Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shearing Barn Cleaning

One of my greatest challenges every year is barn prep for shearing. We have had a commercial flock of mostly Rambouillet sheep for nearly fifty years here at my ranch. My grandfather traded some purebred Hereford cows to a neighbor for his first flock of sheep.

Now we’ve all heard the stories about how the old Cowboys hated the old Sheepherders! My grandfather was no exception to being the “Old Cowboy”. At age 13 he was hired with another boy to trail a herd of horses from Dalhart, Texas to Corona, New Mexico. They were in charge of about two hundred fifty head of horses! We don’t even let our thirteen year old boys out of the yard now, let alone charge them with getting a herd horses across about three hundred miles without an adult along. He was put in charge of a “line camp” on the ranch to which he brought the horses. He was charged with keeping those sheepherders away from the waters and off the grass.

Since he bought the flock of sheep in the early 1950s, he had to build a “shearing barn” that would work for other things during the rest of the year. A barn is necessary to keep the floors a bit cleaner here in the desert southwest. It keeps the spring winds out of the freshly sheared wool.

The floor in the barn, at that time, was portable being made like pallets. Each of these pallets was eight foot long by one foot wide boards with narrower boards nailed underneath, and with inch gaps between. This was for the trash to fall through but not the sheep or shearers. It worked well for years. My dad decided to pour a concrete floor to make it easier to work on the trucks and other equipment. This makes for oil spills and other sins.

Every spring we have a barn cleaning party. Anything not shearing or sheep related must be removed from the barn. This includes snowmobiles, ATVs, tool chests, welding equipment, dirt, oil spills, blown in vegetable matter. When we get through with the barn party the barn is cleaner than my kitchen. In order to keep the wool in as near to pristine condition, it must be sheared in a clean barn. And the barn must remain in a clean condition all during the shearing operation.

Oil spills are first blotted up with kitty litter, a concrete detergent used to scrub the floor, and a very thorough rinsing.

Things like rocks, cigarette butts and soda cans are strictly forbidden on the shearing floor. My floor boss is in charge of keeping all trash off the floor. This person is given a push broom and a lawn rake. They sweep the area immediately after a sheep is let loose and the fleece is picked up. Prevention of contamination being the operative word for the floor boss. During lunch hour, the floor boss gets to sweep the floor completely and rake the area where the sheep are kept, off the edge of the concrete. Then at the end of the day this process happens all over again.

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