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…to the far end of the pasture in two makeshift pens. I made sure the sheep would be safe, but also that they really couldn’t see what was about to happen just on the other side of the barn.
Earlier this year our neighbor decided to sell her place to our county and the Parks & Rec Department. They were very interested in adding the land, which has part of the wetlands stream running through it, to the land they owned behind our houses. The large field has springs and is the last sheet wetlands in Arizona. Our neighbor, a divorcee my age, had bought the house from one of her children, using it to restart her life again. With the economy taking a downturn, she was feeling the pinch of how much her mortgage would eat up her paychecks…paychecks now shrinking with her hours being reduced to save money. The house needed a lot of repair and work – much more than she could do herself or afford to have someone else do for her.
Earlier this summer we were approached by Parks & Rec and our local fire department, Highlands Fire District, to let us know the house was scheduled to be burned (after other measures were done such as asbestos abatement, land was to be shaped behind the house into a retention berm for retaining any runoff from the fire so as not to contaminate the watershed). While the idea of having a house go up in flames right next door didn’t set too well, both my DH and I know how important this training could be for our fire department. If they would be considerate of a few things we requested, sure…we were all for this being used as a training event for firemen.

“Why are we all way over here? And why are all those silly chickens running around like chickens with their heads cut off?”

Safety for the sheep, chickens, and our property was of utmost importance for me (and my DH). The last thing I wanted was my barn going up in flames with my winter’s supply of hay and feed! I was assured things would be protected with firemen assigned to specifically watch our property to prevent any and all damage to our place. Well, OK…but…
I was informed that I shouldn’t worry…or they would be replacing everything if something happened.
I moved the sheep and chickens anyway.

Above, the house with boarded up windows and most everything removed inside to just leave a shell of its former self. We got a tour in a briefing the day before the burn.

Signs of a fire started in the main floor bathroom. The firemen had training inside the house on dealing with a smoke-filled situation and how to find their way out of thick smoke before the main fire was started.

A bit more smoke with some ladder work.

The fire beginning in earnest. It was amazing that the actual fire took the house down in less than half an hour.

My DH, Ralph, on the roof of the barn taking video of the whole process. The smoke actually got thick enough to roust him from his loft to join the rest of we mere mortals on the ground. I got a thick blast of it when I was checking to make sure all the chickens were out of the barn. I found a few stragglers who would not leave the barn for anything. As the smoke was too bad to argue with them, I left them to either smarten-up or be chicken dinner. Their choice.

More smoke. I couldn’t help but think of all the firemen as boys with infatuation with fire. Probably a leftover thought from watching both my brother keeping the campfires flaming when we were kids and my hubby doing the same thing during other family camping trips. Guys and fire.

The roof fully engulfed in fire now. The heat was intense, even upwind. This is the point where we had very thick smoke at the barn and Ralph had to abandon ship from the roof.

Totally engulfed in flames. The whole burn took less than half an hour from start to finish.

Cooling off the flames on the side of the house facing our barn. This is the point that was scary as debris, mostly just flakes of burnt carbon, were lifted into the air by the heat and flames of the fire. There were even firemen from the Fuels Reduction Team stationed in the pasture behind our places to make sure browned, dry grasses weren’t set alight. That was my big concern….our grasses are so dry now it would have only taken one unseen spark for a field fire. Luckily, everyone was really on top of things. Professionals all!


All that’s left of the house. The foundation and rubble will be removed by a contractor and the ground shaped and hydro seeded. It will blend in with the rest of the vegetation by next year.
Way back in the Dark Ages, when I did investigations for the US Army on Fort Hood, I did a few fire/arson investigations. That was back when there were no special fire investigators. What I saw and knew then came back to me as I stood there watching how fast this fire took this house. Although there were no furnishings inside the house, this illustrates just how fast a fire can take a structure – set or not. It is something to really respect.

And it showed how professional each and every firefighter was in handling this situation. We never really think of these professionals unless we have a need for them. They aren’t seen everyday as police are when they are on patrol. Firefighters kind of get the short end of the stick when it comes to PR. This whole situation made me stop and realize just how much we count on these people…
…and how much respect they deserve.

