Sounds from Nordeen Farm

Jun. 23 2016
From the Farm


This is not an Old McDonald moment, and if that’s what you seek, the nearest seven year old may be more helpful. 

In considering farm sounds appropriate for this blog, I have eliminated train whistles at nearby open crossings (“Stop,  Look, and Listen”), the sound of a pitchfork when its handle strikes a frozen water trough (it becomes a tuning fork and hums), and the cough of a tractor starting on a cold morning. The three sounds presented are fully relevant this day, the summer solstice.

We are about to shear our flock. To do so, we build a cage in our shed so the sheep are kept dry the night before, not merely from rain but also from dew: only dry wool should be put into a woolsack. A good cage not only keeps the sheep under the roof but also makes them available to a shearer without anyone having to catch and drag a ewe across the shed. The cage is made of wire panels of appropriate sizes, and the way to secure them is to bang steel posts into the floor where necessary, and tighten them together with baling wire. The instrument of choice is a metal sleeve with handles. The sound is unmistakeable, and when the sheep are all shorn the cage will be deconstructed so the shed can be used for other things and the banger can go build fence and the cage-building process can be repeated next year.

On this farm we do not use chemicals: no insecticides, no herbicides, no chemical fertilizers. We like to think that the sounds birds make in the mornings here are perhaps more intense and more varied than on other farms in the Flint Hills, but we can’t be sure. We know that they are calling out to one another and we feel privileged to hear them.

The third sound comes from our ewes and their lambs. They call out to one another when their udders are full and when they need something sweet and salty to drink—and maybe when they need the comfort of a familiar moment. It’s a “come here” sound and a “where are you?” sound. If a lamb approaches the wrong ewe, she will not accept it because it will not smell like her own. And when she’s shorn and ten pounds of dry wool are off her back, her lamb will know her instantly. “You don’t look the same, are you really my mom?” is not a question that gets asked.

So the wool comes off in June in a shed at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Some brisk morning months away someone’s feet will touch a carpet of that wool and all that went into it will be there.