We've kept sheep on the small holding since I was a girl. There were times when we had cow shares too: beautiful Jersey cows with big dark eyes who would come for their summer holidays to graze down our meadows after the hay cut. For a few years we ran our own pigs on the land to turn areas of rough grazing over for vegetable growing. Every year we would contract out work to scan, shear and vet the ewes, to roll and cut the hay and fencing jobs here and there. It was always with mixed emotions, curiosity and frustration that you watched someone else complete a job you wanted so much to do, the entire time wondering if you could or should do it. Happily with each passing year we've taken on a new challenge as we have grown to know and understand our land better.
Four years ago we made the decision to harvest our entire hay crop, dry and bale by hand and we now have an annual hay festival to complete the bulk of the cut, although the drying and baling work still take up a good few weeks following. A rather huge undertaking admittedly, but there's no better feeling than when you close the barn doors at the end of the season, watch the rain roll in and say to yourself that's this winters feed there sorted: 80 odd bales of wild flower meadow hay, hand scythed, dried on Norwegian Høyhesje (tall fences on which to dry hay in a humid/ wet climate), turned on the ground for the final dry and baled by hand in our giant garlic press baler.
Gradually we have taken on different breeds of sheep and now run a flock of Shetland, Herdwick, Hebridean and Bleu Du Maine on a rotation of biodynamic meadows and a spring graze in the orchard and herb garden. We now manage the flock entirely ourselves with the help of my twin sister a qualified vet and shepherd at Baddinsgill Estate. Joise and her little Shepherding son are always around to help out with our girls, check them over and give us the confidence we needed to maintain a healthy flock and to know we were doing right by them. It really is knowing the things to look out for, understanding the signs and what they mean that makes all the difference.
The last few weeks we've finally seen the weather warm to almost balmy temperatures and the small holding suddenly looks very jungle-like. Everything that is green has rocketed sky high, the blossoms in the orchards and hedgerow are breathtaking and the lambs and chicks have been keeping us all busy and entertained. We've noticed the bees out and about foraging and the swallows swooping low over the wild flower meadows gobbling up healthy clouds of insects.
Round about this time there is a rise in the sheep's wool where the wool essentially loosens away from the body creating a handy gap between the fleece and body of the animal which the shearer can then use to glide the shears easily along following the contours of the animal. Shearing can be tricky with wriggly or impatient sheep, particularly if you're working without power and using hand shears which is much slower than electric shears but completely silent. Very fortunately however for us the ewes are so tame they will happily wander over to barn and even lie down to be shorn, both incredibly cute and unbelievable helpful, making shearing a very enjoyable experience and one that usually everyone gets involved with (although the sun might also have something to do with that).
As the Scottish summer finally arrives the sheep can find a thick fleece quite irritable in the summer temperatures and if shearing is left too late they can begin to shed the wool by rubbing against trees, fences and feeders. This is wasteful if the wool is being harvested to be used and uncomfortable for the sheep particularly if their enclosure is lacking in cooling shade for them to hide in. Once shearing has finished the sheep bound over to their meadows and reestablish the who's who of the field.
Once the fleeces have all been shorn they are rolled and hung in nets until they are sent away to be processed into the biodynamic natural yarns that we have available to buy from our online store here. Sheep wool is incredibly warm and has wonderful insulation properties some of which you can read about in our Product Care section. All our wool is hand shorn from our own organic reared flock and is therefore a limited supply, replenished each year by the harvest. We sell Shetland, Bleu, Hebridean and Herdwick wool and if you want to know more about the process of making our yarns we have an entire journal just for that here and we hope you enjoy learning about the process as much as we did.
Wishing you all a wonderful Spring and Summer from the small holding,