Saving Gracie

My first, real-life experience owning, caring for, and shearing my sheep.

IMG_0859I looked for Gulf Coast sheep for several months after moving to the farm.  One day I happened upon an ad in a farm newspaper advertising a small flock of Gulf Coast Natives for a reasonable price.  I called the number in the ad, and the lady on the other end told me, “If you’ll just come get ’em, I’ll let you have ’em for free!”  I couldn’t believe it.  The very breed of sheep I wanted, and not only were they within driving distance, but I could get them for free!  A few days later we brought home three young Gulf Coast ewes in the back of our red pick up truck, carefully secured with a tarp where they could ride safely, but still be able to breathe.  The smallest was a six month old lamb.  She had to ride on my lap in the front of the pick up truck, while John drove. Our 3 kids were crammed in the back seat of the truck, partly loving every minute, partly wondering if we’d lost our minds.  I named the lamb, “Joy”.  I named the other two, “Mercy” and “Grace”, all for  things I hoped God might restore in my heart.

Mercy, Grace and Joy were not in great shape when I got them.  There was a reason they were free.  The farm where they had been had run out of grass for them.  I don’t mean the pasture was sparse, I mean it was bare dirt!  They had been living on a diet of dry hay and corn in the height of Summer.  Their shepherd had to rely on what is typically only a winter diet, to tie his sheep over until the abundance of Spring arrived, only Spring had already come and gone, and still there wasn’t even a blade of grass on his fenced land.  As a result, the sheep were in poor physical condition.  They had not been sheared in at least two years.  They had a doubly long coat of wool from what they should have had at regular shearing time.  They had worn it for so long, it was badly matted.  And it was hot.

When we got them home, we drove the pick up truck into the pasture, right into the breezeway of the barn, so we could off load our new sheep as close the the four stalls as possible.  We got them in a stall, and I looked them over closely, accessing not only what their needs were, but what new questions I was going to have to gain the answers too if I was ever to know enough to have even a chance of being able to really help them.  I decided the first thing they needed, was a good shearing.  I had never sheared a sheep in my life.  I didn’t even own a pair of shears.  So the first order of business was to get some sheep shears, and figure out what to do with them.

I went to our local Tractor Supply and asked for “sheep shears”.  They sold me the only machine and blades they had that were  meant for cutting animal hair, labeled as “for sheep”.  I wouldn’t realize until a few years later when I’d learned more, what I had actually had bought was “clippers”, instead of “sheep shears”.  It was the best thing I could have bought though, as a beginner trying to shear this breed of sheep.  Clippers are meant for grooming sheep, mainly for slick-shearing them for the show ring for a livestock show.  They are not as sharp and deadly as the full blown sheep shears.  The clippers were the safest thing I could have started with as a beginner, for the sheep and I all, even though initially I purchased them in ignorance.

This is what my first pair of "sheep shears" (really clippers) looked like.
This is what my first pair of “sheep shears” (really clippers) looked like.
These are the blades for the clipping machine on the left,  I used to "shear" (clip) my first sheep.
These are the blades used on the clipping machine I used to “shear” (clip) my first sheep.

Also while I was at the feed store, I took a lot of time to study the products they were marketing for sheep, as one way to help myself learn more about the needs of sheep, and the various resources available to help them.  I bought a Sheep! magazine, and learned nearly as much from reading the ads as I did reading the articles!  When you start off knowing nothing at all about something, every little bit of information you can gain is important.

Before I left the store, I had bought Bounce Back (an electrolyte powder to mix in sheep’s drinking water to help them restore electrolyte balance and manage stress); probiotics for sheep; de-wormer; and sheep minerals.  I was determined to not let the sheep down, to do all I could for them.  I did not want them to suffer for my ignorance of their needs!

Although none of my new sheep was in great health, the one I was most concerned about was Gracie.  I decided I would shear her first, since clearly she was the most in need.

To be honest, I was in pretty great need myself at the time.  Yes, we had just moved to a new home, and every morning I woke up I felt I was living in a setting beautiful enough to me to be my first choice of a perfect vacation spot.  Yes, I was blessed enough to finally be able to explore the fun of this crazy childhood dream come true, with my own hobby farm to play with, complete with all the possibilities, and responsibilities.  I enjoyed that, I really did.  Yet at the same time, as we all know, life is messy and incongruous.  In every other significant area of my life, things were not going well in one way or another.  That background noise of depression and anxiety was always there.  My health, among other things, was in a condition of great uncertainty.  For several years I had a painful skin issue that had grown increasingly out of control.  Treatment had taken a toll on me, and having exhausted many doctors, tests and  treatments, I was worse, not better.  The day I sheared Gracie, I was still on thalidomide, a chemotherapy drug, in a last ditch effort to heal my skin.  The side effects were rough, and it was not helping.  Being able to go out and see my new sheep in my new barn, was a reprieve for me both emotionally and physically.  In the barn I wasn’t overwhelmed by too much visual or auditory stimuli.  In the barn, my brain could relax, and time could pass at a pace that accommodated me, instead of always leaving me behind under an avalanche of sensory input that I couldn’t process as fast as everyone else.  Being outside, watching the sheep, learning about their needs and ways, helped me feel better.  It was a mental and emotional break for me.  I knew God was powerful enough to meet every need I could ever have, but for a long time I had lived unsure of what I could count on Him to actually Do.

I brought my new shearing gear and sheep supplies to the barn.  We had put all three sheep in one of the stalls, so they would be easier to catch in a smaller space.  My daughters, then 8 and 12, helped me set up the food, water and minerals, and administer the supplements to  Mercy, Grace and Joy.  The girls played in the pasture, watched the sheep, and were on hand to help me as I needed them.

We caught Gracie first.  I had no idea how to handle a sheep to shear it properly like the big men in Australia do.  Poor Gracie though was in bad enough shape, she was better off with even me and my ignorance at least making an ill-informed attempt at shearing her, than to continue on as she was.  She was so sick and weakened from the stress of lack of proper nutrition and care, she didn’t have a very long future ahead of her without some real intervention.  I didn’t go into the situation entirely unprepared.  I had learned as much as I was able to from reading about sheep before hand, to at least have an idea of what was important.  But at that time I hadn’t yet met anyone else who owned or knew about sheep, so there was no one I could learn from in person.   Although books help, they still can’t make up for a lack of experience.  Its a good thing experience is such a wonderful teacher!


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