By Elizabeth Ellen
Sharon introduced us to her older sister Caroline, who also lived in one of the houses on the farm property. We found out she was the resident dog trainer as she introduced us to her “crew.” The dogs were so excited to have visitors; they couldn’t get enough of all the attention that we were gushing on them. After introductions, Caroline explained how she had learned the techniques of dog training in Australia, and had brought dogs back for breeding; pure bred Australian border collies that now called Patagonia home. As part of her job, she now travels around to different farms to train other dogs the tricks of the trade of sheepherding.
The star of the days show was Chocó, named for her color. After a few commands and whistles, she set off and showed us her skills. She quickly transitioned and became extremely focused and serious about the task at hand, never making one false move and always bringing back the herd. We couldn’t believe it when Caroline explained that she only needed a few sheep dogs to manage their whole property.
After the sheep herding show, Sharon walked us to the barns where the sheep were corralled in for shearing. Her husband was already in the shed ready to explain how it was done. He explained that they use old school techniques (literally a pair of shears) to shear the sheep because it is more humane. The bonus is that they get better quality wool and the sheep weren’t sick as often because they were left with a layer of wool as opposed to electric shears, which cut right to the skin, often burning the sheep. Apparently there are a handful of farms that still use these practices, while most use electric shearers that are faster and more efficient.
It was amazing to see the before/after transformation. After a sheep was sheared and rejoined the pen full of sheep with full, fluffy coats of grey, the newly sheared sheep seemed so naked and sparking white by comparison! Apparently, the proper way to shear a sheep is to cut so that the pelt remains in one full piece. Showing us they had accomplished this delicate task, they then laid it out on the racks for us to see and feel. The wool was silky smooth and oily to the touch. Sharon and her husband then continued showing us the rest of the process the wool went through; cleaning and packaging it for shipping.
Sharon then finished the tour around the rest of the farm showing us all the various sheds and buildings explaining all the various purposes they served. Our final stop brought us to the vegetable garden, which was magical. Potatoes, carrots, rhubarb, and other various fresh vegetables were sprouting up at every turn. With the several greenhouses and gardens, chickens, and abundance of lamb, the farm was almost fully sustainable. Little did we know, we were about to taste this firsthand, as Sharon insisted we stay on for lunch before heading out.