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Shearing “By The Book”

And Progress Toward A Faster Clip!

By Amy Lykosh

One day, my husband Phil and I decided to try to shear our own sheep. We’d had a few days without rain and, with nothing else pressing, it was past time to get that done. I took a photo first, of our sheep “Ashley” in her unshorn state.

We had watched a helpful DVD the night before, which walked through the positions and the sequence of sheep shearing. The experienced instructor in that video handily demonstrated a full sheep shorn in about a minute. Poetry in motion.

I knew we wouldn’t match such a practiced feat, but I hoped to be at least moderately close—maybe within fifteen minutes or something.

One of the Lykoshes' sheep "Ashley" in her as yet unshorn state.
One of the Lykoshes’ sheep “Ashley” in her as yet unshorn state.

Well, host shearer on the DVD used electric clippers. We had purchased a unit of our own but returned it when I realized that (after the $400 initial cost) beginning shearers need to send off the blades for sharpening after just about every sheep; they get dull quite quickly. And then there’s tensioning and combs and all these other details to figure out, in addition to learning how not to nick the sheep.

Oh, and we’d need some kind of building with electricity in order to run the clippers. And we’d need a barn-like structure to hold the sheep before shearing.

Since we don’t even have a real habitation, building a shed with electricity in order to shear sheep was pretty low on my priority list.

I read Kevin Ford’s book Shearing Day [see the sheep! Bookstore, page 40] on blade shearing with, well, giant scissors, basically, and that sounded just fine.

So Phil and I set out.

Shorn Babydoll Southdown ewe "Rotten Isabella" (grayish sheep in foreground) and Rambouillet x Dorset "Acorn" (upper left).
Shorn Babydoll Southdown ewe “Rotten Isabella” (grayish sheep in foreground) and Rambouillet x Dorset “Acorn” (upper left).

He caught “that rotten Isabella,” a member of our orchard-mowing crew of Babydoll Southdowns. About a third of her wool was already off, due to her weird late-pregnancy issue. And since she is destined for slaughter, she would be a good practice sheep.

Her belly wool was disgusting: Totally matted, crunchy with things from which we’d rather divert our gaze. And we both tried—and both nicked her. Phil was so upset, he almost threw in the towel right then: “Just get the clippers!”

But he tried again. And again. Gradually—not in the proper sequence, certainly—but gradually a sheep emerged from under the nappy dreadlocks.

The pitiful amount of wool collected made me wonder why I ever expected to make any money from this “cashmere quality” wool. Blech! Little sheep give little wool, and it’s all matted and unpleasant.

After two hours, Isabella was done.

Two hours!

Note the difference in quantity between Acorn's wool (foreground), and Isabella's wool (upper right).  Amy adds, "Expert shearers would get it all in one piece.  Maybe we will, too, someday."
Note the difference in quantity between Acorn’s wool (foreground), and Isabella’s wool (upper right). Amy adds, “Expert shearers would get it all in one piece. Maybe we will, too, someday.”

Next he did Acorn, a Rambouillet-Dorset first cross, and she, with her probably five-inch wool, looked truly shorn at the end of the ordeal.

And Phil cut his time in half, finishing her in about an hour. (She was not dreadlocked, but rather fluffy and soft. So much nicer!)

Acorn, a white, sheepish sheep, looked shorn. Rotten Isabella looked grayish; it was harder to tell that she’d been shorn.

At this point, Phil had been pouring sweat for three hours in the hot sun, amidst the prickly raspberry canes and dung, lifting unwilling sheep, suffering kicks and an already-sore back. Almost fainting, he stumbled off to sit in our water trough tub.

Two down; about eight to go.

After Phil had tried a few sheep, he was able to understand Kevin’s book quite well, and even made a little chart of the six positions.

I am amazed that he enjoys it enough that he considered hiring himself out (once he got a bit more practice), until I mentioned that the shearer who did the Babydolls for the previous owner charged $3/sheep. I don’t know how that man stayed in business. Seems crazy to me.

The Lykoshes live in Virginia, sell eggs, milk and Babydoll Southdown sheep from their farm, as they await production from their newly-planted orchard. See Amy’s blog site online at: VirginiaIsForLykoshes.blogspot.com.

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