I did not intend to own sheep but as most of you know and I hope understand, this fibre art/craft gig is a slippery slope…
It all started with an accident. I had managed to break my right foot and cracked my left tibia at the same time. My foot was in a cast and I had crutches. So…… what is a knitter to do, not able to go to work, not a tele watcher, had read enough books for the time being. I was looking about for a project that would totally enthral me for a really long time( like 5 freaken’ weeks) I found it, it was Evelyn Clarks shawl pattern “Pacific Northwest”. I had never knit lace but I had time burning. I could not find the material needed so the hunt was on. I phoned every wool store in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver– nothing-. Lots of substitutions were offered up but nothing was looking “right”. I am however not easily deterred and at the end of the whole search ended up with a wholesale sized order of the necessary fibre ,a GST number and a storefront in White Rock.
But, how do the sheep play in? I was at a knitting related workshop in Langley when a fellow workshop attendee sat down beside me, let a long sigh and said” you don’t know anyone who wants a fibre sheep do you? My flock has been sold and they did not want Whiley the wether, I need a good home for him”( for your learning curve, a wether is a castrated ram). Out of the blue I found myself turning around and saying “I’ll take him” I was a brand new spinner and felt that my own sheep would be just the thing. I had no clue about sheep, no idea how to take care or feed sheep or really what a sheep even looked like or more importantly what my dear husband would say. We lived in suburbia with a postage stamp back yard that definitely would not support a sheep even if the neighbours would have allowed it. I found accommodations for my new sheep and went to pick him up. When I got there I was handed 2 sheep with the explanation of “sheep don’t come as singles, they need company so here , this is Sarah his daughter to keep him company”. Eventually the sheep grew to 3 with the addition of Grace who came to us rather than the auction. Then Olivia showed up from the flock of a dear friend who wanted a great home for her. I was very happy with my 4 sheep, we hung out together, they came when called, loved being petted, nibbled pockets for treats and generally satisfied my soul. The dreaded days came , Whiley and Grace died. They were both very old and much loved but time and nature take toll and off they went. The barn looked empty, the survivors looked lonely. We went to the Canadian Sheep Classic show in Barrier BC. Really, we were just driving by, “let’s take a look ” I said to my dear husband. “Its never just a look for you” he replied. Indeed I had no idea of what he was speaking and was mildly offended until I found myself signing a check to cover the cost of 2 adorable Shropshire lambs- welcome Alfie and Annie into our flock and our lives.
Sheep numbers stayed at 4 for just over year until fate again intervened. I saw a phone number for a lady that lives in the interior. She was dispersing her fibre flock. I called her up, she had Romeldales/CVMs, a breed I had long lusted over.I called my good friend who has never shied away from helping me with my sheep. “Please come with me and make sure I don’t buy a poor quality sheep” “Of course, perhaps I will look as well” she happily answered. We agreed that only 2 sheep would be purchased, one for each of us, after all, neither of us really needed another sheep but the lure of a luscious fleece was hard to resist. Off we set one fine fall morning, a 4 hour drive later we arrived and stepped out of the car. I looked around at the farm, gazed at the exquisite view and thought how much my husband would love that view. Sheep were inspected and in true form we each purchased 3 ewes. (learning curve-ewes are adult female sheep) Just before we left I asked the lady to let me know if she ever chose to sell her farm. We returned to the coast and I gently broke the additional sheep news to my husband the just smiled quietly(I think he won a bet with himself). A few weeks later our new additions were delivered. We named them Norah (favourite aunt) Nancy (friend of ours) and Nellie (very nervous sheep). The barn was filling up and was going to get fuller as all 3 ewes were pregnant. We had zero lambing experience but we read a lot and had expert help on the other end of the telephone. The winter passed, the lambs arrived. We had a few lamb losses but were told “not bad for first timers” Now the barn was really full. We welcomed Opal-Daisy (aka Odie) Octavia, Odelle and Bob.
