How to Shear a Sheep in Five Steps
by CAROLINE on MARCH 28, 2012
If you’ve ever met Emily Chamelin, our shearer, you’re probably as much in love with her as I am. Every single time I watch her shear, I’m astonished by her strength, skill, and conscientious respect of the animal she’s working with. I sort of can’t decide whether I want her to be my older sister, or whether I’d just like to be her when I grow up. Suffice it to say that, if I can ever become as much of a badass as Emily, I’ll have accomplished something to be proud of (I asked Zac if this was even possible, and he said, “Well, you’ll have to work really hard.”)
Therefore, when Emily kept asking if I was going to come to Shearing School, and Susan said she’d pay to send me, I was over the moon!
Former Farm Manager Erin was also planning on going, so we decided to go together. Erin is another woman I admire to no end, not only because she’s a good friend who also happens to be way smarter and tougher than I am, but also because ever since I started working at the farm, my job has literally been, “Try and be as good as Erin.” Let me tell you, she’s a lot to live up to!
So, back in January, we sent in our checks and, in turn, received a page of information about what we’d be learning. Our Shearing School is put on every year by the Maryland and Delaware Cooperative Extensions, and is designed both to teach the shepherd how to take the fleece off a sheep, and also to serve as a source of continuing education for shearers.
As the time wore on, though, I became more and more worried about one bullet point– under “Items to Bring,” was listed “A body with the strength and willingness to learn to shear sheep.” Willingness, I could handle, but I wasn’t so sure about strength. Our classmates, whether farmers or not, would all be bigger and stronger than me– most people are, statistically speaking. Erin had been working out with shearing specifically in mind. I’d spent the three months since January joking about needing to start, but, of course, never did.
In the morning, when Erin and I walked up to the pre-class circle of would-be-shearers, our instructor was saying something about how, used to be, they advised you take the class only if you could bench-press 120 lbs. I assuaged my horrible sense of dread by thinking of when Emily learned to shear (never mind that she was 15 then, and I’m 23), thinking of everyone’s encouraging tweets and emails, and swearing that, if I made it through without serious embarrassment (cutting off an ear, or something even worse? being unable to even control my sheep?), I’d start running every day (which, of course, has yet to happen).
After a few shearing demonstrations and a rehearsal of the 5 positions of shearing, there really was nothing left to do but try it ourselves. “It’s just like learning to swim,” they told us, “You’ve gotta jump in!”. We all split up into groups of four, grabbed a sheep and a pair of clippers, and got to work.
To begin with, you sit the sheep up in front of you– this is first position. Starting at the breastbone (we called it the brisket!), start shearing off the belly wool.
Since this is the wool that’s dirtiest, it helps to go ahead and get it out of the way. It’s important to shear wide enough to make sure that you’re well-set-up for farther down the road.
After you take off the belly wool, you lean over further and take the wool off the legs and crotch, sort of scooping the clippers up the right leg, across, and down the left leg. The big danger here is accidentally shearing off a ewe’s teats, so you’re supposed to cover them up with your left hand (“you sure won’t shear ‘em off now!”).
Emily helps me navigate a tricky spot.
Once the belly, crotch, and legs are clean, you rotate about 90 degrees, change into second position, and start shearing her left hind leg (I’m using the feminine pronoun because, well, most sheep are ewes). It’s also in this...
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