Some news stories cause me real pain. Today, the NYT wants me to feel sorry for cheap, imported labor who tend sheep in the West. Instead, I am enraged! I used to have sheep! They didn’t roam the lands, I tended them at home, they had a barn! And they had sweet grass in summer and nice hay in winter and I was driven out of business by free trade and the importation of cheap labor. I miss my sheep. I loved them. They were sweet animals, each one an individual. I could tell 1,000 sheep stories….all this is now gone. Thank you.Actually, I am crying. I miss my lambies. I trained the eldest ewes, the ones I kept to be the mistresses of the Flock, to understand various things I talked to them about. They knew to come to me when a younger ewe was giving birth, for example. They knew the dogs and knew how to work with the dogs to protect the Flock. When baby lambies were lost or trapped somewhere, the older ewes knew to come to the back door of the tent complex to summon me.
The hens learned to sit on the backs of the ewes in winter and would groom them so they were not bothered by mites, the hens and the ewes were so in tune, the chickens would ride on the backs of the ewes when they went outside, in winter. After the ewes ate their sweet mix in the evening, the hens would pick at the last grains.
The ewes trusted us so much, we could call them over and handle them. When they had trouble birthing, they would lie between my legs and I would pull out their babies. I milked the ewes, too. when they miscarried, I would nurse the babies. One of my biggest heartbreaks was when I lost Itty Bitty who died during a terrible blizzard in 1996. As I clutched this miniature lamb to my breasts, she looked at me, bleated, and then passed on to where ever Pegasus flies and lambs dance in perpetual springtimes.
All of this died due to the price of wool collapsing from 1992-2000. I had to sell my flock. It was so painful. But I couldn’t afford to keep them any longer. Anyway, here is the NYT story today:
But like the other sheepherders, or “borregueros,” in the West, Mr. Vargas has barely any contact with his new country, where he earns $750 a month for working round the clock without a day off.
He lives alone in the crude 5-foot-by-10-foot “campito” with no running water, toilet or electricity, save for a car battery he has rigged to a small radio. A sputtering wood-burning stove is his only source of heat in winter, a collection of faded telephone cards his only connection to home.
“They never tell you exactly what it’s going to be like,” Mr. Vargas, 28, said in Spanish. “But you’ve got to stick it out here. What are you going to do?”
Sheepherding has long occupied the bottom rung of migrant labor. Most borregueros speak no English; many have only a vague idea of where they are and no knowledge of their legal rights as documented immigrants. The herders enter the country under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, which allows companies to hire foreigners if no Americans want their jobs.
I wish I got $750 a month for watching over my flock!!! That would have been fantastic! Look at where they are herding sheep! In wastelands. I had my sheep on a mountain and they had shelter, none of these sheep have shelter, ever. My sheep lived in a tent complex with me. My son used to love feeding them their sweet mix because he could lie across all of their backs while they ate. He could roll around on them like a huge, multi-legged mattress, a centipede bed!
Once, a reporter was here. He asked us how we herded the sheep. ‘Lambies, to me! To me!’ I called while waving my arms. With a bleat of happiness, the entire flock, across the mountainside, came galloping up to me and circled me, eyes on my hands, wondering why I called them. They used to come into the tent complex and would lie down under the piano or next to my bed. If the weather was bad, they loved to come inside with us.
Here is a news story from 2000:
When sweater makers didn’t like the quality, a Vermont farmer came up with the idea to use “not-so-good” wool as mulch at construction sites to prevent erosion.
FOR the past four years, most Vermont sheep farmers haven’t been able to find buyers for their wool – that is, until Chester Parsons came up with the idea to use it for erosion control. The state’s 500 farmers raise 18,000 sheep and lambs that produce approximately 115,000 pounds of wool annually. “Most of the sheep are raised for meat, but they all have to be sheared every year,” explains Parsons, a sheep farmer who is also a livestock specialist with University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.
According to sheep farmer Laini Fondiller, shearing costs $3 to $9/animal, depending on flock size – often more than the price farmers get for the wool. Each sheep produces four to seven pounds of wool. Since a federal subsidy ended in the early 1990s, wool prices have continued to plummet from a dollar a pound to less that 25 cents. Fondiller says the quality of Vermont wool declined along with the price. “Sheep farmers started filling up their bags with wool just to get rid of it.”