Out of the blue one day I received a phone call, it was the lady who we had purchased the sheep from. “The time has come” she said, “the farm is up for sale, are you interested”. My husband and I looked over the farm again, “ its a bit early to consider a move” I said. How can we make this work we thought. I was approaching retirement but had 18 months to go. My dear husband was already retired. We spent a week fretting, fussing,discussing and thinking about it. Finally we just looked at each other and said” lets do this” It was done, we bought a 20 acre farm in Tappen BC. We arrived on the farm along with the first snow of winter. We brought with us, 11 sheep, 4 cats, 1 dog, and Adagio, our guardian llampaca(learning curve- cross bred llama and alpaca- lovely beast providing he likes you)
While we were in the process of packing up our house (30 years in one house- yikes) I had some necessary surgery. I had waited awhile for the operation but was not willing to delay it due to our move. I was laying in bed recovering and pouting due to lifting restrictions when the phone rang. It was another sheep owner that I had been speaking with a few months earlier. She owned a flock of registered Romeldale/CVM sheep not to far from where my new home was. She was managing 2 breeds of sheep and that was becoming a bit problematic for her. Her flock was up for sale, would I like to purchase it. I was so surprised but managed to bumble out an “of course I will” A week or so after we arrived on the farm the new sheep arrived. We welcomed Cocoa, Aphrodite, Jemima and Rebecca the ewes. There was also Ernie the wether, who promptly endeared himself to us with his engaging manner. The ram Itzak was out on loan to another farm and would arrive in early January. Aphrodite, Rebecca and Jemima had all been breed already and I carefully wrote down the date of exposure to Itzak the Ram.
Brace yourselves, here comes the sheep parade. There are very few things in this world that I love to talk about more than my sheep. What is not to love. Although they may not be the ‘bouncyest bunny in the bush’ they certainly make themselves and their wishes known. They provide us with wool, a renewable resource which, when used with a certain amount of skill,is turned into a huge variety of warm/cool/safe/life enhancing products. It will eventually deteriorate back into the earth, its proteins being absorbed by the soil. (assuming its been buried or left lying on the soil-won’t happen in your dresser drawer- sorry if I alarmed you) They provide fertilizer for the garden, and …… for those who are carnivores, a protein source. For those that are vegetarian, milk sheep provide milk, wonderful for the cow milk intolerant. Sheep cheese is apparently lovely although I confess I have not had the opportunity to try it yet. Sheep and humans have walked together for an eternity. Humanity spread itself around the world with the help of …you got it “sheep”. On our farm our sheep stay with us for their natural life. If there is an accident or illness where recovery will not result in a happy comfortable sheep, we call our lovely and sensible vet. The vet also gets called for anything that is out of our ability or expertise. There is something about the energy of a sheep, standing amongst them I experience a soothing sense of peace. The troubles of the moment lessen and if I’m there long enough, disappear.They are incredibly docile until one decides not to be, then it is a knee/thigh mass of moving wool that will not hesitate to run you over. With all due respect to the docile comment, we never turn our backs on either of our rams. Our boys are big, cute, mild mannered and can move at the speed of light with their heads down.
Sarah, our flock matriarch. Sarah is our oldest sheep, she is one of our original 2. Whiley’s daughter. She is a Romney/Cormo cross. In her prime she threw a white fleece that would drop you to your knees. Fine, solid crimp structure, consistent length. A lovely fleece. I kept them all. Her fleeces of her later years have not been great but they will still make warm mitts, sweaters and shawls. Love spinning wooden style. Sarah is really,really old for a sheep. She is 15. She limps dreadfully from a fused ankle, looks like she will fall over at any given moment but each spring when she is sheared she looks good. A little boney here and there but overall great shape for her age. I always worry about her ability to belly up to the feeders so she is fed separately, all she wants, supplemented with copious amounts of sheep tex(learning curve- like granola for sheep- sugar and protein) and a few enteric coated baby aspirins thrown in for her arthritis. We are expecting that Sarah will leave us one day not to long from now. Each day is a bonus but I am not going to worry until she doesn’t limp along quickly for food and cuddles.