July 12th 2010

Shearing Time

Organic farms abound in insect life-and as the heat of summer is truly here-the whole farm feels and sounds alive. The bees feed on the clover nectar, the ladybirds eat the aphids in the corn and the birds feast on the unwelcome guests in our crops. But not every insect is beneficial and top of our list of enemies are blowflies. These flies are the reason we shear our sheep at this time of year-they lay their eggs in fleece and when they hatch they worry and harm the sheep, so it is a real relief when the shearer arrives and we get the job done, especially this year with the recent scorching temperatures. Shearing on a hot day might not be much fun for the shearer but it's great for the wool as the 'yolk' or oil in the fleece rises and the fleece comes off better.

It's a busy day, parting out he ewes for shearing from their lambs while they are being shorn,and noisy with them baaing for each other until they are reunited. When the fleece is off, it's rolled up and put into huge bags which are sewn up ready to be sold, which usually means taking them to the wool board. It's amazing to us that hundreds of years ago fortunes were built on wool, and even recently Tim spoke to a farmer who remembered that he used to be able to buy a new tractor with his wool cheque because nowadays the wool cheque barely even covers the cost of the shearing.

I find it incredible that wool is so undervalued as it is a 'wonder fibre'! It can absorb as much as 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet to the touch . It is quite fire resistant and of course insulating. It's also a vital part of Bristish history: Richard the Lionheart's ransom was promised in wool, the Lord Chancellor still sits on a woolsack and futures trading was invented by Cistercian monks who offered contracts on their future wool production. Once upon a time there were 300 bylaws relating to wool and wool production -there was even a law that people had to be buried in wool-we thought all the rules and regulation we farmers are faced with were a modern thing!

But hopefully wool is coming back in fashion as we rediscover it's benefits. We have a friend who is probably going to take some of our wool for felting and making into shrouds and another customers is having a few fleeces for spinning. I used to do a bit of spinning, though the resulting jumpers and hats are a bit emabarrassing, so the spinning wheel has sat in a corner and got dusty! But if you are interested in some fantastic products using wool from Higher Hacknell Farm do have a look at my Friend Yuli's website bellacouche.com