I raised a rare breed of sheep. An ewe cost over $250. I sold the wool for lots of money. Suddenly, the market simply vanished in a flash. Free trade finally reached the wool markets. I groomed my ewes and protected them and watched over them so their wool would be most excellent. Suddenly, none of that mattered anymore. The skills I used were worthless, with the slash of a pen, all was shattered forever.
Sales lessons from Vermont sheep
In the past, the Vermont Sheep Breeders Association organized a “wool pool” where producers could pool their wool for a buyer. The last wool pool was held in 1997. “Since then, we have not been able to get a wool buyer to even give us a bid,” says Parsons. In 1999, wool sales in the state totaled only $40,000. “Some of the high quality wool is used or sold for hand spinning, but most of the wool can’t find a market,” he adds. “I was asking myself what would use up large quantities of not-sogood wool. Then I imagined rolling out wool mulch on a construction site or road project.”
Sheep Producers inFeel Pinch of Global Market
I remember fondly our wool cooperative. We had letters and phone trees. We had parties. We went to the State Fairs and had our wool auctioned. We had it graded by professionals. My wool was always top quality: clean, healthy, long and strong. My Rambouillet and Finn wool were popular.
Finn Sheep had many babies. But you had to have shelter for them! Itty Bitty was one of four Finn Sheep babies, for example. The Rambouilette were very thick, tight-curled sheep with very dense wool that needed great care so they didn’t get burrs or dirt in their wool.
1994: the year I began to worry. I gave up by 1997. It was impossible. It flattened out only after 80% of the shepherds gave up. Now, according to the NYT, the remaining shepherds are hiring aliens to herd sheep across marginal lands while perfectly beautiful, rich grazing lands in the Northeast go fallow or return to forest! This is so wrong.
Note that not one Northeastern state is in these statistics. No winters is good for meat but terrible for wool. Wool grows best when it is stressed by winter’s cold winds. My sheep, for example, went outside in winter but when lambing season came, if it was still cold and from 1992-1996, it was very cold in spring with huge blizzards, they would go into their ‘house’ to give birth.
Call for government action as sheep prices plummet
Thu, Aug 19, 1999 By Mark Woods, PA News
The crisis-hit sheep farming industry has today put forward a four-point plan, including a 1.7 million advertising campaign, to try and ease the burden on the country’s lamb farmers. Don Curry, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) said he would be putting pressure on the agriculture minister Nick Brown to act as prices continue to fall.Mr Curry was speaking at the first major sale of the year in the north of England at Bellingham, Northumberland. During a day’s trading prices for breeding ewes fell to almost half of last year’s mark. With the average price dropping to under 32 per head around 700 sheep were left unsold. Mr Curry, who himself farms in Northumberland, said: “The Sheep Statutory Council arm of the MLC has endorsed a four-point plan today aimed at taking pressure off the market and tackling the crisis in the industry. ”
A 1.7m promotion campaign is to be launched, primarily on television but also with point of sales promotions aimed at increasing demand. “Governmental support is also to be requested for a disposal scheme for the older cull ewes that will take ewes off the depressed market and ease some of the pressure.
“It is unlikely that the government would endorse a scheme that envisages direct compensation to farmers, but as a short term measure we would urge the government to implement a proper disposal scheme. “We will also be requesting that a private storage scheme be set up for lambs with the market being so depressed at this time. “This would enable the industry to take quantities of lamb off the market and reintroduce it when conditions were more favourable.”
By 1999, I gave up. I sold the flock since I couldn’t afford to pay a shearer to come and due to my husband’s brain damage, we couldn’t do this, ourselves. I got not one penny of ‘direct compensation’ for free trade wrecking my own lucrative business. I go exactly nothing. This is probably why I have a desire to take scalps. The bankers want to be protected from their own follies. While I did not follies, I was savaged by these bankers and others who pushed stupidly for ‘free trade’. This destroyed my business and worse, ruined my happy times with a flock of 55 head of sheep, animals I loved. I can barely stand the emotional stress, to write more about this.
P.O. BOX 483
BERLIN, NY 12022
Make checks out to ‘Elaine Supkis’