But, with the opening of the family's second small engine repair shop, I've been trying to be more of a team player and help with duties I thought I had left behind me. One of those was dingleberry duty. When my husband asked if I could help with the shearing, so he and my oldest son could keep the shops open, I agreed. I thought I would just be doing modified Gate Girl duties: opening and closing gates and handing out syringes, so I dressed in my favorite new, blue designer overalls. Perfect for opening and shutting gates because my shirt would stay tucked in no matter how I moved. I did open some gates, but then I was recruited to wade in behind my youngest son and mark the sheep he was doping. I might have refused if he hadn't been away at school for so long, but like any mother, I am game to do anything for a little quality time with my boy. Including going into the doping pen. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means we were worming sheep. Scott had a back pack full of wormer on his back and a device to squirt it into the mouths of the sheep.
The sheep don't like it and back away as it is being squirted in. My job was to stand behind my boy, blue marker in hand, and mark the sheep he'd done so no one got a double dose. Every time a sheep backed up, she ground her shitty (and there's no kinder way to say it) ass into my thighs which were clothed in those new designer overalls. So much for just being a gate girl. This was the end result!
Then, because I was already dirty and I could see how hard my son and Matt our shearer were working, and how I could make their lives a little easier, I willingly agreed to be the person sorting through the freshly shorn fleeces to pull out dingleberries. That's what locals call the by-products of grazing on fresh grass. The grass this year has been especially moist and juicy, leading to moist and juicy dingleberries. Dingleberries are one of the main reasons that sheep have their tails docked when they are young. Imagine a whole tail full of squishy, brown ornaments. It's especially inviting to flies who like to lay eggs in the warm, moist environment. Eggs that eventually hatch out into maggots. I am thankful that there were no maggots in any of our dingleberries.
|If you look, you can see some of those dingleberries dangling from the rear end of this sheep as Matt shears her.|
I wore my blue latex gloves, but by about the 20th sheep, the lanolin had completely destroyed them. The last thirty sets of dingleberries were removed with my bare hands. The only way to get through an experience like that is to remind yourself over and over that it's really just grass and water in a totally different form. Very different form.
We finished the sheep in the first pen and moved on to the second one. Scott packed wool, so after I did dingleberry duty, I rolled the fleece into a tight ball, placed it in a box and handed it up to him so he could squish it down. We tried to get about thirty fleeces in each bag.
By the end of the day, we had processed fifty two sheep. Matt said that was an easy day for him as he often does about a hundred. Made me thankful not to have dingleberry duty on one of those days.
But, I was glad I did it. We had as good a time as you can have working in hot humid weather with stinky sheep. I learned some more about shearing listening to Matt tell stories as he worked. For instance he has switched to using a plywood board to shear on as opposed to the green felted rug lots of shearers use. He said it makes it easier to keep the sheep down because they can't get a good purchase on the slick wood if they try to get up. He did buy special shoes for it though.
They are made of felted wool and give him good traction on the slick surface. It sort of evens the playing field when he's trying to sling a 300 pound buck around. Matt also told me that a friend once told him the best way to shear a heavy buck. If all else fails, shear him any way you can. Sit on him, lie on him or even stick a bit of wool in his mouth so he'll worry about that and forget about you. Matt said he tried that last one once, but all that happened is the buck bit him and then hopped up and ran away.
At the end of the day, the ewes and bucks all seemed grateful to have that hot, heavy layer removed. They'll stay cooler and cleaner, now.
And as for my designer overalls? Two washings later, the green stains have almost faded from view. From now on, when I wear them, those faint spots will remind me of a beautiful day spent with my son. Dingleberries and all.