Written by: Elizabeth Victor
Sheep Shearing at Hidden Valley Woolen Mill (March 8th - 10th, 2010)
Kathy pulled out her "Get out of School Free" card so she and I headed up to Valders to help with shearing at Hidden Valley Woolen Mill. Carol and Paul Wagner, the owners, have a flock of about 280 Coopworth Sheep. Most of these are ewes, bred for both their wool and their meat. They also have two woolen mills, build around the turn of the Century, that they use to process their wool into various products and to do custom carding for others. But on Monday the 8th all the attention was in the barn because the shearer was in town and ready for business!
Work started at a comfortable 8:00 - 8:30 am preceded by coffee and conversation. We met Paul and Carol and the other workers: David the shearer, Laurie, Cathy, and Joe at the house and proceeded to the barn where the sheep had been brought in from pasture and were waiting for sheering. It was a beautiful warm morning promising to be in the 40s with plenty of sunshine. The snow was melting and the ground was quite soggy.
Inside the barn it was quiet and cool. The dark of the barn was illuminated by rows of lightbulbs mounted to the barn beams and at each end of the barn were bright squares of light where the spring sun shone in through the windows. The barn had been set up for the shearing: a ~5x5 ft piece of particle board had been set out as a shearing platform. Bright spotlights which also provided heat had been set up over the platform. A wool skirting table (chicken wire over a frame) had been set up on plastic barrels and placed close to the platform.
The sheep had been segregated by color, age and "sexual orientation" - pregnant ewes, wethers, and rams. There was even a vasectomized ram. A week or two before they breed the ewes, this "teaser" ram is put in with the ewes and allowed to "shoot blanks" to make the ewes more receptive to pregnancy. The pregnant white ewes were the first group to be shorn, after that were the colored ewes, followed by the rams. I helped Carol and Paul Monday and Weds. so missed the shearing of the colored ewes. The sheep were loaded up in gated "chutes" and their coats removed prior to shearing. In the picture below, you can see Joe bending over to remove the coats from the ewes waiting in the chutes. Cathy, in the red jacket, was in charge of weighing and recording the weight and condition of each fleece, as well as other information regarding each sheep. David the shearer can be seen putting a new blade on his shears. Just to the right of him is the beam on which he has put his equipment.
His shears are electric and the motor, blades and other equipment are mounted on a plank that he takes from farm to farm. At each location, he straps his plank onto a beam using rope and several different lengths of 2X4s. The shears are turned on by pulling a stiff cord and shut off by knocking the cord. He spend some time showing Laurie his blades: The bevels vary to accommodate different shearing conditions. When the sheep is warm the lanolin in the wool is fairly liquid and shearing goes quickly and when it is colder, the shearing is more difficult so a different blade is used. David does his own sharpening and has altered the bevel angles to his shearing style. He wears special leather shoes allow him to roll sideways on his feet and still maintain contact with the floor and probably help prevent him from slipping on the buildup of warmed lanolin on the platform.
I was given a broom and told to keep the shearing platform free of wool scraps, bedding, and second cuts that might get mixed into the wool fleece.