Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shearing Day and More

Summer continues to race along at an amazing pace. The other day, The Farmer was saying to me “I remember when I was a kid and the summers seemed to go on forever…..” I guess the older you get, the faster they go.

Our rain is continuing. At least our well won’t run dry. The rain is making the sunflower farming extremely difficult. We have had to replant many rows at least once because the seeds have rotted. We’re still not finished planting and amazingly, we haven’t given up yet. We know one flower farmer who continues to plant sunflowers in Vermont until the 20th of August. It will make for a late crop and we hope the frost doesn’t come early.

Last Monday, as scheduled, two sheep shearers turned up for the flock’s big day. We had to borrow a neighbor’s barn because of the rain. It was oh so hot and humid and miserable. Julia and I had gotten back late the night before from NJ. Talk about culture shock….. As I stood there, picking up dirty, smelly wool in the heat all day long, I couldn’t help but compare the suburban lifestyle of my childhood to the life my family and I are living now. Never in my life have I gotten as dirty and odorous as the days I handle the wool from the sheep, skirt the tags (that’s the manure folks, from the back end), and bag up the nice parts of the fleece getting poked with rose thorns. I’m not complaining – I’m just comparing my life then to my life now.

The day starts early at 7:30. The Farmer had the sheep and lambs all contained in the barn. The day has a real rhythm to it. The Farmer catches one of the sheep for a shearer and nudges it out through the gate. The shearer grabs the head and gently turns the head a certain way and the sheep falls to the floor. Then the shearer gradually works his way around the animal in a set pattern that has been developed over the years. In a few minutes, the sheep is let go and runs off to join the flock, much lighter and cooler than she began. To me, they always seem much happier and freer of their long coat. Then I step in and pick up the wool and take it to the skirting floor. I pick off all the nasty tags and then bundle it up and place it in a bag. Depending on how heavy the fleeces is, I can usually fit two to three fleeces in a bag.

One of the shearers – Kevin Ford - is a blade shearer. That means he shears with no power. After each sheep, he sharpens his blades on a stone and then moves on to the next animal. Here are some photos of Kevin working his magic. He is wonderful to watch – so gentle with the animals and amazingly quick. He stayed until 6:30 at night and sheared 80 animals. His stamina is amazing, along with his strength.




This fall Kevin is traveling to Norway to complete in the World Sheep Shearing Competition. He and one other shearer will represent the USA on the Blade Shearing Team. He has shorn sheep all over the world – New Zealand, Australia, Ireland.

This is my favorite photo of Kevin's blurred hands and shears as they strongly clip the wool from the ewe.


Tomorrow, I’ll add some more photos of the Bruce shearing with his electric shears……

11 comments:

Katie said...

I saw some shearing while I was horse riding in Ireland. I don't think they were quite as good as your guys. One poor sheep looked as if he was missing quite a few chunks of skin as well as fleece; must have been a wriggler!

Patricia said...

Do you do some mittens for Vogue Fall issue? If so the previews are up.

barb :0) said...

Thank you sooooooo much for the stories and photos. I enjoy reading them very much !!!! I would love to have a few sheep on our farm, but until I get them, I will enjoy yours !!!

Sojourner Design said...

I agree with your comments about Kevin Ford; he shears my sheep too. Wow, 80 sheep in this weather. I've been trying to finish my chores as early as possible so that I can get out of the out-of-doors!

Manise said...

Delurking to say I saw Kevin Ford shearing at Drumlin Farm's Woolapalooza (Lincoln, MA) last year and as a newby spinner was taken in by his method of shearing. The sheep are putty in his hands as he quickly and kindly moves around the sheep denuding them of their fleece. It's the most wonderful sight. I was amazed at the bent stance he holds throughout too. How lucky you are to have him as a shearer of your sheep! Great photos!

Maymomvt said...

I hope there are young folks learning blade shearing--it seems like it could become a lost art.

Renna said...

What fascinating pictures!

Leslie said...

80 years old and still shearing sheep in the old way! May he live forever.

I'm so tired of rain. Its only advantage is that I can't mow the yard; a disadvantage is that the yard keeps growing...

Harmany Quilting said...

In one of my former lives I was a woolclasser working in the shearing sheds of West Australia. When a sheep is properly shorn it, is like watching meditation, hypnotic until all of a sudden the noise and the bustle of the shed invades your senses and there you are again skirting and classing that amazing fibre. And the shower at the end of the day is just divine, all the sweat and dirt forms a 'skin' that you didn't really know you had until it comes off and then it is a real 'aaaahhh' moment. And where that fibre ends up is interesting and itchy. A third of a life ago. Thanks for the pictures.

Nicola in West Australia

Kate G. said...

Thank you for the chance to see both styles of shearing. I've always wanted to watch a hand shearer work. I watch the shearing at the Dixon California Lambtown last weekend, but it was an all-electric event. The ewes did look very happy in their summer cuts!

marit said...

More about the World Sheep Shearing Competition at www.vm2008.no. I had just seen it in the newspaper (the farm news), so it was fun reading about it. And only two from each country in each event! I'd love to see Kevin shearing, and especially see how he takes care of his blades! Thanks for sh(e)aring:-)