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Monday, December 12, 2011

Don't Just Thank a Farmer, Thank a Shearer Too!

   Many of you won't know what I mean when I say shearer, but my experience here in Australia has made me very familiar with shearing. Australia is the world leader in wool production, and has been for over a century. There are over 72 million sheep in Australia compared to 23 million people, and the ironic thing is that sheep numbers are at their lowest since 1905. A big part of that is because of long years of drought, but also because the type of sheep has changed into a bigger sheep with more wool.
    Australian wool is generally regarded as some of the highest quality wool in the world, and the best of it comes from the Merino breed. Merino sheep have been bred for hundreds of years to produce extremely fine wool and have been selected to have wrinkly skin as this allows more surface area for wool to grow. A mature Merino ewe can produce over 15 pounds of wool per year, a pretty impressive feat considering wool doesn't weigh very much and they are usually only shorn once per year.
    The main point I wanted to drive home was the fact that although many other professions in agriculture have changed drastically in the past 100 years, sheep shearing is still largely the same. Although machine shears are used today, shearing is still a very physical, tiring job for shearers who are expected to shear on average 150 per day. As they are paid by the sheep, it is in their best interest to get them done as quickly as possible, but this is a job that is alot harder than it looks.

   One notable story involves Jackie Howe, the world-record holder for sheep shorn in a day, who sheared 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes! The scary thing is, he did this in 1892 with HAND shears, and his record hasn't been beaten to this day!

   Last week, I tried my hand at shearing a few Merino ewes. After getting a brief lesson on how to position the ewe and hold her so that I didn't hurt her and could still shear effectively, I had a go at it. While most shearers take 3-4 minutes per sheep, I was still going at 20 minutes and sweating like crazy! I had similar results on the second sheep I attempted, after which I looked at shearing completely differently. I swore that I would never take for granted the hard work that goes into shearing a ewe and I think it is important to recognize the hard-working sheep shearers out there in the world who are alot tougher than I am!

Thank a shearer next time you put on your wool scarf and coat!



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