It’s hot. Can you come tomorrow to shear?

No, these words were not uttered by a client. They are my own.

I just returned from a 10-day, 4-state run shearing several hundred animals, during which I worked most days till dark, got food poisoning, lost some vital underpart of my car, ate on the run while my vehicle slowly filled with empty water bottles, and my shearing machines begged for some servicing. Upon my return home I slept 16 hours straight. For anyone who cares to know, I do feel guilty about it…

And now my two unshorn sheep are giving me the stink-eye.

As a shearer, I have to actually schedule my own flock of llamas, alpacas, and sheep just as if they were clients; I hold shearing day as a public event so I can’t bow out of it at the last minute and bend to the pressures of hundreds of other farms clamoring for their animals to be shorn. At 5 pm on April 24, the event ended, volunteers packed up, I sat down, and two difficult, attitudinal, wrinkly fine-wool sheep were still in the holding pen waiting for their haircut. I said to myself cheerfully, “no problem, I’m a shearer, I can do them ANY time. Wow, how lucky I am! Most people have to wait to get on the schedule.” Right.

How can I work this fast, this hard, and still fail?

So now it’s June: humid, hot, unpleasant with no cooling winds. My sheep are still unshorn. If anything, the pace of shearing has stepped up. May was rainy and cold, and I got more requests for rescheduling than requests to shear. My fellow shearers are comrades in arms: “Temperatures are supposed to reach high 90’s this weekend. Phone blows up all day while shearing.” (It’s a great comfort to me to know this is not my personal problem.) “The temp goes up and the phone rings off the hook. “ “I love all the people who wake up in June and are like, ‘oh my god, I have SHEEP! When did that happen??’”

I’ll say this out loud here: it’s hard to not become very stressed at the pressure right about now. Some people will call, text, email (sometimes multiple times) and facebook-message me all in one day while I’m shaving beasts just as fast as my little hands can move the machine; upon checking messages at the end of the day I am overcome – not with any sense of self-importance , but with a sense of utter defeat. How can I work this fast, this hard, and still fail? While I was helping one set of animals get relief from the heat, I have nevertheless let down the animals of that person who has been calling me repeatedly.

The best and the worst of this job is that I care. A lot. I have done other types of work where the pressures were similar. But – frankly – I never did much ‘feel the pain’ of a client whose text change on a web site appeared to be so vital as to phone me at 6 am to request it.

Because I live with fiber animals on my farm, I know how important fiber removal is. The sheep, whose wool can breathe and actually assist with temperature regulation, do better than the camelids whose fiber acts as a sealant which has the effect of cooking the skin. Many Angora goats (and some sheep breeds) will actually start to naturally partially shed if shorn late. That does NOT mean that they do not need to be shorn. Every year I am called out to jobs to shear animals who have not been attended to in years.

Alpaca and llama - 3 years' growth.

Alpaca and llama – 3 years’ growth.

Sheep: 3 years' growth. each fleece weighed approximately 30 pounds.

Sheep: 3 years’ growth. each fleece weighed approximately 30 pounds.

Llama: 5 years' growth.

Llama: 5 years’ growth.

The folks who run the PETA campaigns which emerge every spring that mis-educate the public on the supposed ‘horrors of shearing’ need to take a look at what happens when shearing does not occur.

So as I and my fellow shearers face the onslaught of the summer shearing calls, we can truly feel proud to be partners with farmers who really care about their animals, who do the right thing by them by getting them shorn. Just one tiny request …. Could you call us a wee bit earlier next year?

And today, June 3, I am heading out to shear my own obstreperous sheep. Woolaway, folks!

6 comments on “It’s hot. Can you come tomorrow to shear?

  1. YOU HAVE FAILED AT NOTHING. YOU PROVIDE A SERVICE TO THOSE WHO CANNOT DO IT THEMSELVES. IT IS A TALENT THAT TAKES BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS ( NOT TO MENTION YEARS ( TO GET PROFICIANT AT ) THOSE THAT HAVE NEVER HELD A HANDPIECE DO NOT KNOW THE STRENGTH AND EXPERTISE IT TAKES TO GET THROUGH THIS NEVER MIND THE THOUGHT PROCESS THAT GETS REPEATED OVER AND OVER. EVERY JOB IS DIFFERENT AND EVERY SHEEP A CHALLENGE. I HAVE BEEN THERE AND PUT IN 35 YEARS. THE PAYMENT IS BOTH FINANCIAL, EMOTIONAL. AND SPIRITUAL. THERE IS NOTHING MORE SATISFYING THAN LOOKING OUT AT A FIELD OF FRESHLY SHORN SHEEP AND SAYING TO YOURSELF ” I DID THAT ”

    THEY CAME TO ME WITH FLEECE ABUNDANT
    EVERY YEAR IT SEEMS REDUNDANT
    I SIT ONE UP AND START TO SHEAR
    THE OWNER MAY EVEN LOOK ON IN FEAR
    I DO THIS TASK BECAUSE I CAN
    I DO THIS JOB I HAVE A PLAN
    TO FINISH THE SEASON WITH LITTLE RAIN
    TO FINISH THE SEASON WITH LITTLE PAIN
    WISHFUL THINKING I SAY TO MYSELF
    THE PAIN AT LEAST I CAN PUT ON A SHELF
    DAY AFTER DAY THE WOOL WILL FALL
    BECAUSE TO ME THIS IS MY CALL
    A TIME WILL COME TO PUT IT AWAY
    THE STORIES I HAVE WILL COME INTO PLAY
    I MADE MY MARK IN THE SHEARING WORLD
    I DO NOT REGRET IT, I WAS KIND I WAS TOLD
    A SHEARER IS A SPECIAL BREED
    IT ALLOWS YOUR SPIRIT TO BE FREED
    THE END OF THE SEASON IT WILL COME
    SIT BACK AND WATCH THE SETTING SUN
    YOU DID YOUR PART YOU ARE PART OF THE MOLD
    SHEARERS DON’T DIE WE JUST GET OLD.

    GOD BLESS SHEARERS THE WORLD OVER!

    • That poem is amazing! I’m not a shearer; I have an alpaca farmer. I love our shearing crew, and try to be as ready as possible and have as many helpers as we can. We feed them and house them overnight if needed. You do an important job.

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