Monday, June 28, 2010

A Time For Sheep

We spent Friday assisting our friends with their annual sheep shearing. Their flock grows every year and this time there were 80 sheep. The lambs don’t get clipped because their lives have another purpose.

Having done this for several years we can now see everything that needs to be done and we are a well disciplined team of seven people. There are ten or so sheep in the shearing area, ten more sheep in a pen near the area, and a whole bunch of sheep waiting to come in.

First a sheep gets presented to the shearer and he twists the sheep’s head and rolls it over on it’s back where it usually becomes very docile. Clipping starts along the neck and the chest, then down one side and then down the back. When the shearer gets to the final side another sheep is readied to be presented to the shearer.

As soon as he releases the sheep, one person swoops in to grab the fleece and another person sweeps up all that remains. As the shearer starts the next sheep three people pick the nasty stuff from the fleece and they bag it. The bags are then put into piles. There is a pile of wool for sale, one for rams wool, one for lambs wool (from lambs they intend to keep), there is a pile of the best wool that isn’t for sale that gets divvied up between those who are helping and finally there is a pile of garbage which is wool that has sheep crap and dirt attached to it.

When the shearer is finished with the first group, they are counted and released to the field and then we usher in the next group and escort another group into the barn to wait for their turns.

One thing that always surprises me is how strong sheep are. Larger sheep and rams often need two people to work to present them to the shearer, but once they are on their backs and bottoms they are pretty calm. It's also amazing how noisy sheep are. The bleating is incessant. The sound of the power train of the clippers is also pretty noisy.

It feels good to help out our friends and though one is totally dirty and smelly by the end of the day; the lanolin from the wool makes your hands really soft for days after.


Blogger Donna said...

Cliff used to shear sheep occasionally, back in the early 70's; I'd help. Prices of wool had dropped drastically back then, as I recall.
What I remember most is the smell. Yuck.

4:23 AM  
Blogger darev2005 said...

And the lambs, Clarice? Are they still screaming?

Is there a market for a professional sheep slammer?

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Pam said...

yum, lambs with "other purposes" LOL

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the traveling shearers..might of been ten guys in the crew...they had this big Rube Goldberg contraption they'd set up in our two story shearing plant--the main power plant which drove each man's shears was mounted on a truck-then the power take off shafts were assembled and ran along the individual shearing stations. Some kind of flexible cable, like the old speedometer cables, ran off of that down to the clippers. One of the shearing crewman's, the "tamper", only job was to pick up the individual bundled and tied fleeces and start filling the big 12 foot long burlap wool sacks that were hung thru the second floor. The wrangling crew was supplied by the rancher-usually high school aged boys-whose job was to keep each shearer supplied with ewes. Woe be to the boy who let a shearer run out ewes. The shearer was paid by the head and they wanted to get it done as quickly as possible, so if he ran out of ewes in his little holding pen the yelling started. Sometimes the ewes went easy, and sometimes they were hell for balky no matter how much pulling or pushing on'em you did. Many times I would just have to pick one up and carry it to clear the traffic jams. A crew of pro shearers are extremely hard working men-good ones made a hell of a lot of money during the season as it is back breaking but precise work. A careless man didnt last long because those powerful shears could do a lot of damage-sometimes things would happen and a sheaer would have to stop and do sew up some cuts to the ewes skin-another thing I was encouraged to watch for was when a ewe's nipple was accidentaly sheared off-limiting the the ewes capacity for mothering. The shearer could be docked for that because a ewe without full milk capacity was a bad thing considering how many twin lambs are in the game. It was noisey, dirty work that had to be done and my back is starting ache just thinking about it, but if I could go back to that time of my life and be with those people at that place I would be there in less than two shakes of the proverbial lamb's tail

10:47 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Donna, oddly there wasn't any bad sheep smells because they were sheared in a very open airy barn away from their normal barn (that does smell badly).

Darev, sure if you want to be unemployed the other three-hundred sixty days of the year.

Pam, don't forget the mint sauce...

Anon, funny you mentioned the tamper because we talked about people jumping in the bag tamping it down and when they got to the top they sewed up the bag. Shearing is an art, and it makes me wonder how the shearers did it with the spring shears. They must have had hands like lobster claws after a season of shearing. Aside from that, nice recount. Thanks for sharing.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Pam said...

that thing looks like a huge tampon that's been dropped in a glass of water. LOL

4:07 PM  
Blogger dalia said...

haha to pam. i was thinking it looked like a tumor with a face.

6:03 AM  

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