Friday, February 16, 2007

Sheep Shearing, the Traditional Way

Today's topic is brought to you by a guest blogger, the lovely and talented Patsy B., a loyal, card-carrying member of the Tuesday Night Knitters.

Patsy is an incredibly crafty woman, in the best sense of the word. Patsy sews, knits, spins, and dyes her own yarn, to name just a few of her talents. Every November, Patsy and her good friend and fellow TNK'er Nancy have a craft show where they sell much of their lovely handiwork. I had to miss her last show because I was out of town for the Knitter's Review retreat, but I sure hope to make it to her sale this year.

Last weekend, Patsy attended a traditional blade-shearing demonstration up at Stony Mountain Fibers, near Charlottesville, and observed Master Shearer, Kevin Ford, as he gave SMF's Cormo ewes and rams their annual hair cut.

Cormo sheep

Patsy sent me an email with a wonderful description of the event, which I felt might be enjoyed by other fiber enthusiasts, so I'm posting the contents of her email here, with her permission.

The text that follows is all Patsy; the illustrations & photos were added by me:

I did venture up to Stony Mt Fibers last Saturday to the sheep shearing. Went on to my friend's house about 20 minutes away for lunch and a visit. The shearing was much different than what I've seen previously. The shearer, a master shearer from MA who travels down the coast to different farms, sheared the old traditional way with large shears.

The other times I've seen shearing it was always done with electric shears and the sheep were often nicked in the process and were very restless and afraid. These beautiful Cormo sheep were calm and almost daze like. The shearer was very precise in his cutting and followed the same routine, taking about 10 minutes per sheep with the fleece coming off in a single piece.

He would get the sheep in a sitting position with their hind legs straight out, kind of straddling their backs. It was funny to watch as the sheep often put one of his front legs up on the shearer's shoulder to rest.

The fleece was then put on a skirting table....looked a lot like a large wagon wheel....where the "poopy" edges were pulled off and put in a large trash can. Barbara explained that she uses this around her roses/flowers as fertilizer and mulch.

The skirted fleece was then wrapped in a sheet and put with the others to either be sent for processing or bought by hand spinners.

I've never bought a fleece like that, although I did learn to spin from that point. Even with most of her sheep coated (actually wearing a coat) they still get dirty. Underneath the fleece is beautifully clean and white and the dirt comes out easily, even the crusty part. I watched as Barbara carefully checked the fleece for strength, indicating good health and nutrition.

The reactions of the sheep when the shearer finished was so funny....some stood up like...."Ok, that was good, so what now?" Others would shake and then run out into the pen saying, "boy that felt good!" It was fun to watch.

I thought how slim and trim the shearer was. He must have a very strong back since he has to support the 150 lb (average) sheep while shearing. He was a smallish man, actually, about 50 years old. The one time he nicked the edge of a back leg, he carefully held the spot till the bleeding stopped. The sheep didn't seem affected by the incident and was fine when finished.

Barbara had coffee, teas, donuts, and other goodies set out in the little room leading into the small barn. The whole process was simple and quick and very calming. I met some fun people who came to watch, talked with Barbara Hurd, (The Souful Knitter author), ate then shopped.

I decided to cut the work and bought a lb of Cormo roving, ready to spin, from the last shearing of Barbara's sheep....expensive but definitely worth it. Can't wait till it warms up a little so I can dye it and spin up something wonderful.


Thank you, Patsy, for being my guest blogger today and for sharing such an interesting experience! I look forward to seeing the results of your spinning and dyeing your new Cormo fiber. And I'll see ya next Tuesday night! :-)

In the meantime, I'll be posting finished snowman hat pictures tomorrow, so stay tuned!


Jacqui said...

Oh, that's neat! I'll have to pick her brain at the next TNK...:-)

Robin said...

WOW...what a GREAT post! Thanks...and I love the cartoon at the end!

Having a Knit Fitt said...

I really enjoyed this collaborative post. Thanks.