Perhaps your mental image of sheep shearing is that of a single individual laboring with an animal on its rump. Joanna and I have always sheared as a team, and you may wonder why. Before I explain, allow me to point out that Joanna is in charge, she shears the animal, my job is to attend to details (legs, head and neck, tail, udder (girls), and delicate parts (boys)). I also lift the animal onto the stand, trim the hooves and deliver medications. We shear on a fitting stand because it’s easier on the back. Notice that the fleece is removed in a single piece. Harvesting the fleece in this way is critical for a handspinner. Fleece character and quality differs from front-to-back, side-to-side, and belly-to-topline. Because Joanna needs to be able to select different parts of the fleece for different applications, she needs to harvest the thing intact. Although I cannot tell you whether our animals find shearing stressful, I can tell you that the older animals remember being sheared and are far more relaxed about the process than are the yearlings. I can also report that, after being relieved of its heavy winter coat, each newly-sheared animal walks back to pasture with a smile and an extra bit of kick in its step.You might be interested in viewing last year’s contribution to this new, time-lapse, genre of farm film-making. Although the clip only runs for 25 seconds, the process required approximately 20 minutes.
Given the way in which blogs are presented, I am convinced that posts which reside more than a scroll or two behind the most recent are doomed to languish and to be forgotten. Because I believe there is value in looking at contributions from days, weeks, and even months ago, I present a gallery of images presented during April of 2014. Perhaps it will be interesting to scroll through these and to compare them to those presented during this past month. Be patient, it may take several minutes for all of the images to load fully. Hovering over an image will reveal its title. Clicking one will take you to a carousel view and you can either move through the collection or click the links to read each post in its original form. This is the twenty-sixth in my series of retrospectives. You may find interest in taking a look at the retrospective from two years ago and if you missed any of the others, you can find them all by clicking Retrospective in the tag cloud in the sidebar.
Given the way in which blogs are presented, I am convinced that posts which reside more than a scroll or two behind the most recent are doomed to languish and to be forgotten. Because I believe there is value in looking at contributions from days, weeks, and even months ago, I present a gallery of images presented during March of 2014. Perhaps it will be interesting to scroll through these and to compare them to those presented during this past month. Be patient, it may take several minutes for all of the images to load fully. Hovering over an image will reveal its title. Clicking one will take you to a carousel view and you can either move through the collection or click the links to read each post in its original form. This is the twenty-fifth in my series of retrospectives. You may find interest in taking a look at the retrospective from two years ago and if you missed any of the others, you can find them all by clicking Retrospective in the tag cloud in the sidebar.
When I called, Joanna reported that Mallory had dropped two lambs and, by the time I arrived home, Audrey had delivered her own set of twins. We were off to the barn for scissors, iodine, pencil and paper, ear tags and a towel. We cleaned, trimmed, and tagged Audrey’s two and then set off to find Mallory and her family. Although her fleece isn’t particularly distinct, and we were too far away to read ear tags, there was no question where she was because her lambs gave her away. They looked like miniature Holsteins and are a classic example of the Shetland fleece pattern called Flecket (white with large black patches on the body). I have written about and always been fascinated by terms assigned to the thirty recognized patterns of fleece coloration which occur in Shetlands. Stefan Adalsteinsson has written … Of the thirty markings, fifteen have names that have a comparable counterpart in Icelandic, in spite of 1100 years of separation. This is a remarkable example of how certain aspects of the culture of sheep-keeping have been kept alive. It is noticeable that the white markings in both Iceland and Shetland have names that are from the Norwegian. These must have been used in Norway at the time of settlement in both Shetland and Iceland, because that is where the sheep in both countries came from. I can’t help but note the hooves on this pair. Do you see how they look irregular? This picture was taken when these two were, perhaps, 30 minutes old. During gestation, and at parturition, the hoofs are quite soft. This is, as you can imagine, a way of keeping the little ones from doing damage to the delicate placental membranes while still in utero. Once on-the-ground however the hooves undergo a dramatic change. I’m not sure whether the solidification is due to the rapid mobilization of calcium or to simple drying of the keratin which comprises this all-important structure, but within hours the hoofs straighten and solidify.
It’s been mild and wet this week, not bad weather for lambing but not the best for photography. I captured these images a week ago during a brief window of blue sky and sunshine. Gloomy weather notwithstanding, the lambs have continued to arrive, singly and in pairs, and the arrivals (at the moment) have been biased toward girls, and that is good.
Lambing season began today when we welcomed #1437 and then, a few hours later, #1438 and #1439 … all girls … a very propitious beginning indeed. This little one needs a name … do I hear any suggestions?
Spring is such a wonderful time of year, a time of birth and renewal. Something tells me that it is perhaps easier for most of us to appreciate the former of these occurrences. One allows ewes and rams to co-mingle for several weeks in the fall and, come spring, lambs arrive. But perennial plants are able to lay dormant over winter and, at the appropriate time, break dormancy to return to the business of growth and reproduction. Sure we know of diapause and every school kid has learned that bears hibernate through the most difficult weeks of winter. But plants do this in such a remarkable way that it is important to take special note. Consider, in a physiological sense, what a plant must do to ensure winter survival. First, it must manufacture stores of carbohydrate to support some minimal level of physiological activity throughout the winter. No growth. No reproduction. The organism must generate enough ATP (the energy currency of cells) to stay alive. Second, deciduous trees must do chemical inventory and withdraw everything of potential use from their leaves and then jettison them (the leaves) as winter liabilities. All of that material, along with the nutrient stores, must be transported down and into the roots. Once all of this is complete imagine that genes which were active during the spring and summer must be turned off and, at the same time, genes involved in baseline physiological maintenance must be turned on. And, these cascades of activity must be reversed come spring. Consider, that all the genes involved in these activities are in every cell. Have you ever stopped to consider that each and every one of us started life as a single cell? That cell had two complete sets of DNA, one from Mom and one from Dad. That single cell gave rise to the many trillions of cells which now comprise your body. Although the constituent cells of all of your organs have the very same DNA, these cellular sub-populations behave differently. How it is that muscle cells behave like muscle cells and liver cells behave like liver cells if, in fact, all of these cells have the same genetic material? All of the appropriateness of plant physiological response is dependent upon the expression of certain genes and the suppression of others. It turns out that gene expression may be influenced by the cellular environment within which any particular cell happens to find itself as well as in changes in any number of other environmental variables (biotic and otherwise). How wonderful life, in its myriad forms, really is. I find myself, several times during the academic year stopping in the middle of lecture. No matter whether discussing counter-current exchange in the molluscan ctenidium to one group or chromosomal nondisjunction to another, I’ll stop, look up and into the surprised eyes of my students and ask, Isn’t this elegant? I’ll plainly admit that I couldn’t devise anything more so. All of life’s solutions are ancient and optimized. I could continue but will, instead, end by quoting the very last sentence of Darwin’s monumental work, On the Origin of Species. Not many recognize these words as Darwin’s own summary of the elegance and beauty of Natural Selection, the phenomenon he explained to scientists and to the thinking world, more than a century-and-a-half ago.
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
All of nature is a wonder. Truly. To be lucky to know just a little bit of how it all works is a joy. To know its secrets doesn’t, to my mind, take away, but rather adds to my sense of wonder and admiration.