A Shepherd’s Winter

One of the things Emily and I really want to do with The Shepherd and The Shearer is to show you what all goes into bringing the yarn you knit, crochet and weave with to the marketplace. I’ll be doing updates from time to time to give you a little sneak preview while we all anxiously await the arrival of the yarn and the books (with the full story) in September.

For shepherds, most of the winter is a waiting game. Waiting for the wool to grow. Waiting for the bred ewes to lamb. Waiting for the grass to turn green again.

Sounds like a relaxing season? Um, no. First of all there isn’t all that much less to do. Sheep need access to hay year round but it’s their primary diet in the winter months, so making sure they have access to fresh, clean, sweet hay is always a concern. If a shepherd is lucky enough to have the land to make his own hay in the summer, this is less of an issue, but more and more of us are buying hay these days, and it is not cheap.

Round bales (far and away the most economical way to feed sheep) have gotten so expensive that they are being stolen in the fields. I am currently paying $70/bale in Virginia (delivered), and I am happy to get it at that price.

People often ask why, with the price of hay so high, we don’t just switch the sheep to an all grain diet. Grain is certainly cheaper for sheep, but it wasn’t what they were designed to eat. Ruminants require hay to keep their digestive system work, so, while many shepherds feed supplemental grain in order to make sure their sheep are receiving enough nutrition, it’s not ideal as a primary source of calories.

And, of course, fresh clean water is required everyday. In winter this can mean using heated stock tanks that keep the ice away or hauling your hoses inside the house every night to prevent their freezing. Or it can mean getting doused with cold water every morning while you use a sledge hammer to break up the ice, depending on where you live.

The other thing that’s tough on shepherds in the winter is that, although there is a whole lot to worry about, there is nothing that we can actually do about those worries. Are the ewes bred? Well, they either are or they aren’t and nothing we can do now is going to change that. Is it getting below freezing enough nights to help off-set next year’s parasite load? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but nothing I can do is going to change the weather.

So, while there may be a little less to do in the winter, there is a whole lot less that can be done, which for me is incredibly frustrating and exhausting.

Meanwhile, on The Shearer’s side of this equation, Emily works her way west in the winter, where the shearing is done much earlier than in the cold parts of the country. She just finished a long stint in New Mexico and won’t be back here until March, when the East Coast shearing will commence.

I’ve gotten lots of emails asking if we still have space in The Shepherd and The Shearer and the answer is YES! We have about 30 spaces left and we would love to have you. I am working on an option that would allow participants to make smaller payments once a month, rather than the one time $250 (which can be steep for some of us) and I will have it ready to go no later than Wednesday, if there are spaces still available by then.




  1. thanks for the update, may these 30 remaining ‘shares’ fly out the shop!!

  2. Thanks to you humans and all the sheep who are busily working on ‘my’ wool over this winter. I bought Kate Davies’ “Colours of Shetland” book [totally inspiring] & can hardly wait for the fun to begin in September!

  3. I would love this option if possible~

  4. Thanks again for trying to work out the payment option! I’m going to be stalking you all week in anticipation!

  5. Diane Shepherd-in-the-Making

    January 28, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Your thoughtful post reminds me of winter & how much is going on under the ground although things might look dead. Here in my garden I have a plethora of day lilies from Oakes which I’ve bought & planted over time. A few go dormant & I wonder when I’ll see their little green heads. Others stay green-ish & small. Everything is waiting – for the sun, for the warmer days, for less cold winds, and the like. I am reminded of a poem that tells us in our distant memory we know that the twig-like branches will blossom and bear fruit again. We know and yet we are glad when we see. Very fond memories of JMF & how it follows the seasons

  6. I heard an NPR interview about the hay rustlers. Who knew? Wishing all your critters a crunchy mouthful!

  7. I am very excited for September to come, my husband ordered my sweater as a gift! I completely understand the waiting game, I am an agronomist/soil scientist and am currently waiting to start planting research trials.

  8. I am also eagerly awaiting the September arrival of my sweater yarn and book. I also ordered The Shepherd and the Shearer t-shirt from Cafe Press–lovely.

  9. Thanks for sharing a dose of daily ‘farm’ life! So many folks are attracted to the ‘glam’ of it all, without the knowledge of ALL the hard work, the joy, and sometimes, the sadness!

    Kudos to Emily… I can’t imagine living her lifestyle!! I admire her strength in so many ways!!

  10. This is fabulous. I would love to join but I don’t knit. If you ever add a crochet sweater pattern, I will be the first in line. I hope to see everyone at the Spring Shearing – any thoughts on dates?

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