Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shearing Day

Yesterday was shearing day. Not for us - we don't have sheep. It was shearing day for Robin's Aunt Beany. Her real name is Lavenia, but when her little sister started to talk she couldn't pronounce Lavenia clearly. It came out "Veny" and somehow morphed into Beany. It's been Beany ever since, just a mere 96 years or so. Yep, Aunt Beany is 98, 98 and a half to be exact. She's an independent woman, if there ever was one. She's still living in her home, the one she moved into as a young bride in the 1930s. She and Uncle Frank raised sheep and cattle throughout their marriage and Aunt Beany kept on with the livestock after her husband died in 1981. A widow now for over 30 years, she no longer has cattle (she sold the last of those just a year or two ago), but she still has 14 sheep, plus the buck. She still drives her pickup truck around our small town for necessities. She's like the Energizer Bunny: she just keeps going and going.

Aunt Beany is one of several women I know who keep sheep. I guess shepherdess is the correct term. They love the woolly creatures that are so idyllic in stories and art, yet a little on the dim side in real life. From what I can tell, being a shepherdess is nothing like the Little Bo Beep persona. These ladies wear coveralls and boots, get just as dirty as any male counterpart, and don't hesitate to recount their flock's lack of common sense. In fact, words like dumb and stupid are sprinkled liberally throughout their conversations about sheep. Still, they love their sheep. And they'll do just about anything to protect them from the weather, worms, sickness, coyotes, and anything else that threatens their flocks.

Lambing season is just about over for most farmers in these parts. It's a pretty intense month or two when babies are popping out all over the place. Many ewes give birth to twins, triplets are not uncommon, and once in a while quadruplets show up. Robin had to give Aunt Beany a hand a few weeks ago with a ewe that was having trouble. When he saw hind feet showing he knew the lamb was coming backwards. In the process of turning it around, he felt what he thought was an awful lot of legs. In the end, there were 16 legs, belonging to four lambs.  With some help, all four were born alive. That's just one scenario among dozens when my shepherdess friends get together this time of year. You'll hear tales of baby monitors to listen for trouble, trips to the barn in the wee hours of the night, lambs that don't know who their mama is, mamas that don't seem to want to be mamas, lambs that won't nurse, mamas that don't have enough milk.

You'd think all that would be more trouble than it's worth, that these ladies would give up their sheep in favor of calmer days and nights with just the normal stuff like jobs, housework, kids, and such. But no, these women are firm in their commitment to their flocks, fierce in their protection of them, and tender with them at all the right times. Along with all the hardships of keeping sheep, you'll also hear about how cute and funny the lambs are and how attached they get to ewes that have been good mamas for years. You'll also detect a note of satisfaction in their voices as they describe bringing a sickly lamb through to health. Many of the sheep in a shepherdess's flock are named and recognized on sight. Mixing up milk replacer for lambs that need an extra boost goes right along with fixing supper for the family. Many a lamb has spent a few hours or days in the warmth of their kitchens or laundry rooms when they weren't strong enough for the outdoor weather. And although I haven't witnessed it, I know there are more than a few tears when lambs don't make it for one reason or another, when coyotes kill mercilessly, when a favorite old ewe finally dies.

Yesterday, Robin asked Aunt Beany if she was going to keep sheep another year. She hesitated a moment before answering. Standing in the pen with her ewes, she reached out her hand toward them and said, "I don't know. Seems like I ought to get rid of them, but you've just got to have something around. I don't know." I think what she meant was that her sheep need her. But the truth is Aunt Beany needs the sheep more than the sheep need her. Being needed is something all creatures crave at one level or another. Being needed makes us get up and go when we'd rather not. When you're 98, going on 99, I imagine being needed is a pretty sweet feeling.


  1. Your posts are always a joy! I am so glad to learn more about Aunt Beany... to see a picture even!
    If I were ever to return to the country life I wouldn't raise cows, goats, or pigs; maybe I would have some chickens and horses, but I would certainly choose to have some sheep. From childhood I have always loved sheep.
    Nice story!

    1. So glad you enjoyed this post! It was a special one to put together.

  2. Replies
    1. Well, Lora, do you think I'll make it to 98??? If I do, I hope I'm as hearty as Aunt Beany!

  3. Update: lambing season is about to start around here, and my shepherdess friends will be busy tending their mamas and babies. Aunt Beany won't be among them this year. She died last May 23 at the age of 100 and 6 months.

  4. Awww... how cute! We don't have a lot of sheep around here so I am not very familiar with them. My grandpa used to have a baby lamb {I believe the mama died} and he kept it inside the house for quite a while. He would feed it from a bottle and it became like a sweet pet :)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing at Roses of Inspiration, my dear. I love your new profile picture :)

  5. Such a lovely and tender post! I can understand that need to be needed. I have goats and horses that I adore and that love me.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a wonderful insight and great story of Aunt Beany! She can't give up her seems they are what she lives for. Good for her!!

  7. What a beautiful post. And what a fiesty lady... I can only hope I'm near has spry as she is when I'm her age.

  8. Awwww, what a sweet story and those lambs are precious!


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