Sheep shearing day January 26

We shear the sheep once a year, usually in January. Why, people ask, do you shear off their wool in the winter? Don’t they freeze? Traditionally sheep are shorn in the spring before they are turned out to pasture to have their lambs. This makes them more comfortable and eliminates problems with flies laying eggs in soiled wool.

I have the sheep shorn in January about two weeks before lambing. Most breeds of sheep are seasonal breeders. I remove the rams no later than July 15 and put them back in about September 15th for winter lambing. Gestation is five months.

The first lambs usually arrive the second week of February. By shearing the ewes two weeks before they lamb and moving them into an insulated lambing barn,the lambs get a better start. The first thing I do is put down a lot of straw. The sheep eat some but mostly lay on it and pack it down. It doesn’t take long for the manure pack to begin generating heat. It’s a natural form of in-floor heat. The ewes cuddle together to keep warm. When the lambs are born they cuddle up to their moms. If the moms had long wool they would be warm but the lambs couldn’t snuggle up. Also, within minutes of being born, the lambs try to nurse. Shorn ewes do not have wool tags that the lambs could mistake for a teat. It gives them a better chance of surviving if they get milk right away.

Lambs are usually ready to be weaned in about two months. Weaning time is stressful for the lambs. I usually move the ewes out of the lambing barn and leave the lambs in their familiar surroundings. Also I don’t like to send lambs out to pasture with the ewes as we have coyotes who roam the nearby woods. They don’t seem to bother the big sheep but won’t hesitate to take a small lamb.

Finally I like winter lambing because it makes me think of spring. Sure I am frequently in the barn in the middle of a subzero night assisting a mom giving birth or helping a wobbly lamb start nursing. More than once I have brought a struggling lamb into the house to get it warmed up.

It’s all part of farming. Shearing day signals the beginning of a new season. Curious? Contact me for details. Mr. Ed

20130108-205014.jpg These white face sheep are North Country Border Cheviots.

Ever wonder if things may have turned out differently?

Mrs Ed and I left the big city to seek our fortune on the Iron Range in 1981. The economy was in a free fall, unemployment on the Range rapidly rising with the downsizing of the steel industry. Our Twin Cities friends questioned our sanity for “heading up north.”

In 1985, we purchased the farm, in the midst of the national farm crisis. Coming from a family with many members in the farming business, I wondered what they meant when they said “So you bought the farm? Good luck with that…”

Shortly after taking the agricultural leap, I had what could have been a destiny-changing conversation with my brother Bill. A couple of years older than me, I always considered him a pretty smart guy. That was confirmed by some of my teachers who had had Bill in their class.

“Interesting,” they said — about me. “His brother was smart.”

Bill had gone to graduate school to become a “futurist,” so I listened to his ideas on achieving success with keen interest.

Bill said, “So you bought a farm on the Iron Range, and you are planning on raising sheep. Have you considered grazing the sheep on the mine dumps and raising steel wool?”

I thought to myself,”I bet no one has ever thought of that.”

There is a saying “You are what you eat.” Sheep are already bred to raise wool. By simply changing their diet, I could be on my way to a profitable farming operation.

Mrs Ed was a little less optimistic. “You need to make a list of the pros and cons.” So I did.

On the positive side:
1. There are lots more uses for steel wool than plain old wool for clothing.

2. Coyote predation would be curtailed. Just thinking about sinking teeth into steel wool sends chills down my back.

3. Expensive wolven wire fences could be replaced with cheap electric ones. Real wool is an insulator and sheep don’t even know the fence is hot. A little steel on steel would get their respect.

4. A normal shepherd catches a sheep with a shepherds hook. A 200-pound sheep running at full tilt can give you quite a ride. Catching could be made easy with a strong magnet on the end of a winch suspended from the rafters. Simply put some grain under the magnet, when the sheep comes to eat, haul her up!

Mrs. Ed helped with the con side.
1. “How are you going to keep them from getting rusty?” “Dip them in cider vinegar.” I replied. “That’s a lot of vinegar,” she said.

2. How are you going to shear them? “Use a tin snips.” “Pretty slow, don’t you think”?

3. “Use a shear for cutting metal.” “What about sparks catching the straw on fire?”

4. ” I know,” I said, recalling an episode of my mentor, public television’s renowned handyman Red Green, “I’ll use an acetylene torch!” At that point, she just rolled her eyes and walked away.

