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The Wombat in the Woolshed

Shorn sheep in the woolshed: you can see the floor grating and bearers that make up the wombat runways

Shorn sheep in the woolshed: you can see the floor grating and bearers that make up the wombat runways

Some months ago, I noticed that a cheeky wombat had taken up residence under my woolshed—specifically, under the holding shed where sheep are kept dry overnight before shearing. It’s a most desirable residence, indeed a veritable wombat mansion, with hundreds of square feet of pre-made burrow runways, filled with lovely, soft, easily shifted sheep poo. I’m quite sure he bragged about his fancy domicile to his wombat lady friends and crowed over his less fortunate wombat buddies.

Imagine his dismay, then, when the shed was filled with sheep—not just once but for days in a row in the run-up to, and aftermath of, shearing. While the runways would have seemed just the thing up til then, the truth is the “ceiling” of the burrow is just metal grating, not good solid earth. The tramping of many feet, twenty four hours a day, must have left him deafened and dispirited. In fact, I would not have been surprised if he’d abandoned his palatial burrow for a nice quiet ordinary sort of place in a sandy hillside somewhere.

Until a few days ago, I’d never seen my wombat—only his telltale signs: energetic, break-out-of-prison digging and characteristic square wombat poos (really). So imagine MY surprise when, having literally just said, casually, to visitors, “I have a wombat under my shed”, I looked down and there he was at my feet under the grating. I have never been that close to a wombat before, and it was quite a thrill! He didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence—we ended up leaving before he did. It was sort of like “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” After all, it’s his mansion.

Mr Wombat in his parlour!

Mr Wombat in his parlour!

In other news, we are, thankfully, through shearing—always a nerve-wracking time of year. Despite some truly horrible, potentially fatal, cold weather the day we finished up, and for several days after, all the sheep have come through it in good nick. Because of the inclemency of the weather for the week of shearing, there was lots of juggling sheep in and out of the shed—trying to keep everyone dry for shearing but also fed and watered. And once the weather really socked in—cold, drenching rain and gale force winds—keeping sheep alive overnight by keeping them in the shed. Hypothermia under these conditions is all too real a risk. So, a big sigh of relief to get to 10 days out from shearing with no losses.

On the sheltered side of the hill in the lucerne (alfalfa) paddock, two days after shearing.

On the sheltered side of the hill in the lucerne (alfalfa) paddock, two days after shearing.

A bit of sad news— a few weeks ago we had to say farewell to Alice, who at 16 was the longest-lived sheep on the property. Alice, whose face is on the wool labels, taught me the rudiments of nutritional wisdom before I even knew the term. After a bad lambing episode, she was confined for several weeks to the sheep equivalent of a walker, which I got her into each morning so she could graze on her own, with me moving the walker to a fresh area every little while. As I waited for her to finish up grazing each patch she could reach, I noticed that she was eating the available plants with great precision and in a preferred order—it was only when she had eaten everything but the grass (chicory, lucerne, plantain and clover) that she would look up at me to say “Ok, now can we please move?” After a couple of weeks, she was strong enough to move the walker herself, and eventually went back into the flock—this was back in 2006.

Alice in her “walker” in 2006.

Alice in her “walker” in 2006.

Alice had a second close brush with death a couple of years later—I had to sell about half the flock, due to insufficient forage. I’d tried to find Alice in the mob as I was sorting, but failed to do so. On the morning the transport truck was due, I walked past the yards, feeling miserable and not wanting to look any of my sheep in the face, knowing their fate. Taking a brace, I thought, “No, not like this.” I turned and faced them, and said, somewhat choked up, “Thank you girls, for all you’ve done.” And Alice walked straight up to the fence and said “For goodness sake, Mom, get me out of here!” Which I did. So, it’s the end of an era with her passing. And I am so grateful for all she taught me.

Alice on the right, with Old Leader, in 2014.

Alice on the right, with Old Leader, in 2014.

And a bit of exciting news—I’ve just taken delivery of 4 new colours in the Silk/Merino 5 ply/sport yarn: Storm, Gum Grey, Sedge and Flax Lily. And I now have the silk/merino blend in cones and dyers’ hanks.

The full range of silk/merino colours, including the 4 new kids: Storm, Sedge, Gum Grey and Flax Lily.

The full range of silk/merino colours, including the 4 new kids: Storm, Sedge, Gum Grey and Flax Lily.