It's that time of year again, which means that last week saw the big annual haircut (aka sheep shearing) taking place here at the Sparrowholding, with HunterGatherer wielding a pair of old-fashioned hand sheep shears – no fancy electric clippers for him, as we don’t have enough sheep to justify them.
In the olden days, all the wool collected annually during sheep shearing formed a small, but significant, part of the sheep farmer's "harvest", with the fleeces being rolled up after shearing (there is a technique, of course!) and piled into large wool sacks before being collected by the ‘Wool Marketing Board’.
Eventually a cheque, which varied in amount according to the weight of wool, would wing its way to the grateful farmer. However, in the 21st century, the advent of myriad modern synthetic materials such as Lycra, Acrylic and Polyester has gradually depressed the price paid to farmers for fleeces, and in most cases the wool cheque amount no longer forms a significant part of a farm's income.
Nowadays, the cost of sheep shearing in time, money and effort can almost outweigh the value of the wool on some sheep farms, but the job still has to be done for welfare reasons. If the fleeces are not removed, bothersome blowflies can lay their eggs in the wool and the maggots hatch out in these cosy climes and start tucking into the sheep’s flesh. Not a sight you’d ever want to see, I can assure you. So off come the fleeces around the middle of June every year!
With just 15 adult Shetland sheep here on The Sparrowholding, we wouldn’t have enough wool to fill even one of Wool Marketing’s giant wool bags, so we keep our fleeces and use them during the rest of the year for various tasks around the garden, e.g. lining the base of planters to keep moisture in or acting as ‘blanket’ of weed protection between (rows of) plants in the summer, plus keeping plants snug and warm in their pots in the wintertime.
Wool is also very handy for various crafting activities, such as rug or card-making and spinning, so we tend to set the best fleeces aside in our trusty little ‘wool’ shed and sell whole or part fleeces to keen crafters, who love Shetland fleeces because of the 30+ different official 'colourways' they come in (ranging from white through to dark chocolate).
Talking of sheds (please note seamless link here!), you may remember that the Square Sparrow blog was one of the finalists in the Waltons’ smallholder blog competition some months ago. Now Waltons have asked us to be involved in their current competition to win a 5x3 ft mower (or any other garden stuff!) store. The details of their competition appear below, and the closing date is 28th June, so get your entries in soon to be in with a chance of winning yourself a handy garden store. Good luck!
After weeks of relentless sogginess in Central Scotland (and a range of temporary water features in the garden and paddock here at The Sparrowholding!!), at last the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better in the first part of this week. Over the weekend, I had tackled the three unwieldy bushes which were all but blocking the garden path, reducing them by around 50% in volume and giving them a short back and sides. I suspect I was not cut out for a career as a hairdresser, as their coiffures look fairly frightening!
Then on Monday, Son&Heir was minded to get some fresh air and sunshine, so he kindly tackled both the front and back patio areas of the garden. He edged the lawn along the path, removed all the dead leaves from the borders, plus scraped the grass and mud off the paving stones. And what a difference he's made!
Meanwhile down in the polytunnel...
So much for the patios... However, just 20 metres away, in the polytunnel, there's still a LOT of work to be done... HunterGatherer is out in the fields seven days a week at the moment, and Yours Truly has been making her way (wo)manfully through mountains of proofreading, so we've rather left the poor polytunnel to its own devices over the winter.
To save having to water them during the frosty spells, HG dragged most of the Tublyx tubs (of which he's built up quite a collection!) containing herbs out of the polytunnel way back in November. As soon as we can get some time, the plan is to fill half the polytunnel with them (and get some seedlings planted) while keeping the other half free for a couple of lambing pens. Although lambing is about a month away (unless Ivan the Terrible sneaked out of the field when we weren't looking one night!!!), we hope to get the pens set up this coming weekend. I can hardly believe it's over eleven months since the last wee woolly bundles bounced into the world - scary how quickly the last year has flown. (Eek! Now I'm beginning to sound like my mother...)
The unexpected snow at the end of last week meant that extra rations were required for the chocolate sheep, and they certainly weren't slow to run up the field when they saw said rations arriving... The short video clip below shows the general melee as everyone tries to work out which tub holds the tastiest morsel (they all contain exactly the same, of course, but try telling Socks, Pipsqueak, Pickle and their friends that!!!).
Having a FarmerBruv is very useful at times such as this, as his Timothy Hay Blox go down a treat with our woolly jumpers :-) They also have the additional benefit (if you happen to have to go out to work in 'decent' clothes afterwards) of being extremely quick and easy to distribute. I've been known to stand at the edge of the paddock and practise my 'shot putt' skills to ensure they land on a mud-free area of the grass.
The other benefit is that they don't blow away in the wind as hay and chop tend to do. It would take a pretty hefty gale to move these 1 kg blocks. And talking of their weight, that's the other advantage of the Blox: you know exactly how much you are feeding every day, whereas with a hay net you need to use scales to be sure (with hay being very variable in its weight per 'wad').
The snow has disappeared very quickly, though that's meant two extremely soggy paddocks for now... The garden and the garage here at The Sparrowholding have been similarly affected. HunterGatherer hardly dares venture into the garage in case he finds something too awful!! Roll on the spring...