This post is all about shearing! My little sister can't understand why anyone would want to get all dirty and greasy and sweaty and wrestle sheep. The reason... it is addicting! There is something almost magical about taking a full fleeced ewe, tipping her over and doing a sort of dance pattern around her while gliding the blades through her wool and watching the wool roll off. Then all of a sudden she is a new sheep!
Before taking the class from Tony Dobbs I was at a point of not wanting to shear all of my sheep anymore. My blades were so dull I had to chop at the wool and I did not know the pattern. I was taking forever to shear a sheep. (I tried the machine shearing pattern and it felt really awkward, that is because the blade shearing pattern is different.) I took the class because even if I hired a shearer I would still have to shear some of my sheep, since Shetlands are not all ready at once and I don't want to wait until May to do my crosses or goats and a shearer would not want to come 4-6 times a year! (I could not find anyone who could sharpen blades and I tried out about 6 different people! I could not afford to buy new blades for every 15 or so sheep.) So back to the class...
I took the class and learned how to sharpen blades so they are razor sharp and can gleefully slice the wool. The pattern is great, it makes total sense once it is learned, I thought, "Aha, wow, this is great, it just keeps flowing." The shearing pattern is to have the sheep's weight on your legs, not your back. The pattern is also the most efficient way to shear.
Blade Shearing this is a video (to get back to my blog, just back click) of a blade shearer going over the pattern. (I can't seem to get the one of Tony on here, so this one should work.)
In New Zealand the shearing schools have 4 levels. http://www.tectra.co.nz/ Someday it would be cool to take the next level in NZ and shear in sheds there. It would also be cool to shear in Scotland if I get good enough to travel for pay. Even if I don't get good enough (fast/strong enough) I still want to shear my flock and several small flocks!
They say that it take a shearer 8-10 years of full-time shearing to become highly proficient, so I have a lot of practicing to do!
Yes, shearing is very physically demanding. They say if one shears for 8 hours it is like running two back to back marathons. I am working on getting stronger. I'm doing sit-ups, push-ups, hamstring/leg exercises and working on getting my left arm stronger. (Instead of routinely carrying things with my right arm, I'll switch to using my left.) My left arm is not my dominant arm and is used a lot during shearing.
The second day of shearing all day in a row I felt awful. Every muscle hurt (even my feet) and I felt sick. David Kier, a professional machine shearer said the pain is why most learners quit shearing. He said that once one shears in under 4 min. the pain goes away. Yeah, he still hurts after a hard day, but not the awful burning pain of learning. Right now I am shearing sheep about 2 days a week and I think I'm getting a bit stronger. (Here is an article by David, http://www.weau.com/home/headlines/50501692.html. David is one of the best shearers in WI and is very knowledgeable in wool and general sheep knowledge.)
My goal in taking the class was just to shear my own sheep a little faster with better blades. Now I am shearing for others and I really like it. It is nice to drive through the country to a spot I've never been and meet new people and shear their sheep. It is a good feeling to see a pen of freshly sheared sheep.
So far I've gotten to shear some Horned Dorsets, an English Leicester, a hair sheep cross, Babydoll Southdown, Coopworth, Shetland, Angora goats, Corriedale, an Ile De France X Dorset, Polypay X Dorset, Wenslydale, Polypay, all my crossbred girls (Shetland crossed with Corriedale, Coopworth and/or BFL) and some unknown breed crosses. Each sheep breed is slightly different to shear, some are easier than others. So far I think the Polypays and their crosses are the easiest.
I will leave you with a video of a blade shearing shed.