…and we now have a new view out the sunroom windows! 🙂

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Yesterday, I received a call from our wonderful shearer, Penney. she was in the area and would it be possible to stop by tomorrow (Tuesday) to shear my sheep? I immediately said, “Yes!”! Penney had been stuck in Idaho during some nasty snowstorms but had made it home to southern Arizona with herself and some sheep she was transporting in tow. Now she was making a loop doing shearing jobs up in northern Arizona, hoping she could fit us in as she came through our area.
Penney is about the best shearer around these parts having not only shorn since she was 9, but was raised on a sheep ranch. She knows her stuff. I consider it a blessing that I have found someone who really cares about what she’s doing. She shears fiber animals for a living, not just as a side business. And you can tell that from the quality of her work and the way she treats the sheep.
So, I shuffled things aside and got ready for shearing today. She was a bit late arriving, but got right to work, shearing Skittles first. When Skit saw Penney, he immediately started to gently baa in his deep voice. He doesn’t do that for just anyone. He loves Penny and just stares at her with this smitten look on his face and makes goo-goo eyes at her all the while she wisks off his fleece. Penney could hang Skit up-side-down for all he cares, just as long as it’s her doing it.
We only have nine sheep now. Penney took her time, setting each one on his or her bum then caressed each one giving each a peck on the nose. You can tell she really loves her work. Not only shearing, Penney also checks their teeth and hooves, trimming feet if needed. Then the shearing begins. Last year she didn’t nick any of the 16 sheep we had. This year Amanda’s fleece was so dense that she did receive a nick as well as when Penney was trimming her feet, Amanda jerked causing Penney to cut a dew claw too short and it bled. We put blood-stop powder on it to control the bleeding and the shearing continued. that was the only sheep who sustained any sort of “trauma”.
It was a long day. After shearing we came inside the house to get out of the wind. Even though we set up in the barn, the wind kept changing directions and was very cold. Naturally, over coffee and tea we talked “sheep”.
Marilyn, our friend and farm-sitter, had come earlier to witness the shearing of a couple of sheep and to pick out a fleece for herself. It turned out she picked Ole’s fleece. As the day progressed Marilyn joined right in helping where she could by sweeping off the 4 x 8 sheet of plywood Penney was shearing on, or raking up the tags and skirtings (the mostly unusable parts of the fleece that are better off composted) as well as helping move the sheep in and out when needed. As she got ready to go home, Marilyn asked if she could buy Ole’s fleece from me and how much it was. I gave her a hug and said “Happy Birthday” and “Thank you for all your help today”. I knew that she had celebrated a birthday last week. Since my HHWB (the DH) had to be at work today, Marilyn’s help, even with the few sheep I have, was very welcomed. I was grateful for her staying and she found the whole process mesmerizing. After I hugged her I noticed she had tears in her eyes. She just couldn’t believe I would let her have Ole’s fleece. I just wanted her to know that her help was very welcomed by both Penney and I. Many hands make light work.
So now I have naked sheep. They look so small compared to the puffballs on toothpicks they usually look like before shearing. I find myself relieved. It’s done for another year. We can get on with other things now…like playing with all those beautiful fleeces. 🙂

And yes, Ole…it will grow back. And yes, Ole…you are still the cutest one and I love you, too… Just remember to stay in the barn tonight, Ole. It’s still cold at night and I think you’re going to need to buddy-up with the others for added warmth.
…and no, Ole…you can not come into the house with me…

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For about the past month, I haven’t been feeling well. At first, I started getting tremendous headaches. Then all-over achiness showed up to the party leaving me feeling like I had a grand case of the Flu. My DH took me to breakfast one Saturday morning knowing that I just didn’t have it in me to make breakfast that day plus I hadn’t been off the farm for two weeks.
It was at breakfast that he posed the question to me: Did I think it could be West Nile Virus? A few years ago our chicken flock was the sentinel flock for our county. When they finally came up with a positive reading, we knew the risk was high that we could have WNV with us each summer as a large wetlands preserve is right behind our place. So, we don long pants and long-sleeved shirts when working outside at dusk and dawn during the summer months. We also slather ourselves with DEET. Still, this year, two of the little bugger mosquitoes got me. It was about two weeks after that incident I started feeling “non-optimal”.
So, after the breakfast I began to think maybe I should actually see our doctor and see if maybe DH was on to something. After all, I’m in that over 50 group with “problems”. Better safe than sorry, right? A week ago I went in and was sent for the obligatory blood-letting. It was only today I received the results. Negative for WNV. Whew! I dodged it for another year! The assessment made was that I actually did have the flu combined with massive allergy reactions to the bountiful pollen season this year.
So, like the mammatus clouds you see below, something negative can be a positive in life!

