In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shearing day

The d'Entremonts spent two days on the island last week, gathering and shearing the sheep. Mary and LeRoy d'Entremont have bought the flock from Arnold d'Eon. LeRoy has worked with Arnold's flocks for years, but now that he is the owner he has begun to institute his own practices for managing the flocks. LeRoy and Mary have also bought Anne Priest's smaller flock on Blue Island.*

The d'Entremonts are from Pubnico, near the southwestern edge of Nova Scotia. When the Acadians returned to Nova Scotia after their expulsion in 1755, one large community settled the villages of Pubnico, on the eastern and western sides of Pubnico Harbour: there are East Pubnico, West Pubnico, Lower West Pubnico, Middle East Pubnico, Upper West Pubnico, Middle West Pubnico, Centre East Pubnico and Lower East Pubnico. Maybe I have overlooked a few. All those Pubnicos remain a vibrant Acadian community today. Acadians seem to have been involved with Nova Scotia's sheep islands -- many of which are off shore around Yarmouth and Pubnico -- for quite a while.

Mary and LeRoy's crew last week consisted of themselves, their daughters Miranda and Anna, Miranda's friends Nic and Isabella, and LeRoy's Border Collies. They spent two days on McNutt's instead of trying to rush through all the work in one day. They wanted to have a good time even though the work is quite hard.

On the day they arrived they gathered most of the sheep into the corral. This first gathering requires walking the flock for several hours along the rocky shore from the lighthouse to the corral, then going after strays in other parts of the island.

That night the younger folks slept in tents and Mary and LeRoy stayed in the fish house. Greg made their meals so they did not have to bring food or think about cooking or cleaning up. In return we'll get a box of lamb cuts, which makes us very happy.
As the sun rose on the second day LeRoy and Mary came past our house, gathering the remnants of the flock. It gave Greg a chance to take some photos through the window without disturbing the process.

For the most part, the gathering is gentle and patient. The ewes and rams remember the drill and are cooperative. The lambs follow their mothers' cues. The dogs -- who are amazingly trained -- do not overplay their hand. Sheep are very frightened of untrained dogs. They will panic if they are chased by one and they can die from the shock without even being attacked.

So shepherding requires wisdom, which to a casual observer can look like just standing around.
Sometimes a stray ewe or small group needs to be rounded up. Then everybody waits until the late-comers arrive.
After that, the dogs swing into action again and the flock moves toward the lower road, heading toward the corral to join the rest. Then the shepherds stop for breakfast: Quiche Lorraine, homemade strawberry streusel with fresh strawberries, Acadian bacon, orange juice and coffee. Just a sample of the meals they had while they were on the island. I think I may have mentioned that Greg likes to cook.
Later in the the morning, at the corral, the newly re-built shearing platform is the centre of action.
LeRoy is shearing ewes the old way, with hand clippers.
Meanwhile daughter Miranda, who is seventeen, is shearing with electric clippers. The shepherds must pack a portable generator for shearing days, since there is no electricity on the sheep islands.
The shorn ewes are marked with red for those who will be culled in the fall and blue for those who have been wormed and will remain on the island.
LeRoy is a competion-winning trainer of Border Collies. His dogs are a joy to watch. Their joy is watching sheep. This is Dakota, LeRoy's two year old Border Collie. On this trip Dakota is learning the ways of McNutt's Island.
Miranda's friend Isabella is the data keeper for the gathering. Isabella records each ewe's tag number, body condition, and whether or not she had a lamb this season. In addition to being sheared and wormed, the ewes have their feet trimmed.
Miranda and her friend Nic share a quiet moment at the shearing platform, while Mary stuffs wool into huge bags. The wool will go off to MacAusland's Woollen Mills in Prince Edward Island where it will be woven into blankets.
It's a hot and muggy day, and sheep shearing is hard, greasy work that goes on for hours. Shepherds get thirsty.
LeRoy is teaching daughter Anna, who is eight, how to shear. Here she is holding down the ewe while LeRoy shears...
and now she is shearing. What an apprenticeship. I have noticed that parents in Nova Scotia teach their children useful skills as a matter of course.
A lamb wonders what's going on...
An unshorn ewe keeps her eye on Greg and his camera...
Here is the big holding pen, where ewes mill about comparing their haircuts while lambs continue to wonder what's going on.

At the end of the second day the d'Entremonts took eight ewes and the rams off the island. Bye, Major! Bye, Bertie! Bye, Balzac! We'll miss you! They left eighty-seven ewes and eighty-six lambs on the island to have an idyllic time until culling day, in October.

The wild island sheep of southwest Nova Scotia are a unique part of the province's landscape and cultural heritage. We are so lucky to have them here on McNutt's Island.

*Blue Island and her sheep there are a major theme in Anne Barclay Priest's memoir, Trafficking in Sheep (The Countryman Press, 2006). For more background on McNutt's Island sheep and shepherds, you can go to the label wild island sheep in the column on the right of the blog, and catch up on the various past posts. There's also a chapter about the sheep islands and McNutt's Island in particular in Harry Thurston's The Sea Among the Rocks: Travels in Atlantic Canada (Pottersfield Press, 2002).

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