put on the compost heap.
- Try getting the lanolin out of the fleece. This requires a big pot of boiling water and cooking the fleece apparently for hours.
- Use some fleece as a weed barrier for going under gravel paths.
- Use some washed fleece as a filling for quilted work.
- Put some fleece on the compost heap. Good idea if one didn't have chickens who have a tendency to dispatch the compost heap into nothingness.
- Continue with the Spinning Project and building a stash of yarn to knit, crochet, and possibly weave with at some point in the future when one is not so furiously busy doing homesteading stuff.

......and now I have run out of ideas, so have you any? Many thanks if you do.

Strewth! Me in my pinny again! And at the spinning wheel! And with that hat on again! That pinny makes me look far rounder than what I actually am, although I suppose that it does make me look like a homesteader / smallholder / trainee petite fermier should look like!

And here is grandson Joshua and his mum, showing his absolute delight at having found his first chicken egg. However, there was some discussion as to how to cook it: boiled or scrambled. Couldn't decide, so had to go find another one so he could have one of each. Fortunately the hens had complied and another egg was found!


the fly in the web said...

I recall that you have a river boundary...or close by...
I used to put mine in a strong net attached to a sturdy line at the bottom of the weir....cleaned up well and avoided the problems of hot wool and felting.
Do you have a handy tree to which to attach the net?

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Having only had sheep in South Africa many years ago, so far as I can remember all the fleeces were sent somewhere, don't ask me where!!
You sound as if you are as dry as we are, the crops around here are looking very sad! I was surprised you said about frost though, I can do without that, my poor vegetable garden will never cope. Love your grandson's delight at finding an egg. Keep up the good work. Diane

Jean said...

Vera - we have a saying in the north of England: "ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out".
There is some debate about the meaning, according to my father - is it until May is finished or until the May blossom is out - the two meanings being at opposite ends of the month, making the saying rather confusing. In any case, you leave your thermal vest on (or fleece if you're a sheep) unti May is out, here in Derbyshire.
Does the saying apply to France or sheep or even sheep in France?
So many questions, so little time !!!!
Are fleece rugs still in fashion? I always thought them very nice to wiggle one's toes in when sat in front of the telly on a Sunday night, after one's weekly bath and with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

Vera said...

Crikey no, Jean! It has been hot here for weeks now and thermals are stowed away until next winter.So no, the saying does not apply here! But it does to the sheep! As for the fleece rugs: the fleeces of our sheep are not thick enough to use for rugs. Shame! Would be lovely to have one on the floor for winter. So do you still have your thermals on then?

Vera said...

For some reason some of the replies have been deleted by Google, so thankyou for replying if one of them was yours!

Vera said...

Dianne and Fly in the Web, thankyou for your comments. Di: The frost was as finely painted on a few leaves of grass here and there, so I don't think you need worry about frost getting to your veg patch! Fly: Thanks for the advice about washing the fleece in the river.

I was able to reply to your blogs because they were stored in my email folder!

Jean said...

Vera, actually, yes. In fact ce soir we lit a fire for the first time in months and I fear for my little runner bean plants.......

Ken Devine said...

Well, Vera...I stand educated. I never knew of so many uses. Sounds like you'll be all fleeced out before the year is out and rooted to the stool for a good part of it.

Nancy said...

It sure got mighty cold here last night in Missouri USA. I'd wait ah bit til end of May to shave the sheep. You could wash the fleece and auction it off on ebay. Ya never know, maybe use it to fill ah quilt instead of down. I like yer pinny as I call it ah apron. You best save some work for the hubby or you will wear out. But I know the situation. Have ah good night and don't pack away those thermals jist yet ;-)

Vera said...

Hi Nancy. Our thermals have been put away for weeks now. We live in SW France, down near the Pyrenees Mountains, and on the same parallel as the Mediteranean, so when the sun shines it cooks up a good heat even in the midst of winter. But the nights can get cold because of our proximity to those mountains, so I agree with you about the sheep: No shearing until the first week of June.
Mu husband has to work on his PC all day, so I have to do jobs that he would do if he could. I do get worn out though, about once a week on a Wednesday for some reason!
Have you got a pinny / apron as well? You sound like you are someone who would wear one!

Vera said...

Ken: Hi! And I will indeed have to be 'rooted' to my stool if I am going to get those fleeces used up! My botty will get quite an odd shape don't you think!

Nancy said...

I don't have ah pinny. One day I will.
My father loved France when he was there during the war. I must google the area you live. It intrigue's me.

Anonymous said...

I have only just starting rearing sheep so this is the first year my Hebridean have been shorn. Now they look like goats. But I have four lovely thick black wooly fleeces I dont know what to do with - even spinning - going to have to learn. Thanks for the ideas here. Kim

Vera said...

Kim: Our sheep look like goats too now their fleeces are off! But Hebrideans! Wow! I'm impressed. I am trying to get my husband to swop over to Jabobs but he says they are too small, so we just have a bog-standard long legged flock of nineteen sheep which give a fleece which is flipping hard to spin!

I started off with a drop spindle, thinking that I needed to find our whether or not I could do spinning, and whether or not I would like actually doing it. YouTube vids helped me along as well, and I graduated to a spinning wheel after six months of drop-spindling.

I have ended up addicted to the activity! But I don't wash the fleece before spinning, but spin in 'in the raw'. Do please email me if you want more help.... it is a fascinating occupation.