The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Shearing Time

April 17th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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Before we even bought our farm in Upstate New York I gave quite a bit of thought to the kind of sheep we’d want to help us mow the property. I settled on a type originally from Australia–the Dorper–that sheds hair rather than growing wool that needs to be shorn. I figured in our dotage we wouldn’t want to be bothered learning how to wrangle sheep to shear them. Eventually my wife would drive hundreds of miles across the state to purchase a small group of purebred Dorper ewes and a ram to start our future block. Perhaps she needn’t have bothered.

Our first sheep purchase consisted of six Friesian wool sheep that had been culled from a nearby cheese operation because they weren’t producing lambs. Through a neighbor, we met Joe, who inseminates cows by day and shears sheep in his off hours. Joe’s price for shearing–$10 per sheep–seems so reasonable, I wonder now why we spent so much time agonizing over this aspect of sheep maintenance.

Spring is the time for shearing. As ewes prepare to give birth, you want all that wool out of the way. But you don’t want to shear too early, as the sheep lose protection from the elements once the wool is removed. Not only are they more exposed to cold, but the lanolin they build up in their wool coats acts as waterproofing. It takes a few days before they build up protection again.

According to Joe, our Friesians are more resistant to being shorn than other breeds. They don’t sit still for it. “I guess that’s just my luck,” Joe says, as he wrangles another ewe into position and starts zip, zip, zipping with his electric clippers, starting from the sheep’s head and working toward the tail. The wool peels away in thick swaths. After Joe turns the sheep and shears the other side, holding the ewe’s head between his legs, the wool coat lies on the ground in one big piece, ready to be cleaned and spun into–what? A new sweater, maybe?

I look forward to having Joe on the farm shearing because we have a chance to chat and Joe’s a wealth of information. He used to own a mixed flock of some 50 sheep himself. In addition, he knows a ton about cows.

For instance, Joe confirms that many of our area farmers had to adjust to an extremely cold and lengthy winter by feeding their stock extra grain. He also confirms that identifying stress in sheep is hard when they over-winter with all that wool.

That helpful knowledge comes a bit late for us and the yearling ewe who died in our care recently after an especially stressful pregnancy. But this is how we learn to be livestock farmers: one conversation at a time.

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Ron Sargent, Fix This Laptop!

April 14th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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We took our daughter’s broken laptop to the Geek Squad and learned that the motherboard was defective. They wanted $480 to fix it, more than the cost of the computer. We paid $35 for the diagnosis, but declined the repair.

Meanwhile, Staples and Dell both continued to refuse to do anything about it. Their reason: there was no “service tag” on the back of the computer. Problem is, Staples sent us the computer without a service tag. We’re in a classic Catch-22. They sell us a computer without a service tag, then refuse to honor the warranty because there’s no service tag.

Meanwhile, the news today was this: Staples CEO Ron Sargent’s total compensation grew 15% to $12.4 million last year after the office supply retailer’s profitability improved despite sagging sales.

I guess they make more money selling defective computers and then not honoring the warranty. We’ve turned the matter over to our credit card company.

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