Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shearing Sheep


Today we examine what has got to be the second to the worst job in the world (worst job will be described tomorrow). This has to do with Shearing Sheep. Traditionally sheep were raised primarily for their wool, and secondarily for their meat. Once or twice a year, sheep are sheared to cut the wool from the sheep. The picture is from 1890, and the man is using the old style manual shears. These are like a very large pair of scissors, but have a very strong spring to push the blades open. It takes a lot of force to squeeze the shears closed, so extreme hand and finger strength are required to make it through a day of shearing. The wool is really thick, and it takes a lot of effort to cut through it. One has to be very careful so as to not cut or injure the sheep, but at the same time must go very fast since there are a lot of sheep to be sheared.

Historically, ramboulliet sheep and angora goats were raised, because of the copious amount of wool and mohair they produced. Now days, wool and mohair prices are so low that the cost of having shearers shear your sheep exceeds what you can sell the wool for. So, many people are moving to raising sheep, like the Dorper, and spanish goats, which do not have to be sheared. They are raised just for the meat.

14 comments:

  1. Sounds tough. I suppose the shearer would have tried to shear the wool very close to the skin, to get the most off the sheep - but doing it with such sharp implements without injuring the animal must have been incredibly difficult. I can't imagine the skill it must have required, and the number of sheep he would have to shear before it became natural.

    Its a shame that such skill is undervalued nowadays.

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  2. Good morning PJM.
    Sorry I'm late this morning.

    Let me guess at the worst job. Honey dipping, or septic tank cleaning.

    I would think that shaking that guys hand may be a painful experience. And what a back breaking job.

    Didn't I read somewhere many years ago that they came up with a feed supplement that made sheep drop there wool, and all you had to do was gather it up.

    Maybe Merideth in Wyoming can comment on that?

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  3. When I was a small kid I loved to watch the shearers on my grand fathers' and uncles' ranches. It was like watching poetry-in-motion or a ballet. Those shearers were good.They used a one cylider gas engine that went "put-put" and with shafts and gears going to several stations.It seems the sheep or goats did not get too excited.
    If they nicked the skin they would brush some kind of medication on the spot.
    This was back in the fourties.
    There are not many Angoras or sheep around Bandera county anymore. It is mostly exoctic game ranches now or subdivisions.

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  4. That guy must have one very strong handshake from squeezing those clippres all day.

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  5. Although the ideal is NOT to nick the sheep, it does happen. I can remember the complaining the sheep used to do after being sheared, either because they were cold, or from all the little nicks on their skin. They sounded as if they were crying. The shearing team would be scheduled long in advance, so if it was rainy or chilly, the work had to be done, in spite of it all.

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  6. Actually, the price for wool is back up and the income generated from our wool check is an important component of western sheep ranching. We raise western white-faced sheep (Rambouillet) in western Wyoming, where there is still a viable range sheep industry. Hand shears are still used for shearing eyes, and for shearing just a sheep or two, but otherwise, electric shears are used. No matter, those shearers are tough, touch workers, shearing a sheep about every three minutes. It would take me three days!

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  7. i hope this is done in the summer , poor fellow looks cold

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  8. Never knew sheep shearing was so tough.. thanks for the insight =)

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  9. I don't know what PJM will deem the worst job in the world, but I just read a book where the author described her young years, living on a ranch and learning to geld horses and skin cattle. Those two jobs rank WAY up there on my awful jobs list!

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  10. Isn't it through shearers that they discovered that lanolin can make our skin quite soft? Also, is it true that all the clipped wool softly rustles at night as the fibres adjust to the cooling temperatures?

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  11. I know what tomorrow's post will address. OUCH!

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  12. I've never seen such a WORST job! Here, being a sheep is bad too.

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  13. PJM - Am I right in suspecting you will name "dagging" sheep as the worst job?

    Errol Flynn's autobiography gives a graphic description of the work, which he did as a struggling youth. It struck me as downright unpleasant.

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  14. I've always wanted to shear a sheep. But now reading a description of the clippers, I'm afraid I'd cut it.....or just not be able to shear them.

    When I was a kid I thought they used electric shavers. Even now when I think of shearing sheep, in my head I see a heavy duty electric shaver before I think of shears. :p

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