Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sheep Shearing

 In 2009 I tried to go watch the sheep shearing, but got there just as they were packing up the last of the wool. (Click here to see that post and interesting comments.) This year I did a lot better. We got out to see some of the setup (seen in my last post), and we went back the next day to see the sheep shearers in action.

We got there in the late morning and found that hundreds of sheep had already been sheared.

 The wool sorter was busy taking wool from the shearing trailer and placing it in the appropriate bin.

We found Morgan, our wonderful hostess from the day before, and she led us into the sheep shearing trailer. Desert Boy was a little intimidated at first by all the noise, mostly from the generator and electric motors used to power the clippers.

 The sheep trailer is a bit cramped, with space for seven shearers to wrestle 200-pound animals. The first step is for the shearer to tumble a sheep from the little platform under the curtain and onto the floor.

 Then he starts shearing the belly.

 Next up are the rear legs. The wool is really thick, and it looks a little strange as the big, bulky animal is generally transformed into something much smaller and bonier.

 After the rear quarters are exposed, it's time to start near the ears. During the whole process, the sheep was surprisingly docile. I have a feeling that not all are quite that easy to work with. It must also take a lot of practice to get the sheep into just the right position to shear efficiently and quickly.

 Some of the shearers use harnesses to shear, as bending over all day is really hard on the back. They usually start at 7:30 am, work until about 10, take a 15-minute break and then work till noon. After an hour-long lunch, they work all afternoon with a 15-minute break about 3 and finish around 5:30 pm. That would be a lot of bending and wrestling sheep. With seven shearers, they can shear over 1,000 sheep in a day.

 The wool came really nicely off the back of the sheep. It made me remember a wonderful sheepskin we had at home when I was a kid.

 The shearer is almost done, and you can see the huge pile of wool on the floor. It seemed nearly as big as the sheep!

 Then the shearer opened a little door, directed the sheep in the right direction...

 ...and out went the sheep. The whole process took about three minutes.

Time to clean up! This was the last sheep for this shearer before lunch, so he cleaned his clippers, oiled them, and got tidied up before leaving his work area.

 This sheep shearing outfit is owned by Cliff Hoopes, seen above. He's from Wyoming and shears in several states.

 He stopped and talked to me before heading to lunch. He wanted to know if I was involved with the water effort, referring to the opposition of Southern Nevada pumping thousands of acre-feet of water from the desert in east-central Nevada over two hundred miles south to the Las Vegas area. I said yes. He said he wanted people to know that he was against that pumping. If the water tables drop and the sheep don't have all the food and water they do now, he'll be out of business out here. He currently shears about 45,000 sheep in the area, and he said he's just one of the shearing outfits.

 In addition to the shearers, he also employs folks to operate the wool press. This expensive machine compacts the wool.

 Wool from each bin is pressed.

 It's getting smaller.

Then the bag is closed and marked with a number, the brand (Okleberrys) and the quality of wool.

 Desert Girl had fallen asleep on the way out to the sheep shearers', but Desert Boy was eager to check everything out, and Morgan was so nice to show us around. While she answered Desert Boy's questions, I wandered around a bit, taking some photos.

 I talked to Edwin, who agreed to pose for a photo when he realized that he had taken video of me dancing at the Sheepherders' Party. It must have been a pretty funny video, because he kept laughing as he mentioned it!

 This was the lunch spot for this young man.

 On the way back to the van we passed the empty chute, where the sheep are painted with the brand.

 There was also a branding iron in the fire, but I didn't see any sheep branded. Anyone know which sheep get branded? (Please leave a comment if you do.)

The sheep look really strange after being sheared, in particularly they look so bony! You can find out a little more about shearing from this article in The Prairie Star, written this January about Cliff Hoopes' shearing operation.

Finally, I wanted to end with a photo that really shows what a fenceline can separate:
The unsheared sheep sure don't look too concerned about how they will soon look. With hot weather fast approaching, I bet they don't mind losing their heavy wool coats.


Tabu said...

This is excellent documentation, Gretchen. I am learning so much through you.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of Pixar's short "Boundin'". Sorry, I could only find it in German.

Anonymous said...

They will brand all the sheep,but only with paint, no hot brands on sheep. The iron was in the fire to burn old dry paint off, so it will transfer the paint in a clean, readable brand

Anonymous said...

Good post.

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