Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gearing up for Shearing

It's time. It's time to strip those animals of their worldly coverings and harvest their wool. It's time for all fiber producing animals to pay up for a year's board and care. Yes, it's time to shear.

However, the spring has been slow in coming and the temperature's still only hovering around 50F today with threats of freezing rain in the evenings. So, we've had lots of time to piddle around and "get ready". We've already sheared our goats, thankfully, because they needed it so badly. They were shivering in their little shelters immediately after the denuding, so we opened up the west side of the chicken house for them to huddle into. It's helped them a lot and when the pasture gate is open, they hardly complain at all while they barge out toward the greens. As soon as the rain starts to fall, though, they all run, lickety split, to the shelters again as if they'll melt in the rain.

We're sharpening our own blades this year. We purchased the sharpening stone in partnership with another alpaca farm, trading a portion of an animal for our part of the purchase price. Last year, I spent over $300 getting my blades sharpened throughout the shearing season. We figure that this will pay for itself within 2 seasons even if we don't take in any outside sharpening work.

So here it is, our nifty DIY blade sharpener. Like most things, there's a trick to it and being the visual learner that I am, I had to have our partnering farmer come over and show me how to do it right. I had sharpened several sets the week before to do some shearing out near the Nebraska line and the blades that I sharpened wouldn't cut. As it turns out, they were sharpened just fine, but didn't get completely demagnetized. Go figure. It's a good thing I had two sets of brand new blades with me or I'd have lost the job altogether.

This is how it works. You charge the stone with oil and grit, not too much of each or you'll pretty much make mud. Hold the blade with the magnet so that you don't touch the stone as it turns clockwise. Press the blade to the stone and repeatedly move the blade from center to outside edge in a straight line. There should be an even shower of sparks and you should be able to see the worn parts clear away little by little. It takes just a few seconds to sharpen a blade, but it takes a keen eye to make sure it's done correctly. Blades are used in sets--a comb and a cutter. Both are sharpened exactly the same way, but the combs take a little longer and little more attention because they're larger. This is a group of 10 combs waiting to be sharpened. You can see the magnet in the next picture and the word "demagnetizer" is a strong clue to the last one.

After sharpening, you must pass them over a demagnetizer. I had done this previously, but I didn't know that if you turn off the demagnetizer while the blade is still on it, it will re-magnetize the blade. So...I pass the blades over the demagnetizer, take them at least three feet away and then I can turn off the demagnetizer. After that, you wash the blades in a degreaser solution, blow dry with an air compressor and then oil them so they're ready for use. I did my 16 sets of sheep blades and 6 sets of goat blades in under an hour, from beginning to end.

The girls and I have a shearing job this Saturday for 4 alpacas and 9 angora goats. We'll start shearing our alpacas as soon as the weather calms and the nights are slightly warmer. I'll be moaning about my sore back and knees by then, just so you know. It's better to know what to expect, I think.

See you on the other side...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Mother's Day Tribute

Well, we're back!! After what seems like ages, we're finally catching up on the spring work (more on that later) and have time for sharing once again. So how are all of you? I've missed reading blogs and staying in the loop of everyone's lives and interests. I hope this finds everyone healthy, happy and eager to meet tomorrow.

Today is Mother's Day and I want to share my mother with you. She passed away on November 22, 2006 after a 5 year battle with ovarian cancer.

Phyllis Hoecher was born to dry land farmers in northern Colorado in 1933. She was the youngest of 6 children and a product of the Great Depression, which molded her character and outlook for the rest of her life. When we were growing up, she told us such stories of hard times and making the best of what they had. My grandpa was an Austrian immigrant who came to America at the age of 9. After marrying my grandma, he lost his first farm for $17 tax money and his second farm for $49 tax. To feed his children, he operated a still during Prohibition, making and selling moonshine on a small farm just one mile across the section from where we live now. When the revenuers came to raid his place, he buried the still and forgot where he put it. It's buried somewhere on that farm yet today.

My grandpa walked 8 miles every night to the nearby settlement of Cornish to play poker to bring in money during the Depression. He played at the saloon--yes the saloon--just like in the cowboy movies, although it wasn't glamorous in the least. He would play poker until the wee hours of the morning, walk the 8 miles home and go to work in the fields during the day. The family was lucky not to have starved. The stories of eating baking powder biscuits with small bits of sorghum and boiled turnips for days on end are still fresh in my mind.

