History of a Vermont Sheep Farm
Getting Started: You Can Farm Too!
A Flock of Your Own Icelandic Sheep
A Flock of Your Own Chickens
Growing Your Farm: How the Numbers Work

Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep
by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius has an expanded format and newer information on medications. Wonderful pictures of lambing positions and shearing. From the shearing pictures you can easily learn to handle a small flock.

Dreaming Vermont: Relocating and Living in Vermont


Sheep Shed Ergonomics

It has been a heck of a winter… and I don’t mean the weather, although one might mark upon it. No, this winter we noticed, among other things, a depressing similarity between Stowe’s seemingly diverse restaurants. Each and every one of them has suddenly decided to produce their menus in microscopic, impossible-to-read, type. We were shocked to discover, on recent trips, that this phenomenon extends beyond Stowe, to Middlebury, Montpelier, and even into Morrisville.

As March unwinds into April it is time to turn the sheep sheds from rudimentary shelters into a nursery. Our ewes are once again starting to resemble wooly trash barrels on stick legs and although they have not resolved into the pictures which herald impending lambs, udders on cloven feet, it is time to start preparing the sheds for the new arrivals. This means a winter’s worth of discarded hay, bedding, and, as we say for public consumption “sheep waste by-product” must be shoveled from the sheds.

The husband and I differ dramatically in our approach to construction. I am a minimalist… I employ the absolute minimum in time, effort, and materials to achieve the job at hand. The husband prefers to overbuild under the theory that a job done to bomb shelter specifications and roughly twice the size necessary will probably be useful, if not stand up longer, than one of my cobbled together constructions. Where the sheep sheds are concerned, however, I won the day. Aided and abetted by a need to outlay substantial cash last year on transportation the sheep sheds are a study in New England thrift.

One place you can skimp when constructing domiciles for short animals is in the height of the thing… we may be minimally comfortable with a six foot ceiling, but a three foot high sheep requires considerably less height, ergo, less materials required in construction. This seems a brilliant savings in overhead until that fateful March day when, pitchfork in hand, you slump your way into the shed to clean out the winter waste.

Those of you noticing for the first time the dramatic shrinking of print to the illegible take note: lifting 50 pounds of compacted bedding at the end of a pitchfork while hunched over in the Human Entering the Hobbit Household position, pivoting, and attempting to fling said waste some distance and with accuracy, is ill advised. Stubbornly continuing to do this for some period of time after you’ve heard an ominous pop coming from your hip is seriously ill advised.

However, a combination of fermentation and medical science can be employed to cover almost any contingency… this is why beer and motrin were developed. To combat pain. Our theory is the injury isn’t serious enough to warrant professional attention if it is manageable after three beers… and three motrin.

Unfortunately, beer (a considerable and lavish application of beer) and motrin didn’t do the trick, nor did grinding teeth, and in short order I’d acquired not only a diagnosis but a bemused physical therapist. It seems that pitching sheep poop while hunched over in the Human Entering the Hobbit Household position is bad ergonomics. Who knew? It never bothered me before. But then… I never noticed how small type has become before this winter either.

“You must,” a well intentioned friend intoned in all seriousness, “slow down some.” The implication being that we’re not as young as we used to be. I’ve had a week to contemplate “slowing down” simply because slow was the only way to perambulate. It leaves much to be desired. It is time consuming, painfully so, for someone accustomed to moving at speed.

The husband, sensing an opportunity, points out that with a bigger barn, possibly even a bigger tractor, not only would the Human Entering the Hobbit Household position have been avoided, but internal combustion would have been employed in the emptying of the (bigger) barn… not a pitchfork… and the speed by which a tractor could empty a barn would surely compensate for any physical limitations brought on by encroaching middle age.

But I am not sold on internal combustion, although a larger barn with decent hay storage would be a beautiful thing. Cleaning sheds by hand invites sheep participation. Round and curious they dash in and out of the shed, the boldest stopping for a pat, to check the pockets for a treat of corn, the shy ones bounding straight up and down in their excitement. My prettiest ewe pokes her head in the doorway, blocking progress and we pause together so I can admire her perfect horns and mahogany fleece. Tractors may be faster, but pitchforks have their purpose.

We should be cutting wood in this “spring” weather of ten degrees and howling winds, but instead I’m learning the names of muscle groups and how to best deploy them to stabilize the spine. There’s an irony for you… a New Englander learning how to stiffen their spine. The therapist is learning new things too, and has added “logger’s hooks,” those indispensable tools of the woodcutter’s trade, to his vocabulary.

Regardless of his unfamiliarity with logging hooks and chainsaws, however, he does know how to ply his trade. The Friday before last I was in such discomfort (this is a nice euphemism for “the prescription pain pills, knocked back with double doses of motrin and tylonol, were bouncing off”) he actually made a house call. Who knew people did such things in this day and age? Complete with a knock down examining table… using the kitchen table would have been more authentically Vermont, but I will admit, the padded table was probably more comfortable.

This Sunday, 9 days later, Peter and I spent the afternoon attacking the log pile. Made a goodly dent in the thing, considering that it is buried under a significant amount of snow, and we had to keep stopping and using the tractor to “fluff up” the pile so we could find the logs.

Thus, in a few weeks, thanks largely to the skill of a PT and not my own recuperative powers, I’ll be back in the sheds. Just in time to catch the first of our spring lambs.
Assuming, of course, they come out large enough for me to see!

(Visit the Stowe Vermont Physical Therapist we depend on for Manual Therapy and Myofascial Release Techniques)


Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
The Fourth of July

The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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