The Farmer catches a sheep and feeds it to one of the shearers. I am outside the corral, skirting the wool and bagging it up into enormous wool bags that hold 250 pounds of wool. Here are some photos of Gwen shearing. She is so lean and strong and watching her makes me think of a ballet as she moves the sheep around under her shears. She cleans the sheep of wool in about 3 to 4 minutes.
Here are some photos of Kevin working his blades. Gwen shears twice as many sheep as Kevin and they are paid by the animal. Kevin is very zen about things and prefers the silence and skill of blade shearing. He is a most amazing guy and a really interesting person to be around. He was in Ireland earlier this year competing with his blades in the World Competition of Sheep Shearing. These photos show him shearing our 300 pound Polypay ram.
Mid-afternoon Monday, after a nice lunch (the shearers always appreciate a nice lunch), we were down to 27 sheep to go and the heavens opened up and there was a monsoon. Shearing had to stop. You can not shear wet sheep. We covered up the enormous wool bags with a tarp and hoped it would stop. It didn't and we quit for the day. We scheduled another day with Gwen and then hoped for good weather.
We shear outside which is far from optimal. It means that it can't rain 2 days before shearing nor the day of shearing. Because we usually schedule a couple months in advance, it is a crap shoot - like most things in farming. Our sheep have to be brought to a central location from their grazing pastures and then held until shearing. A few years ago we figured out that the driveway next to the lamb shack was:
c. close to electricity.
So now we shear there. The Farmer brings the sheep in and sets up the portable corral. The sheep can't be wet when shorn or the wool will become moldy and full of mildew. It is one giant logistical nightmare and nothing either The Farmer looks forward to or me either. The realities of building a shearing shed are not financially feasible - $25,000 to use once a year makes no fiscal sense.
At lunch, one of the shearers told us about a big sheep farm building a $4.3 million dollar barn. I'm thinking probably more money than sense. How will they ever recoup that cost?
Here is what our lawn looks like tonight.
Some of the wool that had been stored in the giant wool bags soaked up some water during the monsoon - even though it was undercover. We have it spread out on tarps to dry because there is a good stretch of weather. We'll re-bag it and then get it under cover until the buyer picks it up. I'll be happy when we get the check. Winston has now taken it upon himself to guard the wool. Cute boy.
I always get asked what we do with all the wool. My standard answer is get it out of here - hopefully dry - and try to get enough to cover the cost of the shearing. When you have this much raw dirty stinky wool, you just want it out of your life quickly. If we had untold amounts of money, I might go into getting it custom spun and market it. But I know how much work that is - remember I used to work for a yarn company - and I know what the financial return is on it. I just don't have the energy or the interest.
When we had four sheep it was easy to get all romantic on how gorgeous the fleece was and then spin it myself to knit The Farmer a sweater - which I did do a few times back when we were beginning raising sheep. I'm just past that now. And I am totally okay with it.
I suppose seeing these photos makes you appreciate where your wool does come from!