Written by: Elizabeth Victor
David's shearing moves are a well practiced dance. He uses his body to keep the sheep in place: tucking feet behind his legs and heads under his arms, and moving the sheep from one position to another by stepping forwards or backwards, and shifting his weight.
When David is ready, a gate on the chute is opened and Joe pushes the waiting sheep out of the chute. David grabs the sheep, turns it around and flips it onto it's rump into the shearing position. Sheppards "steer" sheep by their tails. Joe was learning how to handle sheep, so during a break, David explained to him that if you pull up on the tail, you risk breaking it so you "goose" the sheep by putting your hand around it's tail and squeezing it. He also added "Don't worry if she pees on you, it washes off". In the photo above, the sheep is a ram.
The first swipe with the shears is along the left side of the sheep's "chest" then down to the belly. When the belly wool is shorn, it is thrown off to the side - it is a very low grade wool and full of dirt. I picked up the cast off belly wool and put it aside to be sold later for rug yarn.
After the belly wool is removed, he works his way to the inner part of the back legs, anus, and tail, then shears the left rump (left most photo below). If the sheep is a ram, the wool is carefully shorn off the scrotum. The wool around the rump and back legs of a sheep is called the "britch" wool and is discarded in the skirting process because is is of lower quality, dirty and weathered. My job was also to remove "tags" of dung clinging to the "britch" wool around the sheep's anus. Dung tags can get very big and heavy - larger than the size of a grapefruit. Fortunately, Carol and Paul's sheep were very well taken care of so I didn't have to remove a single tag.
After the britch wool is removed, the sheerer untucks the sheep's head from under his arm and shears the "top knot" off its head. Then, in one swift step forward with his left foot, flips the wool sheared from the sheep's left leg and rump forward, and moves the sheep onto it's rump so it's neck wool can be shorn. The wool around the shoulders of a sheep is the thickest, highest quality part of the fleece. He swipes his shears up the neck and under the chin then pulls that beautiful neck wool apart and pushes it to the left side of the sheep's neck so he can shear the rest of the neck and shoulders. The center photo above on the left shows him making the first swipe up the neck, and the right hand photo shows the flap of wool pushed to the left side of the neck.
After the left side of the neck is sheared, he lowers the sheep and begins shearing the left side and back.
He makes long sweeping cuts from the rump up to the head with his shears and the wool falls away, cut side up, like a blanket, revealing the true color and quality of the wool. The warmer it is, the more liquid the lanolin is and the shears cut like butter. This is where the skirters and spectators all stop to gawk..... Carol and Paul have carefully bred their Coopworths for wool with a high luster and silky hand and this is evident as the fleeces come off the sheep. They coat their sheep to keep dirt and chaff out of the wool. Coating the sheep also prevents "weathering" of the tips and keeps the wool free of vegetable matter. Removing those coats looked difficult. Joe had to bend over the backside of the sheep crammed in the chute to remove the coat strap out from under it's back legs - those sheep certainly didn't want to lift up their legs!
After as much wool as he can reach in this position is sheared, he pulls the sheep up and starts along the sheep's right shoulder and leg.
After the right shoulder and front leg is shorn, he moves the sheep into the last position and finishes shearing down the right side ending with the outer portion of the right leg. The sheep's head is now pointed toward the back of the barn where the shorn sheep are munching on fodder. When the shearer lets it go, it takes off to joins it's friends.
At this point two of the skirters gather up the fleece and place it on the skirting table. The fleece is placed on the skirting table outer (or "tip") side up which involves some kind of flipping onto the skirting table. This is my chance to sweep the platform before the next sheep is let out of the shoot.