The day we had been dreading had finally arrived. Barn cleaning was upon us! All the winter hay that has been accumulating on the barn floor since November had to be cleaned out. Amazingly, the level of our barn floor had risen about two feet with the tightly packed layers of hay on the floor. The sheep loved the insulation it provided on those bitterly cold winter nights, but we did not relish the thought of hauling away all of those matted layers.
We enlisted the help of three others, and the six of us got to work around nine in the morning. First, we had to banish the sheep from the barn. Not exactly a punishment because they got to spend the day in their favorite upper pasture. This is the pasture that is actually at the same level as the second floor of our barn, the area in which we have been housing our six new Icelandics. We decided that this would be a good time to integrate them, so we opened up their gate and let them mingle with the rest of the flock in the pasture. We left the door open to their pen and also to the rest of the upper barn so that there would be shelter from the heat of the day. Water buckets were placed strategically throughout the area. The Black Welsh, in part because of their color, suffer more on warm days than do the Icelandics, or so it seems. Since shearing is not until next week, we have to be very careful that they don’t get overheated with their winter fleeces.
Downstairs, work was well under way. Pitchforks were flying, and clouds of dust started filling the barn. We donned masks, and the seemingly endless task got into full swing. With six people, we thought it might be possible to finish in two days if we were lucky. After two hours and seeing only a small section of cement floor, we realized the enormity of our task. Constantly on our minds was the problem of where to house the sheep overnight if we did not finish. Just keep working, we thought, and see how far we get.
In the meantime, I went upstairs to check on the sheep. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and was greeted by the Black Welsh, who had, not only commandeered the Icelandic pen, but also the entire upper barn. The poor Icelandics were standing outside staring at the Black Welsh sheep who had taken their little refuge away. Their eyes pleaded with me to do something about it. Not much I could do, I thought, as I checked out all the Black Welsh ewes and their lambs lying in every square inch of space. It was packed. I had to step over them very carefully to check on water buckets which were indeed empty. They were all panting and very hot, so I quickly gathered up the buckets, stepped back over the sheep and headed down the stairs. The whole scene bore an uncanny resemblance to a refugee camp, I thought, but for sheep and not people. It wouldn’t be too long I told them all, not really believing it myself.
Back in the barn after a short lunch break, we continued for the rest of the afternoon. As the hay was tossed out of the barn, Nick scooped up the mounds with a back hoe, carefully filling up the trailer hooked up to the back of his tractor. From there it was driven to the upper fields where it would eventually turn into organic compost for our veggies. By the end of the afternoon, we estimated that 14 tractor loads had been taken up there. Work accelerated as we got closer to the end, realizing that there was a strong possibility that we could finish it all in only one day. By 6 pm, the job was done! A new clean layer of hay had been placed on the barn floor, and the gate was opened up for the sheep, who now decided they were enjoying the pasture too much to want to come back. The sound of grains hitting their bunk feeders was all it took for the stampede to begin. All sizes, from the tiniest of lambs to the largest of sheep like Hep came barreling down the pasture and through the gate. They were home again. And we could check off another event that had been weighing heavily on our minds. A sense of accomplishment at a job well done, and then it was on to sheep shearing, barn whitewashing, and the spring haying.