As the Spirit Moves Me: Charles Mayo memories during this 150th year

When it comes to sheep you're farming part of Biblical history. Sheep, along with goats and camels, were all part of the shepherd's livelihood back then.

Fast forward to 1945 when my Dad bought a 40-head flock of sheep and a buck at an auction sale. We hadn't raised sheep before then; only pigs, chickens, cows and horses. Dad had rented an additional 80-acre farm belonging to neighbor Harry Carothers. It was located a mile and a half north of us (through Walter Engel's pasture) and was well fenced for sheep.

Hardly had the sheep eaten a meal or two when Dad came home with another 40-head flock of sheep and one more buck. In the winter months the sheep were all up in the barnyard with an 18- by 40-foot building for protection, if they were smart enough to go inside at lambing time. But the excitement for me there in the upper 1940s was when the two buck sheep decided to do some serious sparring. I had named them Adam and Emil and, no, they did not answer to their names.

I can see them yet backing up a good 30 to 40 feet apart, and charging one another head-on with a mighty crash. They did it several times while the ewes stood idly by eating corn and corn shocks. Apparently there was a need for some breeding areas and each buck was delivering a message to the other. I wonder if either had a headache. It must have worn off because they eventually did their jobs as the ewes called them.

Now to lambing time. The perfect time for lambs to be born would be April and May, but Mother Nature did not always set the cycle. Our lambs were seeing daylight sometimes on the coldest darn blizzardy night of winter in March.


Dad and I set a plan to inspect the ewes every two hours during the night from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and we took turns getting up from a warm bed to go out. Often a lamb was born in the shed, but some of the "less brilliant" ewes chose to have their babies outside the shed. That's when we often brought a shivering little lamb into the house and into the warm cardboard box behind the kitchen range. In the morning the lamb would be bleating with life and we'd take him to his mother for breakfast.

Along in May or early June occasionally a ewe would come down with "Grub In The Head" as my Dad called it. They would just sit in a fence corner and their head would "bob" up and down. I can see Dad setting that ewe up on her butt while he poured some kind of mineral oil in her nostrils. Some survived. Some didn't. Apparently they were exposed to a certain parasite the summer before while eating in the pasture.

Next stop in summer was docking (removing lamb tails) and castrating the buck lambs. And usually on one of the hottest days of late spring or early summer, we'd shear the sheep. I can see Elwin "Chink" Ames setting those ewes on their butt in front of him and shearing off that wool, which must have been a great relief to the ewes. That wool was a cash commodity. It was boxed and tied then sold to wool buyers. Eventually those lambs grew to maturity and were sold.

Our sheep history only lasted four years. In the summer of 1949 when I was stricken with polio, Dad sold the sheep.

I can still hear the resounding crash of Adam's and Emil's heads as they tried to establish their territories, while the ewes looked on rather nonchalantly, probably uttering "stupid bucks."

Next week:Quarterbacks Hall of Fame is coming April 21.

Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903. His column runs on Thursdays.

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