Monday, April 29, 2013

Going to the vet to get tutored!

Interesting operation to watch, and much more involved if you're dealing with a mature adult than a weeks-old kid.  The tool of the day is the "burdizzo."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Tool...shave and a haircut edition

The tool of the day is the Sunbeam-Stewart Clipmaster Shearmaster clippers.

We have five sheep that are pregnant, due to have their lambs in a few weeks.  You want to get them shorn before that happens, so you need some shears.  Until a short while ago, we didn't have any.

The guy who was responsible for building our barn has been connected with farming in Oregon for quite a while.  When he saw that we had sheep, he said that he had some used clippers that he could sell us.  They'd belonged to his brother, who raised sheep for a long time, but had retired.  He wasn't sure if they were still any good, but if we weren't interested, there was a neighbor of his who might use them--they are apparently the thing for trimming your (medical) marijuana--but he said he'd rather see them used for sheep.  We said we'd check them out if he brought them by. 

The barn guy brought us two clippers, and a box full of blades and combs.  The box contained an interesting corporate history: there was a "Stewart" brand clipper, which was compact, narrow-bladed, and had an antique Bakelite body.  Next to it was a Sunbeam-Stewart brand clipper, the result of a corporate buyout with a bigger motor and a wider head.  When I took these to the sheep dude at the Co-op for evaluation, he pointed out that the newer models are by Oster, which bought Sunbeam, and the heads are even wider (though the motors are less powerful).  He said that the Sunbeam should do fine, and that there were enough blades and combs to last for a long time, but that if anything broke, we'd have problems since the model hasn't been made for a long time and replacement parts are nonexistent.  (He also said that he'd learned to shear with the older, "Stewart" model, a long time ago.)  So, we bought the clippers from the barn guy, and set out to remove some wool from these poor sheep.

Sheepshearing is a skill.  It takes practice, and neither the Real Doctor nor I had ever done anything remotely like.  A pro will do this slick jiujitsu that puts the sheep on its rump, zip the clippers around, and have the sheep as bald as a cue ball in a couple of minutes.  Us?  Our sheep are gravid, so no jiujitsu.  They had to go up on a stand and be restrained.  Also, I was unfamiliar with the shears, so for most of the time I had the blade tension too slack, meaning I was chewing rather than cutting--and once I did tighten them up, I promptly took a quarter-sized chunk of sheepskin off of the poor victim.  I am not overly familiar with the contours of a pregnant sheep, so I was very hesitant, and most of the time stayed way too far off of the animal's skin--except when I accidentally got way too close, leaving a raw bald spot.  Every single sheep took almost an hour of concentrated effort from the both of us.  Our poor sheep look like they have the worst case of mange the world has ever--or will ever--see.

But, this is the fault of the shearer, not the shears.  The basic design of the newest Shearmaster shears is exactly the same as the oldest ones.  They are mechanically very simple, very clever, very elegant machines.  For an engineer, they are beautiful.  If you get the chance, take them apart and see. 

That said, we may not have gotten a bargain.  I was just finishing the last sheep today--trying to get rid of the most unsightly clumps and tufts--when the clippers coughed, shot some chunks of hot material out of the fan at a high velocity, slowed, and died.  They won't start.  I'll be taking them to the sheep dude at the Co-op tomorrow.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Worbs Typo edition

Growing up in Los Angeles, you're exposed to a lot of weird stuff, good and bad.  I was exposed to smog (bad) and the Dr. Demento radio show (good).  As a result of the latter, I was exposed to this novelty song, which is distinctly of Los Angeles, but I haven't decided whether it's good or bad:

I'm back in Los Angeles, taking care of some business for my parents while the Real Doctor takes care of the farm.  The map provided by the rental car agency had an amusing typo, possibly from an Optical Character Recognition glitch: it turned "Sepulveda" into the strikingly euphonious "Sepulveola," which I think sounds lovely.

Driving to the old homestead along Suplveola, I got lunch at a Thai restaurant.  When you have so many ethnicities in a simmering hot melting pot like LA, there is bound to be some misunderstandings; in this case, a crudely scrawled sign in the men's room admonished me to "PLEASE  TURN OFF LITE WHEN YOUR FINNISH."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday Tool Say Hay edition

I am, as has been noted by a lot of people, not native to the farm life.  I manifest my ignorance daily and profoundly. 

When we moved in here, there was a lot of stuff left behind by the previous owners.  One outbuilding, which had originally been a dairy but had been converted into a storage shed, was just full of stuff.  It's hard to be more specific than "stuff."  The times that I have packed our belongings to move, I try to pack each box so that it can be labeled on the outside in a sensible way: "winter clothes" or "plant books" or "kitchen gadgets".  However, it seems that I've always ended up with a box that has three toothbrushes, a garden trowel, a pair of socks, a screwdriver, a jar of pens, a book on Japanese woodcarving, two rolls of toilet paper, a spoon, and so on.  No other label can go on such a box but "stuff."  That's what the entire outbuilding was like.   

Among the fencing ratchets and citronella candles and rusty chainsaw blades and fuses, I found these:

City boy me, I didn't know what they were--vicious looking, and the guy used to raise sheep for meat, so maybe meathooks?

I also didn't know the difference between straw and hay, and I didn't know the difference between grass hay, alfalfa, orchard grass hay, first cut hay, and second cut hay.  My experience with such products was from bike racing a couple of decades ago, where bales of some sort of vegetable matter lined the hazardous corners.* 

While I still occasionally slip and call straw "hay," I have learned the difference, and while I am nowhere near the connoisseur that my sheep are, I have learned the difference between good and bad hay.  Also, I learned that those are hay hooks.  If you have a 2x2x3 bale of hay that weighs somewhere near 40 kilos, hay hooks are wonderful.  The bale still weighs a lot, but it's easy to hold onto.  And, from unloading eight bales of hay from my truck every couple of weeks, it feels like the bales have gotten a little lighter. 

*They still do this, which is the stupid result of honoring tradition over thought.  Back in the day, bales were smaller, and much less dense; an impact would be partly cushioned by the straw compressing, and partly by just pushing the bales around.  Nowadays, the bales are heavy enough to not move, and packed so that they are about as hard as a piece of wood.  It's not too much better than lining the corners with rocks.  Cardboard boxes would be much, much better.