True, sheep are not the brightest barnyard animal but I suppose even they might get more than a little nervous when when you light up the torch and put on the goggles. With the tipping of the scales toward the con side, I was forced to forgo this chance at prosperity and slid the idea to the back burner.

For some reason I was reminded of this today when I stopped at Lowes Hardware Store. Have you seen the price of steel wool lately? Maybe if I got some investors…

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Prototype of the new breed of sheep “The Steelie”.

The animals are messing with Mr. Ed

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Lucile with that innocent look.

It’s Sunday on Mr. Ed’s Farm. Morning chores went OK. The Jersey boys made another break for it when I opened their gate, slipping past me to run up and down the hay bales. I guess it’s time to start their formal training.

The neighbor girls, Dallas and Michele — AKA DJ and Bell — came over at noon. They are 8 and 9 years old and have been great helpers and provide inspiration for Mr. Ed’s Farm. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold, and we really appreciate ours.

Bright sunshine, sparkling snow were too much to keep us inside. All Mrs Ed had to say was, “Gee, wouldn’t it be a nice day for a sleigh ride?” and I was out the door. With eight horses to choose from, sometimes it is hard to decide who to harness up. That question was answered when I opened the barn door. Sam and Sue were the first ones in. I harnessed up, put on the bells and off we went. We have a new sleigh and —thanks to the girls dad, Jeramy, and his bobcat — several new trails.

Feeling good from the day, I lingered in the barn tonight. Sitting on the hay bales with the puppies gathered around, I watched and listened to the animals. After a few minutes I think they forgot I was there and started telling Mr. Ed jokes.

Why does Mr Ed write so messy? Because he uses a pig pen!

Why did the cow jump over the moon? Because Mr. Ed has cold hands.

Why did Mr. Ed take his horses to the wedding chapel? Because he wanted them to get hitched.

Why did the chickens get in Mr. Ed’s wagon? They wanted him to pull it.

How does Mr. Ed give his sheep a bath? In Woolite.

How many sheep does Mr. Ed have? He doesn’t know because every time he tries to count them he falls asleep.

What did Mr. Ed say to the sad rabbit? Have a hoppy day.

Mr Ed told the pigs a secret but all the animals knew it. Why? Because they squealed on him.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Mr Ed.
Mr. Ed who?
Mr. Ed, it’s time to be fed!

Very funny, guys. I get no respect.

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Cody and Bud “pick me, pick me”

It’s Always Something……

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Joe and Vinnie, the Jersey Boys

Dad had a saying he liked to use whenever the unexpected happened on the farm. We heard it a lot as the unexpected was closer to the norm on our farm. For the simple one or two surprises, he’d say “Well, it’s always something!” For the big ones — like when the cows got out in the corn, the tractor broke down and the hay got rained on — he’d say, “Well, if it’s not one thing, it’s six!”

I thought of him last night when I almost got done in by the unexpected. I do evening chores at dusk, and all the animals know this and are quick to let me know if I am late. Rosie, the mother of four very excitable border collie pups, always leads the way. Border collies are an incredibly smart, intense breed of herding dogs. On Mr Ed’s Farm, they are the barnyard monitors, and they believe it is their duty to keep everyone else in line.

Last night I headed for the Morton Barn, the largest barn with most of the animals including the sheep, goats, llama, a dozen rogue chickens, a few shy barn cats and a pair of three-month-old calves named Vinnie and Joe.

Rosie and the puppies waited anxiously for me to open the door so they could could go ahead of me to check everything out. The instant I cracked open the door they rushed in, disappearing into the darkness. Before I could snap on the light all heck broke loose. Sheep baaing, chickens cackling, dogs barking and snarling. Before I could utter the words “What the —- “, two brown figures came charging out the door. The Jersey boys had busted out of their pen! Seeing the light, they decided to make a break for freedom.

With a pack of border collies in hot pursuit, they raced across the yard toward the driveway. They may have made it too, if it had not been for that patch of ice. No one had told the juvenile escapees about “the wipe out”. Whoosh, down they went like a professional motorcyclist laying down his bike on a slick road. Time stopped for a brief moment as I and the dogs stared at the Jersey boys in their comical positions. Seconds later they popped up, tails flying through the air they headed off full speed in another direction.

The freedom run went on for another ten minutes or so back an forth across the yard, around the corner to the horse pasture where the eight large draft horses had gathered to see what the commotion was all about. When the horses saw two brown figures racing toward them, I think one of them yelled “Bear!” as they instantaneously snorted and wheeled around, heading at a full gallop for the far side of the pasture.

