Skip to main content

Shearing Other People's Sheep

In May 2010, I went to a sheep shearing school at the University of California's Hopland Field Station in Mendocino County.  Over the course of 5 days, I struggled to learn how to shear sheep - despite my experience with sheep, I found learning to shear to be incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally.  By the last day of the school, however, I finally felt like I was getting the hang of it.  Last spring and summer, I sheared more than 100 sheep - some of our own, and some for other folks.  This year, I've just started shearing again - entirely for others at this point.  As the daylight hours grow longer, my work days lengthen.  I wonder, sometimes, why I make them longer by shearing other people's sheep.  I think there are several reasons.

First, shearing is an incredibly physical activity - world class shearers are said to rival world class marathon runners in terms of their stamina and strength.  While I'm not world class, I do enjoy challenging my physical abilities with real work.  Shearing well requires a combination of muscle memory, physical strength, and choreography - shearing has been referred to as the "90 second dance."

Second, I like learning from other sheep producers and, in turn, sharing my knowledge.  Invariably, we talk about sheep husbandry, ovine nutrition, and grazing management.  Every time I shear, I learn something new; hopefully my customers do the same!

Third, I enjoy working with sheep and wool.  I'm amazed by the thought that every wool garment starts with somebody removing the wool from a sheep (usually with more skill than I have).  In an age of technology and mechanization, the first step in creating woolen fabrics is basically unchanged in the last 75 years.

Finally, I appreciate the culture of sheep production.  Shearing is one of the significant mileposts in the sheep production cycle.  It is a group effort (when it's done well) - each of the "crew" has an important role to play.   The shearer gets the "glory" (if you can call bending over a struggling sheep "glorious"), but an efficient sheep shearing requires a team.  Somebody has to ensure the shearer always has sheep to shear.  Somebody else has to ensure that the wool is gathered from the shearing board.  Yet another person must ensure that the wool is prepared for marketing.  Shearing, in other words, is one of those communal tasks - like a barn raising - that combines hard work with good times.

As a shepherd, I feel like I have a responsibility to know how to do all of the work necessary to raise sheep humanely and successfully.  Shearing is an integral part of this system, and I hope I continue to improve in my abilities.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Trade Offs

As we were building fence for the soon-to-be-lambing ewes this morning, someone drove by and asked my partner Roger how long it took to set up the electro-net fencing we use for the sheep. Roger replied, "It's not too bad," to which the driver said, "Seems like a lot of work." Roger's answer - which both of us use with some frequency, was, "Yeah - but this way we don't have to feed any hay!" The driver, who obviously wasn't a rancher, didn't understand - and I suspect even some of my rancher friends don't understand the trade off we're making. Building electric fence is a lot of work - wouldn't it be easier just to feed hay?

The paddock that Roger and I built this morning encloses about 5.75 acres of high quality forage. Since the ewes are on the verge of lambing, their forage demand is peaking. They're eating nearly twice as much grass now as they need in the late summer - after all, many of them eating for three (and p…

No Easy Answers Part 2

In mid October, some friends who graze their cattle in the mountains of western Lassen County (less than 200 miles from our home), became the first ranchers to have cattle “officially” killed by wolves in California in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the Lassen pack killed a 600-pound heifer; four more heifers died (and were partially eaten by wolves), but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) couldn’t confirm the cause of death. While I learned about the depredations shortly after they happened through the rancher grapevine, news of my friends’ losses weren’t made public until the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a joint press release this week. The October 28 edition of the Sacramento Bee ran the story.
If you’ve read my previous blogs about wolves, you’ll probably know that I’ve frequently been frustrated with the Bee’s coverage. The paper has run guest opinions disguised as news articles, and appar…

Humbled and Excited

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA). After two internships, I'd been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I'd been promoted to assistant vice president - pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn't grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn't right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) - I'd been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office - Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake - suggested that I consider getting a master's degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the id…