Beginnings, Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, my day at Jerry Lee Farm did not go as planned. I thought, "Oh, I'll drive out, meet Lee, see sheep, and pick out a fleece," and that would have been a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. But Fate had something else in mind for me.

First of all, let me just say that Jerry Lee Farm is a little slice of heaven on earth...I turned onto their driveway and immediately saw guinea fowl, milling about the yard...looked over to my right and there was a very handsome burro, looking to welcome any newcomers to the farm. Lee came out to greet me, and we immediately began chatting - about the SCA, about sheep, about spinning, about knitting...what a delightful lady she is! She showed me to her lambing barn where she stores her fleece, but before we dug into those, I asked if I could see the sheep and take some pictures. She took me out to the sheep enclosure and there were the lovelies, staring at me:

 
 
 
If I remember right, she said there were 19 sheep, nearly all Icelandics, but a couple of crosses. I was in heaven - just walking out and seeing all of those sweet faces, and all of that beautiful wool...yes, wool on the hoof is something special! Is it something in my blood? Is it an ancestral memory, reminding me of a time when my forebears tended animals for food and wool? I don't know what it is, but sheep make me happy!
 
During our chat among the sheep, I mentioned that I was curious about someday raising my own - the costs and logistics of it all, explaining that we already had 5 acres with 3 fenced pastures and a sheep barn. She taught me a great deal - I feel like I received so much information and knowledge from Lee that day! She told me all about her experiences with raising sheep (she started back in the 70s); what they need on a daily and yearly basis (with shearing being done twice a year); the ups and downs; and her determination to only breed quality animals. She told me about shearing bees, where several of her sheep-owning friends and neighbors come to share in the expense of having someone come shear all of their sheep (and showed me her sheep chair - picture a stretcher that leans securely against a wall - the sheep is laid in the chair with his lollipop legs up in the air, making it very easy for a person to trim his hooves - a.k.a. get his manicure). She told me about her favorite shearer who was so gentle and quick with the sheep, it was like they were getting a massage at a spa - totally relaxing and comfortable for the wee beasties! As I listened to Lee, I realized that this wasn't a woman whose sheep were merely livestock - there for profit, or wool, or food - this was someone who truly loves her "girls" (even though they're not all girls, she would call to them that way when approaching them..."Come here, girls!").
 
At this point, we made our way back to the fleece, and a whole new world opened up to me - she showed me how amazing the Icelandic fleeces are (I knew they would be pretty nifty, based on internet research, but seeing them in person is...just WOW). With every bag she opened, I saw different color combinations - the thel is nearly always different from the tog - and with every bag she opened, I knew I wasn't walking out of there with just one fleece (yeah, I got 3...which becomes even funnier as this story progresses). And here was something else I learned about Lee, her sheep, and sheep care - she sells fleece for a friend who feeds his sheep differently than she does. Her sheep have a smaller food trough, so it keeps the VM (vegetable matter) around their necks to a minimum, but her friend doesn't do that - and the difference between her fleece and that of her friend was startling - although I ended up buying one of her friend's fleece, the skirting for that one (cleaning out all of the VM and other junk) is going to be far more time-consuming than doing the same with Lee's fleece.
 
After much squooshing and loving of fleece, I finally picked out three - two are from Lee's sheep, Goodie and Prima Donna (top and bottom, respectively), and the middle one is from her friend's sheep, May:
 
 
 

While talking about and examining fleece, and learning how to skirt them, Lee began telling me about a very special friend who she had passed away from pancreatic cancer a couple of years ago. This friend had bought sheep from Lee, prior to being diagnosed with cancer, and those sheep became this lady's babies.When she was fighting the disease, she would come home from treatments and be able to spend time with her babies, having this special bond with them when she was unable to be around people. Unfortunately, there came a point when she knew she was going to lose her battle with cancer, and she asked Lee to take back the sheep so that she would know they were cared for. I was so moved by this story - so many people are affected by cancer, and there are stories like this all over the world because of it. As she was telling the story, Lee suddenly looked up at me and said, "But you're interested in sheep!  I have three that you could have!" My first thought was, "Oh dear...what is my husband going to say," but that thought was quickly shoved out of my head by, "OH MY GOSH, is she serious?!?!?"

More later, my dear readers! :)

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