I did what a farmer must do when the animals go wild. I rattled the feed bucket and waited. It wasn’t long before the Jersey Boys decided to forgo freedom for supper and followed me back to their pen.

With the excitement over, I investigated the root cause of the problem. As usual, farmer error. I had secured the gate with a piece of baling twine which the boys had chewed through. Desperate times require serious action. As any responsible farmer would do, I got a piece of haywire and fashioned a hook using my pliers which I keep in that special pocket in my bibs. The Jersey boys will have to do better next time to get the best of Mr. Ed.

Hey, anyone seen my pliers? It’s always something!

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Puppies in training waiting for Mr. Ed.

 

A little more about how we got here

20130104-132034.jpg Ben and Patsy, the first team I was able to use

My first team of horses did not turn out too well.

I bought them just after Christmas and made my first mistake by not driving them before they were delivered to the farm. My second mistake was buying a used harness at an auction. I found out that just because a harness is glistening with harness oil doesn’t mean it’s sound and safe.

I knew I was in trouble when the bit fell out of the horse’s mouth because the bit straps were rotten, and I had better reconsider doing a trial run. That’s when I got to know harness maker Bernie Samson, who set me up with a good harness and a lifetime of good advice.

The first team was Ben and Charlie, a black and a grey Percheron. Ben turned out to be a pretty good horse, but Charlie lived up to his full name, Charlie Horse. He was a real pain in the leg — literally — as he had a propensity to try to kick you whenever you tried to harness him. He must have had some practice as he was quite methodical about it. Thinking I could cure his problem, I tried line driving him single. It went pretty good when we went down the pasture lane and into the back field. Then we turned and began heading back to the barn.

I should have suspected something when his head came up and he started the dance. I think he may have been a little hard of hearing or maybe a bit confused and thought, “Whoa,” meant “GO!” and a repeated “Whoa,” in an increasingly louder voice meant “Go faster.” I hung on for the first few hundred yards thinking a little pressure on the bit might get his attention. I guess the pressure stabilized when I went airborne as he shifted into high gear. I probably would have been okay if it had not been for that stump. To this day I don’t recommend clearing stumps with one’s head.

He waited patiently for me at the barn door then tried to kick me when I went to take off the harness. I said to Charlie,”How about you and me take a ride? ”

He must have been excited because he jumped right in the trailer the day of the next horse sale in Mora. When I was leading him through the sales ring, I got a strange feeling he had been there before.

Someone hollered out from the stands “Is he broke?” I said “No, but I am.”

He sold for about half what I paid for him. I guess this should have been an omen of how my skills at horse trading would turn out in the future. When I complained about this to my advisor, Bernie, he said “You couldn’t have gotten a college education on buying horses for that price. ”

Owning draft horses has brought me into contact with some pretty interesting people. The draft horse books call them “old timers.” Find an old timer and seek his advice, they say. Generally good advice until you ask, “Say how did you get that scar?”

More on adventures from the early days later.

20130104-140315.jpg. A much younger Mr. Ed getting a kid interested in calf riding

A little background on how we got here

20130103-114830.jpgThe old barn had stood empty for many years but still stood pretty straight.

Mrs. Ed (Gayle) and I began a new phase in our lives when we moved to the Iron Range during the winter of 1981. We rented a house in Virginia the first year, bought a trailer house and moved to Hibbing and lived there for the next three years. Every Saturday Range residents receive the Manneys Shopper in their mail boxes. In March I opened the paper to an ad that read “Farm for Sale. Cheap”. The 80 acre farm was in the Little Swan area east and a little south of Hibbing. The first trip to the farm was memorable. We slogged through melting snow banks and mud to check out the buildings. Like many Iron Range farms, the “Pulis” farm had once been a dairy, small grain and potato farm. By 1985 the cows were long gone, the buildings in disrepair and the barb wire fences barely visible in the tall grass. The farm house, as it turns out, was a mining location house moved years before from North Hibbing.

Looking at the pictures now, I wonder we were thinking. I guess we were just a young couple with a dream of having a place of our own. By mid summer we had closed on the property. The neighbors came over with their Ford tractor and helped chop down the waist high grass and brush. We through open the doors and windows of the house to air it out and got busy with the paint brushes. The first animal was a cat who fortunately turned out to be a pretty good mouser. Then came a dog, seven sheep and by Christmas, the first team of horses. More on this next time.

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Mr Ed bringing life back to the old barn from the top down.

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Welcome to Mr. Ed's Farm.
Welcome to Mr. Ed’s Farm.