Every year I (along with Kate and Jane) learn something new and exciting at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. A few years ago Kate and I watched some wool judging and learned about some of the characteristics that either produce a good cut or produce good wool. Last year we watched some sheep judging (mostly meat breeds, not wool breeds). This year, we learned how to shear a sheep (well, okay, we watched someone else do it and then talk about what he was doing, but not enough information to actually shear a sheep – apparently *that* takes 10 years!)
Here are some pictures:
One of the things this guy said was that sheep are very flexible – easily “man-handled” so that he can twist and turn them in various ways to get his shears on them without cutting them. You can shear a convex plane but not a concave one. He also used his entire body in the process – using his legs to hold various parts of the sheep and to move the animal this way and that while he was shearing. He said that he always shears in wool pants and wears shoes called “shearing shoes” because they are pliable and non-rubberized on the bottom so that he can “scoot” or “shuffle” his feet as needed. The wool pants help keep him warm and his muscles relaxed so that he doesn’t unnecessarily strain them. You can see from these photos how physical he gets with the sheep.
I was also a little surprised at the science of it all. He talked a little about the number of cuts it should take and the science behind making the fewest cuts for the best quality wool. I didn’t really understand a whole lot of it, but it was far more complex that I could have imagined. He said that it takes about 10 years to become a “professional” sheep shearer! Can you imagine apprenticing somewhere for 10 years? Amazing!