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Taking Up the Shears
Doing uncomfortable things because they need to get done
Five minutes before my very first Zoom meeting with my new publisher, I realized two of my goats were on the wrong side of the fence. No wonder the last two cars I’d seen had gone by so slowly; their drivers had whipped out their smartphones to record my black angora and white-splashed nubian happily munching on weeds which were clearly out of bounds but apparently not out of reach. Hopefully the drivers weren’t going to report me to the city.
Did I mention this happened five minutes before my first publishing meeting?
I had no time to dilly dally. I slipped into some sandals (easy to don, but not easy to run in) and dashed across my front lawn, hopped over the fence, and proceeded with the help of my daughters to encourage/drag the four-legged wayfarers back to their proper pasture. The whole endeavor I felt half livid/half amused at the inconvenient yet comical timing of my goats’ escape.
Thankfully, I managed to make the publishing meeting only a minute late. Except for the sweat down my back and my labored breathing, you’d never know I’d just been wrestling with rebellious livestock. After a lovely meeting, I put the kettle on to take tea with my oldest son. Whew! What an afternoon.
And to think I’d been wondering how I would address tea time, homesteading hullabaloo, and my fiction writing endeavors all in the same Substack channel. :)
This past year, homesteading has shoved me out of my comfort zone again and again.
Since moving to the country, I have done several intimidating things for the first time:
halter-training a not-quite-wild-but-not-quite-tame cow
building a fence, gate, manger, and headgate for said cow
drawing blood from a more-so-tamed-but-not-best-pleased cow (who stomped on my husband’s foot in the process)
cutting down small trees with a chainsaw
building a rabbit hutch, animal transport cage, and pig shed
giving animals injections
milking a goat without a stanchion (because I haven’t gotten around to building one yet)
Before this year, the only two things I’d ever built with hammer and nails were the birdhouse back in middle school and the chicken coop I designed with the aid of my engineer brother-in-law back in 2021. The latter project took approximately nine months to complete. Apparently, measuring things accurately is more difficult than it looks. And until that chicken coop project, I’d never held a chainsaw or even heard of a sawzall. The sheer scope of the project (planning, purchasing, framing, walling, painting, shingling, hardware-clothing, etc.) intimidated me — which is probably why it took so long to do.
By the end of it all, I could cut a pretty decent line with a vibrating blade capable of rendering me legless. The skills I learned during this project made building future projects easier because I had a modicum of experience (and now knew what a sawzall was). But I never could have done it without the help of my husband, my brother in-law, a tool-loaning friend, my children, and the very helpful advice of my mother who helped put my building endeavors into perspective: “Katie, they’re JUST chickens. They’re not going to care if everything’s not perfectly square.”
Sometimes when we’re doing something for the first time, we can let our perfectionistic insecurities frighten us out of taking a new path or learning a new skill.
This was especially true last month when I needed to shear my angora goats for the first time. It really needed to be done. It was 90+ degrees and Tennessee humid outside. Angoras can handle heat, but humidity? Not as well. I had heard/seen on Youtube that professionals could shear an entire animal and get one whole blanket-like fleece in under five minutes. I knew that wouldn’t be me, and I also knew it would not be fair to try to delegate the shearing to my husband. He’d already done enough by driving the five hours to Kentucky to pick up the goats in the first place (and getting stomped on while trying to help me draw blood from a cow). Shearing was my responsibility, and mine alone.
I dragged my feet until I could no longer stand seeing my fluffy spherical goats pant in the sun. I talked to my mom (who happened to have angora shearing experience) and ordered the shears. They arrived in a black suitcase about 18 inches long with a brush, funky screwdriver, bottle of oil, and lots of detailed instructions. Gulp! They sat on my desk for days; I was too scared to figure out the operating procedures. But my goats were still uncomfortable.
Finally, there came the day when I could no longer avoid it. I needed to take up the shears regardless of the risk of nicking myself or my animal. So I did the research, watched shearing videos, and gave myself permission to do a less than professional job since I was in absolutely no way a professional.
Sometimes your best, even if it’s not THE best, is still plenty enough to get the job done.
As one of the ladies from the shearing YouTube videos said, “Sometimes you just gotta take your shears to your goat.”
I’m happy to report that though I did not do a perfect job, both the goats and I survived the procedure, and they are much happier now in their shorter coats.
Whether you’re shearing goats, writing a novel, or negotiating your first deal, there comes a time when you just gotta commit. You can’t make progress if you don’t make a move. Every expert in every field was once a first-timer — which is why their advice and encouragement can give us the boost we need to take up the sword — or, in my case, take up the shears!
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