My shearing season officially opened on January 27-28, 2017 in Petaluma. I am elated to be back at it, putting my back into it. Historically, the first day back is humbling. This year was no exception, but I got off to a far better start than last year, and I am happy with how these two working days went. Don’t believe me? Note the ridiculous grin on my face as I finish my first sheep of the day, and soak my husband’s baseball cap with sweat (I washed it today!):

A woman with short blonde ponytail and tan baseball cap in a blue shirt, bent over a sheep laying on its side, removing its wool

Yee haw! Last few strokes on the first sheep of the year, red in the face and sweating. Yes, you can see some extra wool on this sheep that had multi-year wool growth. I left it there on purpose. Beneath that dense wool are wrinkles. I opted to leave a little more wool in favor of fewer nicks. That’s how I roll. You need not agree.

Being a lot less sedentary in January and lifting weights at least twice a week helped a great deal on my first day back in the barn.

This first job was better than usual for another reason: I got to do it with Jordan Reed, whom I met at shearing school four years ago now.

A woman in blue shirt, tan overalls, and tan baseball cap standing in front of a sheep pen, containing spotted sheep, with her arm draped over a thin man in bandana, tank top, and pants.

Fast and filthy friends. These overalls add 30 lbs. and I don’t care. We are about halfway done shearing the sheep (a total of 77 or so) at this point.

Jordan and I are, in some ways, an unlikely pair of friends: We were, each of us, fortunately and totally wrong about each other. On the first day of shearing school, Jordan took me for a “rich fiber lady” and I was a bit intimidated by what I misinterpreted as bravado. By the fourth day of shearing school, we were trading Salon Pas patches and bottles of wine. Jordan took me out on my first “real” shearing job, which taught me a great deal and gave me the courage to continue and book jobs of my own.

Shearing friends are special folk: near and dear, crew and craftsmen, they are the people who have seen you through the wars, who have seen you at your worst, who have seen your stupid mistakes and tears of exhaustion, and bring you back from the brink to keep going, even though your quads may be screaming and your spine feels detached from your lower extremities.

A man in bandana and tank top, squatted over a brown sheep, shearing off the wool on the top of the sheep's head, using a motorized handpiece

Jordan shears a Shrek sheep, one with between three and five years worth of wool growth. He did an excellent job.

I learn something new and challenge myself in different directions on each job, and this one was no exception. Approximately half of the 77 total sheep had two or more years worth of wool. This is common, because it can be very difficult for flock owners to find a shearer.

Multi-year wool growth creates a challenge for the shearer. Wool is heavy: one year’s fleece might weigh 8-15 lbs., depending on the breed, and it increases with each passing year. The weight of that wool pulls on the sheep’s very thin, membrane like skin, creating wrinkles over time. This makes the sheep’s skin much harder to make taut, and thus easier to cut. In addition, the lanolin can dry out and, with dirt added, create waxy clumps that are difficult to push shears through. When dealing with all of this, shearers have to use extra precaution and time to remove wool in the safest, most humane way possible. It is a test of skill, for sure.

We did a good job. It was difficult at times, but we got through it and the sheep looked clean (and not nicked to bits) when we were finished. Look at this fleece! Much of it had felted on the sheep’s body. My suggestion was to further felt it, which would also clean it, and throw it in front of the fireplace to use as a bearskin rug equivalent. Am I right, or am I right?!

A man in bandana and tank top with a complete brown sheep fleece spread out on plywood, on top of hay

Marvelous shearing by Jordan. The sheep was so happy to have 3-5 years worth of wool off its body that it just about pranced out of the barn.

 

A couple of dozen sheep, some spotted, in a barn, standing on a straw-strewn floor

Friesian sheep in dappled barn light, and as far away from us as possible.

Clear garbage bags full of raw wool fleeces, white and brown

I admit that seeing the fleeces bagged up this way makes me feel like we accomplished something.

The following morning, we had just 20 sheep to shear between the two of us, about a few hours’ worth of work with sheep penning, gear moving, and so on. It was 37 degrees in the mornings. Chilly! I was so grateful to be in a nice barn.

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The lucky sheep of Day Two are penned and within reasonably easy reach.

I “let” Jordan shear both rams. This guy, Romeo, was a beauty and Jordan did a beautiful job:

We included the handpiece for a real "trophy" photo.

We included the hand piece for a real “trophy” photo. Is this a gorgeous ram or what? This year, we’re told, he impregnated all but five ewes!

Thank you, Fran LeClerc and Jordan Reed, for taking and sharing all of the photos in this post. I love you both and am so grateful for the lives we lead that, every so often, put us in the same place at the same time, doing the same enjoyable work.