Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shearing Sheep with 102 Fever

Friday and Saturday I attended a sheep shearing course taught by David Green, an extension agent emeritus of Carroll County, Maryland, and an all around really nice guy who has been doing this course for 50 years now! And no, he doesn't show his age one little bit. We were lucky enough to have a couple other really knowledgeable instructors, a young guy named Aaron Geiman who was quite patient and explained things really clearly, and another fella from New Zealand who was diplomatic, patient and clear, once one got past the accent barrier. We also had the owner of the farm and an Animal Science professor out of Delaware State there helping out as well.

We learned the New Zealand method of sheep shearing, and these guys made it look sooo easy when they did it, but I can tell you that it's anything but easy. It takes a lot of physical strength and stamina, something I was sorely lacking by the end of the second day. (One of the gals in my group got some pictures, so maybe I'll have some to post later.)

I sheared two sheep the first day, which went really well. I got some nice clean blows and barely nicked the sheep at all. Gracious, I can't even tell you what some of the folks in the class were doing to their sheep—several were just too awful to look at. Even the pros got a couple nicks here and there, so some are to be expected I guess, but there's a big difference between a nick and a gash, and some folks were leaving behind huge gashes. My team did well, and I was really grateful to be with them. There were four of us working together: a fella from PA who grooms dogs and worked well with the shearers, and a mother-daughter pair out of Reiserstown, MD, who have Angora goats. The daughter was a senior in high school and interested in becoming a vet. She did a great job and held up really well because the stress of seeing the animals hurt was really taking a toll on her.

The second day, I was really beat, especially considering that I haven't slept well for about a week and a half with the kids being sick and then me getting the cold. I had chills and a fever of 102° and my strength was sapping. I spent about 10 minutes in the car at lunch time closing my eyes and just trying to get warm. My first sheep of the day went well, though I still struggled a bit with the positions. Lacking leg strength, I kept letting the sheep's head slip through the back of my legs, which wasn't good. Still the shearing went well with good clean blows and no nicks but a bit of scungy stuff left on the spine where the dirt had worked way down into the wool.

By the time my second sheep rolled around, though, I just had nothing left. I made it through all the positions, but was having a heck of a time getting the shearers through the wool, and I couldn't get a good clean blow down on the skin. I was exhausted and ended up asking one of my partners to finish up the last leg for me. Even he was having a hard time getting the shearers through the wool, at which point David came over and tried and had the same issue. This sheep just produced so much lanolin and it was still cool enough that it was gunking up the shears big time. I felt slightly vindicated even though David made a bit fun of me, saying he thought I'd be stronger than that. I told him how sick I was but that I didn't think he'd be willing to hold a private class for me when I was feeling better.

I was so sick by the end of the day that I just crumbled when I got home. I leaned into Jim's chest and just cried I was so exhausted. He's so good to me—he ran me a nice hot tub and told me to just go to bed. I was in bed by 6pm yesterday until 7am today. I think my fever may have broken in the night, but I'm still pretty wasted. We'll see how I feel tonight, as the fever seems to creep on slowly throughout the day.

All in all, it was a great class even if I wasn't 100%. I still learned a ton and got to shear four sheep. Hopefully I didn't get anyone else there sick—I tried to be careful about it. I was proud of the job I did and feel confident that I'll be able to shear our three sheep fairly adeptly if not totally professionally. I know I can get good blows, good fiber length and still keep my sheep in tact. I think if I can improve my speed by working on my positions, I'll be able to minimize the impact on the sheep even further, which let's face it is really my goal. I'm still a bit miffed at the attitude some folks had towards the animals, and I can guarantee that fleece quality will never be more important to me than the welfare of the animal itself.

14 comments:

Jenny said...

Wow, that's impressive. I'm not even up for shearing sheep, let alone with a fever. We're having the shearer down to do our flock of 10 at the end of April. As long as I can still afford it, I'm hiring help on that one!

I do hope you feel better soon, because I'm guessing we'll have a lot of trees to plant next weekend! Can't wait!

Christy said...

I hope you are feeling better. I REALLY wanted to go to that class but Mark was out of town this weekend so I couldn't go. I tried to get my dad to watch Logan but he was out of the country! So, I went to my grandfather's house by the river and helped him put in a backyard habitat instead. I'll be helping Trebs next Saturday with shearing all her sheep. She is getting a professional to come do it but at least I can watch.

Woody said...

Danielle...hope you're feeling better very soon. It just isn't any fun dealing with the flu. We had a nasty little strain visit us. I was knocked to my knees...

peace

Danielle said...

Thanks guys. I'm feeling much better today. Yesterday, I was still a bit sluggish, but no fever and more myself. I was able to get things done, which is always a good thing!

Christy, the class was quite good, and if you have the opportunity to take David Green's class in the future, I'd highly recommend it. It was especially cool having a New Zealand shearer there with us on Saturday, but that was pure luck.

Jenny, don't worry—you're off the hook. Trees won't ship out till the 14th. Most likely I'll put you to work helping me start seeds for the front garden. I'm still trying to figure out my system.

I'm thinking of doing a kind of rolling greenhouse cart that I can move in and out of the garage each night. That way I can take advantage of the driveway heat during the day and still get full sun. I have so many seeds to start this year that I don't think a strawbale coldframe will cut it. But a multi-tiered cart would work well I think.

nita said...

The class sound excellent. I'm sorry you weren't well. That must have been agonizing.
I'm sure the sheep you sheared were greatful for your thoughtfulness.

Madeline said...

She's a maniac, maniac on the floor! (sheep shearing floor, that is). I'm glad that you're feeling better. Nicolas had this a month ago and it lasted half a week. Take it slow. What are you doing with the wool? Spinning it yourself?

jenny said...

Wow,, I learned something here. Had no idea that some people were so callous towards the animals they are shearing to the point of leaving painful gashes on them. Poor things.. Hope you are feeling better by now.

I echo Madeline's question.. What are you doing with the wool?

karl said...

how cool. sorry to hear that you are sick. i'd be interested in seeing some photos of the different positions and some of the other techniques that you learned. hope that you are feeling better today.

Danielle said...

Karl, here's a link to a great series of photos that show the positions and general pattern, but it's definitely not something one can learn from photos or text. As great as these photos are, they don't show the half of the technique I learned at the course.

As to the wool, this first time we'll probably just keep it and play with it for felting. Navajo-Churros are blanket wool sheep with primitive wool.

MOMKISS2U said...

Just wondering where you got your hybrid willows from? On the net? TYIA. Your blog makes me smile:)

Paige said...

What a great skill to have learned - and with a fever no less!

Danielle said...

I ordered them from a place down in Tennessee: Greenwood Nursery. I haven't ordered from them before, so we'll see.

Anonymous said...

Can you give me more info on this shearing course.My friend and I want to learn how.we are in southeastern PA.Thanks,Lisa

Danielle said...

Here's a link to the Shepherd's Notebook blog, which ought to post next year's class information. This is the class I attended. I highly recommend the course if you can make it.