Winter Chores

“What a mild winter,” everyone says. No frigid chill or permafrost ground. Even now the grass looks November green.

But when I’m standing in a field, the wind burning my cheeks and cutting through my jeans, it’s doesn’t seem that mild.

I hunker down and wish that I’d wish worn thermal underwear.

I wish I’d worn smart-wool socks.

I hope a sheep doesn’t poop on me.

“They’re not going to poop on you, they’re going to poop on me,” Martin says, peering at a hoof.

I slide into the handling chute and wedge myself between the sheep who are crammed so tightly, they look like a package of marshmallows squashed in a grocery cart.

Martin and I are embarking on a chore we should’ve tackled in the summer: trimming the sheeps’ hooves. One of them appeared to be lame.

Not only are we dealing with lousy weather and wily sheep, we have no idea what we’re doing.

An instructional website on hoof trimming shows a handler standing the sheep on its hind legs or sitting it down for a trim. But the sheep in the photos are wiry and small — not like ours that look bloated cotton balls. They outweigh me by 75 pounds. Martin trims them like a farrier shoeing a horse.

Unfortunately, sheep hooves lack the distinctive “cut here” delineation of finger nails. When I search the web I find only a handful of sites and the first sums up my frustration: “There are not many sources of written information on hoof trimming…”

Last summer when Martin bought the trimmers (which look like gardening shears) the guy at Southern States was equally helpful. “You wanna trim a bit but not too much,” he cautioned. “Every four to six months.”

“That often?” Martin asks. “We’ve had our for three years and never trimmed them.”

“Gosh,” the man said. “Then you may want to put them down.”

The neglect isn’t entirely our fault. The sheep were supposed to be loaner models… borrowed to train Maisie.┬áBut then the owner died and by default we inherited them.

The wind whips up, chapping my cheeks but my legs are pretty warm…compressed by the sheep. Like an undertow they carry me around the pen as they dodge Martin.

Martin wades in, snagging each hoof and tentatively paring it away. Eventually everyone’s done but Blackie. He so jammed under the rest of the herd, he’s almost invisible. Martin dives for him and the entire mass sloshes around the pen, threatening to burst the boards.

“We’ll let Blackie go,” Martin finally says. “I don’t think he’s too bad.”

Good enough for me. I’m ready to go back inside. I’ll be out again in April.