(I took this photograph of these beautiful storm clouds from the pasture. Where I was standing there was dead-silence, but these signify great turbulence in the high elevation winds aloft.)
And now that I’m feeling better, on to making some hard decisions as to whom to keep, and who goes from our little flock…in this economy and with hay at $20/bale I can not over-winter any but the best of the flock. So now I must make some very hard decisions. I’ll keep you posted…

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Conundrum

This summer seems to be riddled with questions. Or at least in my mind. I have been waiting to do assessments on the ram lambs for sale. It was only today that I realized that the oldest of them were now just four months old, the youngest ones three months.
This would normally be the time I would be weaning, but thinking we would be in Oregon in June I had decided to try weaning early this year. Actually, it seemed to make no difference in the development of the lambs. They all did just fine. The only problem is that I have had to wait to see who’s developing into a better ram prospect, and who may have to go to the butcher.
Many, many shepherds have been talking about cutting back on the numbers in their flocks. I get the feeling that people are trying to cut back due to rising hay costs. Here in our part of Arizona, grass hay goes for $20.00 a bale plus tax. I have switched my sheep to mostly pelleted hay. It seemed more costly at first, but there is no waste and they pellets can’t be blow about in the winds. I figured I lost 50% of the hay I fed last year due to stemmy grass, contamination of one sort or another, or the sheep just being picky and eating the best bits. They eat every single pellet put in from of them. And pellets don’t get into fleeces like hay does. Win-win.

But the biggest question is wether or not to stay in the USDA Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification program. The USDA has three divisions of tracking scrapie (a chronic wasting disease in sheep much the same as BSE in cattle). The first program is one in which every sheep in the US gets an ear tag or other identification mark, like a tattoo, that follows the sheep from birth to death. A slaughterhouse can track a sheep back to where it came from, or so the idea goes.
Next is the voluntary program to become certified scrapie-free. I joined this program when I got back into sheep. You had to be in this level to use artificial insemination on your ewes at that time. Since I joined this program, the rules have changed and now you need not be in this program to be able to use AI.
The third level is now called “Export” status. As one could guess, this is the toughest level with more intense government snoopervision. Producers at this level are allowed to ship sheep to other countries.

My conundrum comes in that the program I have been in now requires me to submit the head of any sheep I have die to the nearest USDA approved lab for assessment. Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem in anyone trying to track down and stop this disease. However…the government would like me to cut the heads off my sheep (only IF they die, Folks) and send the head to their lab at my cost. At my cost… (My cost for the overnight shipping of the head as well as getting a vet to come remove the head if I choose not to do it myself)
Not only do I have a problem with submission of heads, but the thought of them wanting me to pay for the privilege isn’t sitting well with me. A bigger conundrum is that in Feb. ’09, I could be the first ever certified scrapie free flock in Arizona. Naturally, they would like me to stay in the program, siting that my having a “scrapie-free flock” is a marketing tool. The problem there is that I don’t know of anyone who has had any success in using this as a marketing tool.

Normally, I am all for eradicating diseases. I allow the USDA inspectors free access to the sheep and records during their annual visits. But this head-removal is going a bit above and beyond in asking producers to submit to these measures – especially since we pay taxes to have these institutions do this themselves. Like everything else, funding is getting cut short and states are not able to pick up the burden. But should I be willing to let that burden be transferred onto me? Especially since any sheep entering the food chain is inspected and samples are taken at slaughterhouses to keep an eye on this disease. And I do understand that a disease can be harbored in a small flock, so it gets back to the funding of it, I suppose.
Adding to this was the delivery of a rather large box about 10 days ago. It was an empty box, only lined with a thermal retaining material and two empty plastic bags inside. Oh, yeah…the instructions for removing and shipping a sheep’s head was also in there.

So, while my sheep have nothing to hide, I still find myself getting angry at the extent the small producer has to go through at this point, knowing full well that as soon as the government changes staffing down the line, this will all change all over again. Most other producers in the VSFCP are dropping back to the Mandatory level. And I may follow suit. I just can see where the benefit for my operation comes in.

…and we who keep Shetland sheep come to think of them more as pets with great fiber to spin. But I can also see both sides of the argument….now if these devils will just get off my shoulders and let me make a decision…

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“What? I’m just helping Mom look for her latest issue of Sheep! magazine!”

“A bug in a rug? What’s a bug in a rug? Why is she always smiling at us when we’re trying to sleep?”

“Move over, Ma! We can’t see what she’s doing!”

I do still go out to visit the sheep, contrary to all the photos of kittens lately. The lambs are growing by leaps and bounds and fast becoming as big as their mothers – even at just three months old for the oldest ones. Below is a snapshot I took of Sheep Thrills Trooper Thorn. Trooper was the last lamb born here this year. He’s only two months old, but is almost as big as his three-month old siblings! And I noticed this week that his horns are coming in very small (called scurs)…then one has been bumped off leaving just a “bump” on one side of his head. I highly suspect Trooper carries some of the genetics for being polled! I will submit a few photos to a Shetland sheep breeder who is very knowledgeable in breeding polled sheep to see what she thinks, but if he is polled Trooper may find a home with someone breeding for polled Shetland sheep. Isn’t that cool? 🙂

I promise to take some updated photos of the lambs and sheep. When I let them out of the barn in the mornings, it looks like a sea of brown fleece running out to pasture. And they are all starting to look about the same size! Hang in there, Mama Ewes! Weaning may come sooner than I thought this year…
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