Raising Sheep

Early breeds of Merino sheep raised in VermontSheep farmers were busiest during lambing in the spring and again in the early summer when shearing was done. Lambing, when sheep give birth, required farmers to be on call twenty-four hours a day.

Shearing—cutting the fleece from the sheep—required great skill, especially with the wrinkled-skin merinos. The average shearer cut twenty-five merino fleeces a day and an exceptional cutter could complete thirty-five. Sheared sheep were often marked with their owner’s initials by applying paint with wooden or metal brands.

From early May through late October, sheep grazed in pastures. After the first frost until the following spring they were kept under shelters in fenced yards and fed hay, plus oats or corn. Farm hands were kept busy providing salt and plenty of water for the animals. They also worked throughout the year planting and harvesting hay and corn, cutting wood, and slaughtering animals for meat. Several young men lived and worked on William Jarvis’s farm and additional help was hired during the busy season.

Cleaning sheep before shearing in mid-nineteenth century Vermont.

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