She attended schools right near where we live now and met and married my father in this area as well. The Depression was probably the single most influential era in my mother's life. The scarcity of money, food, clothing, housing, jobs, and everything else necessary for daily living took its toll. She emerged, as so many did, wary of government and bankers, distrusting of everyone, including some of her own family, and tight fisted with her money. Her father told her, "Don't you EVER trust ANYONE," and she pretty much never did. She never threw anything away, but saved it all because "everything has a use and you'll be sorry if you don't have it later." This is a picture of the students in Mama's one room school on the Colorado prairie near Pierce, Colorado in 1939. She's in the front row on the right end.

After marrying my father, they farmed various farms as tenants and then finally bought the home place, right here, in 1964. It was a miracle for them to get it, with no money down and small annual payments. They bought it for $22,500.00, less than an average new car costs today. I've lived here my whole life and hope I never leave. My mother hoped the same, and God was merciful to her in that she was able to live here until she went on to heaven. This is my mom and dad's wedding picture with my grandparents, Gustav and Mildred Hoecher.

My mother was a registered nurse for 50 years. She worked at the local hospital at night and farmed with Papa during the day. They struggled. They had four girls within the first 7 years of marriage, dealt with health problems, fought to make the farm payment every year, faced weather and falling prices, and wrangled with marital issues. Throughout every challenge, Mama always reminded us that she was blessed because she always had more than she ever had as a child. I believed her--most of the time. She always told us that being happy is a choice you make, not an experience that happens. I believed her. This is one of my favorite pictures of all of us girls. I'm the one in the front with the fat belly. My sister Kathleen, of A Bag of Olives, is holding our baby sister.

Mama was a strong willed woman with a bigger than life personality. Standing only 5'4" at her peak, she wielded great influence. She was opinionated and passionate about the things that were important to her--her family, her land and home, her nursing career, her community. I remember her standing toe to toe more than once with the ditch rider arguing about why he wouldn't give us our full measure of water for irrigation. I remember her getting in a doctor's face about his lack of compassion towards an ailing patient. I remember her fighting for my opportunity to audition for a sports scholarship at the local university, even thought I wasn't on "the list". (I got the scholarship, by the way, to Mama's everlasting satisfaction.) She was competent, confident, intelligent, well researched, fearless and prepared to do battle. How do you stand up to that? Very few could.

I always felt overwhelmed by Mama's personality. She was more than I could ever imagine being. In a way, I was afraid of her--afraid of her disapproval and anger, afraid of falling short of her expectations. I rarely said "No" to her, even as an adult, due to that fear. She had a wicked and sharp tongue when riled and her sarcasm cut deeply. It would hurt her to know that.

But as we both grew older, we became friends. She was no longer the rescuer and the teacher to me. She relaxed and seemed to enjoy my company and thus, I was able to relax. We spent weekends camping with the grandchildren. We took road trips to out of the way places like Mesa Verde for exploring, Red Mountain Pass for the amazing beauty, South Fork for fishing, and Pawnee Buttes for the ever changing prairie. We canned vegetables, butchered chickens, learned to work her very first video camera and communicate by email. We talked about life, love, the future, ideals, hopes and dreams. Mama revealed more of herself to me during that period than I ever thought possible. She didn't try to make a point. She just seemed to want to share herself with someone that she finally felt she could trust. I was glad to be the keeper of her secrets.

No one was more shocked than I was when she came home from the doctor crying. The woman who had always been physically, emotionally and mentally strong was broken. The doctor didn't make a diagnosis, but she knew she had cancer. She knew the signs and symptoms and read it all. She fought for 5 long years and during that time, my girls grew from primary schoolers into young women and my boys into adults. Despite all my rantings about chemotherapy and the incompetence of doctors, they gave us 5 precious years that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

Mama passed away the day before Thanksgiving and we thanked God for her life and her passing. It was a relief and a release to let her go, even though I miss her terribly. She is now walking the streets of glory with her Savior and reaping the rewards of a life well lived.

Thanks for letting me share her with you. There are loads of details that I could include, but those will come up in due time as life continues on.

Mama and her brother in 1945.

Mama and her family in 1945.

Papa and Mama with my Abby in 2000.