I visited the farm of my friend Brennan’s family today. Mount Mansfield looms over their whole spread. The light snow of the night before gave everything a white feathery coat, bright in the morning sunshine.
The occasion was sheep-shearing. Today the flock lost their fleeces. I was surprised by how docile sheep become once the shearer flips them on their back. “Okay, you got me,” as Brennan characterized it.
It was the first time I visited a working barn in a long time, so I looked at everything with a fairly naive eye. There were stalls with newborn lambs with scribbled notes — one born without an anus had to be put down. The guinea fowl never stopped clucking for all the intruders in the barn.
When I asked why they shear the sheep at this time of year, Brennan said his father subscribes to the school of thought that it’s helpful when ewes give birth. Apparently, if the ewe is warm, they don’t think anything of dropping the lamb in a snowbank. So if they feel the cold, presumably they’re more mindful of the newborn.
After warming up in the house a bit, Brennan showed off the beehives. He mixed up a batch of food, which was mostly confectioner’s sugar mixed with granulated sugar and something to hold them together as a paste. It being winter, he could pull the tops off the hives and peer right in without a swarm of bees rising up.
It was not a good year for bees. The summer was dry, then wet — or wet, then dry — and then Irene came along. Of the three hives, one is probably dead. He still put food inside, just in case.