Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gathering at the fank

Some of the tasks of the crofting year are still carried out on a communal basis.  Gathering the sheep for shearing is one of those. Most of the sheep have been on the croft land, but after shearing in early Summer, they go up onto the common grazing land - the hilly terrain that surrounds the flatter low lying croft. The sheep were brought in to the fank by various means - herded by dogs, or quad bikes, or  driven in trailers.  Our two were herded into a corner of our feild by a neighbour's dog, and brought along in a trailer.

Once all the sheep were gathered in, it was decided by all that it was not a good day to do the actual shearing - it had rained earlier and looked likely to again.  So the big moment was put off until the next day, and the sheep were left in the field at the back of the pens.  Look at the two Maddies at the front there.  What a fine pair they are!

The next morning, John got going with the shears - much encouragement and gentle leg pulling came his way - all in Gaelic, of course, but he soldiered on and soon completed the shearing of Maddie Mor.

And there she is with our flock mark decorating her new hair do. Ok - maybe he missed a bit, but in two weeks you will never know the difference.  The rest of those sheep were sheared with electric clippers, which gets much closer to the skin.

Then it was Maddie Beag's turn - she is much much harder to catch and hold - and photograph

But in the end - she also wears the red dot .  Look at her giving us a twirl there!

James was there to watch and learn too - he feels pretty confident he says.

And there are the girls waiting for their holiday transport to depart.  See you at dipping time!

Although we did spot Maddie Mor having a wee sunbathe on the lower slopes the other day.


  1. I love learning how to care for sheep even if I live in an area that is way too hot to have them. I do think they are magnificent! You said see you at dipping time, dipping for what?

  2. I love seeing sheep as they're being sheared! I think John did a fantastic job with regular clippers (I'd be too scared of hurting the sheep or myself).

    And such beautiful wool!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. looks like a great time! and lots of work. one day I will get off of this darned continent and see that beautiful place.

  4. I'm impressed that you photographed Maddie Beag with three feet in the air!

  5. I'm intrigued by the word 'fank'. Is it gaelic? What does it actually mean?

  6. wool looks so fluffy and warm when just sheared off a sheep (says she who has only seen photos). please excuse my ignorance but is it for the sheep's sake or the owners (for wool)that you shear them at this time of year?

  7. Ann - the word fank means a temporary enclosure for livestock - like a corral. it is from a gaelic word - fang (pr fangi - hard g) It now means the whole act of gathering the sheep (or it could be cattle) to a common place and the owners can came along and do what they need to - as in "There is a fank for shearing on friday".

    Tracey - the sheep will be dipped later in the year to control external parasites such as Sheep Scab, ticks and blow fly. Bacause sheep here spend their lives out doors, and most of the summer up on the moorland, grazings, then they might pickup someof these nasties. The dipping itself is very highly regulated and we have to use specialist dipping contractors - or someone who has done the requisite training. the substances used are very toxic and they must not be allowed to leak into the water table. I am not very keen on the idea of immersing my sheep in such poisons, so I will be finding out if there are alternatives.
    Sorry, i should have explained all this in the post, but my brain was not quite able to last night,so thanks for the questions.
    Susan - maddie beag was just skipping around and twirling after her shearing - it was so funny - even the most expereinced shepherds were laughing at her. She must have felt very light after getting that big coat off.
    Emily - Hohn was very nervouse about cutting her. he took as long to shear out two as out neighbour took to do 14 with his clippers. It is a sttep learning curve atm.
    FT - you are welcome at any time :)

  8. JTs - it is for the sheep really. Shearing happens at any time in June/July. it gives the sheep some relief from the heavy coat in the warmer weather and allows a new one to grow in before the Autumn. I know in the US they begin to shear earlier in the year, but it is not warm enough until early summer here.

  9. And sorry about all the typos in my comment - brain obviously still not working - more tea please! xx

  10. Yay, I've been waiting for this post. Have sent a card in the post and asked if your shearing them yet.
    What a great job John, well done, for your first time and with clippers too.
    Now the question is what are doing with the lovely wool ?!?

    I bet they feel a lot cooler now for the Summer, plus the added benefit of them not getting fly strike (ooh nasty).

    Lovely to wake up and read this, James looks pleased with the wool too x

  11. Are you going to spin up the wool. I used tondo a lotnof spinning and made loads of fabulous warm woolly jumpers for all and sundry. Vegetable dying the wool is also a rewarding exercise.


  12. I love watching sheep being sheared! It always surprises me how clean and white the fleece is that's been growing close to the skin. Your fleeces look like big, fluffy clouds!! I'm a big ignorant on sheep breeds, is your wool the kind that can be used for clothing, or is it too scratchy? What will happen to your fleeces now?

  13. I reckon James will grow up to be a natural sheep shearer...

    ...looks like he's got enough there to cover him ten times over.

  14. fabulous!! oh, i love sheep-shearing's so comical to see the looks on their faces once the wool has been clipped off.

    ridiculously..i remember the horse-farm sheep being sheared in February (GASP!) -- which was horrible for them, actually...considering our winters. no idea why. no-one seemed to have an answer. the shearing-man just said "that's when we do it".

    go figure.


  15. Very interesting. You have some similirties to the shearing on our islands. I'm not involved myself, but watched and blogged about it last year: :)

  16. Well done all of you, sheep included! I love the word 'fank' - and how people say 'fankled up'. Doesn't that mean confused in Scots?

  17. Oooh he did a good job didn't he.

  18. That wool is just gorgeous. What kind of sheep do you have? I love learning little bits and pieces of the culture there--how you have a word for gathering the sheep together communally. Thank you again for sharing.

  19. Our sheep are Cheviot/Blackface crosses - and the wool is very scratchy. Suitable for outerwear, apparently. i didn't keep a lot of it - just enough to have a spin wiht, and my neighbour came by to have a go too - she doesn't believe in carding, so we spun straight from the fleece! Great fun.
    The rest went in one of our neighbour's woolbags. if you have more that 4 sheep, in the Uk, you can only sell your wool to the Wool Marketing Board and, altough the price was much higher this year, they don't pay very much.
    BTW, this doesn't apply to rare breeds.
    Christine - yes fankle mean confused or really muddled up. I don't think it is from the same word though.
    Mel - that is pretty bad for the poor sheep.
    Dorit - I must go and check out your post - thank you.
    Joxy - i was very proud of him. xx

  20. Hi Jacqui, I've just been catching up with what you have been up to the past few weeks. Lovely to hear how things are going up there, and your photos are gorgeous as always. Going to try to stop by more often. :)
    Laura xx


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