The thermometer that hangs outside our kitchen window reads -34 Celsius. The wind chimes that hang beside it are moving around vigorously which means a stiff breeze outside. Environment Canada says we have a wind chill of -47 Celsius which means it’s bitterly cold. The wind is about 20 kilometers per hour and coming from the northwest. Fortunately we have pretty good shelter from that direction so it isn’t as bad as it could be, but its bad enough! The time is 8:15 AM and chores need to be done. I put on my 40-year-old down-filled parka that has been patched and washed lots of times. I even threw it out a couple years ago and went back to the garbage to rescue it because I couldn’t see myself not having it on days such as this. The down in the back is pretty much gone so Dorothy sewed a wool panel in the back which has made it toasty warm again. I pull up the hood, but on my boot packs, find my mitts and head out.
I put some water in a pail for the cat and the chickens and walk towards the barn. On the way I notice that the deer have been in the yard last night scratching away the snow under the trees to find the seeds that fell there last fall. When I get to the barn the old cat comes running for a drink. Normally he comes up to the house to get water but in these temperatures he wisely sticks pretty close to the barn. I give him water and fill his dish with cat food as he’s cleaned up everything I left him yesterday. Animals seem to need lots of food in these temperatures to stay warm. While he’s drinking from the pail, I head out to feed the sheep. I go through the barn and out the back door to their enclosure. They have a shelter and in this weather that’s where they spend the night. I check them all and they all seemed fine, some of them have some frost on their noses but that’s normal. They all look like wool balls with four pegs sticking out the bottom as their coats are thick and lush. I go through the enclosure to the hay shed and drag out a bale. I make sure I give them extra rations today because of the cold.
They crowd around me at this time of the year and sometimes they’ll bump into me in their excitement to get at the hay. They each have their own distinct personalities. The youngest one, Joseph, comes right up to me and I have to be careful not to fall over him as he is usually in the way. He’s a male and was born on the farm last spring. Normally we don’t keep the males but Joseph had such a wonderful coat that Dorothy wanted him for his wool. We always neuter the males that we keep and change our ram if we decide to keep one of the females. We do that to maintain a healthy flock. We have two other weathers (neutered males), Galahad, our oldest sheep at about 10 years, who produces an amazing quality and quantity of wool for us every year. Dorothy wants to keep him because he produces the best wool for spinning and making wool blankets for family and for sale. Lancelot is friendly and intelligent and the one who can figure out how to open a gate that I haven’t secured well enough. Our biggest sheep, Brannie, not the sharpest crayon in the barnyard, is nervous and wary but his wool is excellent and there is lots of it.
Our two ewes, Midnight and Yona, have excellent wool and are the unquestioned leaders of the flock. Midnight, Yona’s daughter,r is still young and coming into her own but I can see she will take her mother’s place in a few years. Yona is the unquestioned leader and all of the other animals allow her to make the decisions for the flock. She is nervous, standoffish, alert and very intelligent for a sheep! The flock follows her everywhere and when I was able to teach her to come when I called, all the other sheep would come too. This can be very handy. One time last summer the flock got out and went into the neighbour’s grain field. It was late in the year, the grain was taller than the sheep and I couldn’t see where they were. So I stood at the edge of the field and called her and out they came. Sheep are good that way: if you startle them, they’ll head for home which makes them easy to catch. I never give them much grain so it’s quite a treat for them and any one of them will come running for a pail of oats. I will use that when I need to move them from one pasture to another.
Last spring we got a young ram from my neighbour, we called him the Prime Minister. So far he is a quiet friendly animal but sometimes those types get too friendly and become aggressive. The one thing you don’t want in your flock is an aggressive ram and I have seen rams that people have treated like pets end up bunting their owners. The Prime Minister has a good set of horns and will probably weigh about 250 pounds when he is full grown. You don’t want to see an animal like that with his head lowered charging at you, especially when you are carrying a bale. So I never let him become too friendly with me and he’s learning to keep his distance. What I will do when he gets too close is rush at him and he is learning to be a little wary of me which is what I want. I won’t keep an animal around that becomes too aggressive.
Every spring we have somebody come and sheer our sheep before the lambs are born. Usually about the time the lambs come, we get day old chicks and weanlings, young pigs usually about six weeks old. The grandchildren come to visit and play with the young animals; it’s a great time of year. We have a young family just down the road from us and we’ll invite the children over to see the babies. In some ways that is the nicest time of the year. I usually think about spring on a day like today.