Joyce is busily working on her next writing project while
waiting for her fifth book to come out for the Mother's Day market
next spring. When she's not writing, she's focusing on tapestry
weaving and marketing our wool crop over the Internet. Instead of
the assembly line shearing that most sheep are put through, ours
get individual attention. The naturally colored wool produced by
our Karakuls is a novelty for most folks who spin, and people are
always interested in trying something new. By dealing directly with
the spinners over the Internet, Joyce has been getting excellent
prices for our wool crop.
When shearing, Joyce and I do one ewe an evening, and take about
three times as long as a "real" shearer would. That's
partially because of a lack of skill and stamina on my part; commercial
shearing is demanding work, and those guys earn every dollar. How
they can bend over a ewe for hours and then ever walk straight again
is beyond my understanding.
High-speed shearing can also be quite hazardous to the sheep, if
the shearer isn't good at what he does. There are "delicate
bits" that can be damaged by power cutters, and in places the
skin is thin and easily cut. There's a needle and dental floss in
my shearing kit for a reason.
We just lay the ewe down on a couple of sheets of plywood, calm
her down, and start shearing at a slow and steady pace. It takes
longer, but it's not uncomfortable for either her or me, and the
task passes quickly enough. We feed in the morning, and shear in
the evening; for a ewe to have to lay on her side with a fully belly
would be most uncomfortable.
As I cut away the fleece, Joyce gathers it up and separates out
the prime wool cut from the sides, back and shoulders, from the
waste wool cut away from the legs, neck and stomach. A professional
shearer is focused on getting the wool off of the ewe, whereas we're
focused on maximizing the utility of the resultant fleece.
One of the big "bugaboos" in shearing is called "second
cuts." That's where the shear passes over a spot for a second
time and cuts off short lengths of wool around a 1/4 inch in length.
If incorporated into the yarn when it's spun, these second cuts
will create unwanted "neps," so it's important to have
as few as possible. While it's nice to end up with a smoothly shorn
ewe, it's more important to strive to see that each hair is only
cut once. Better to end up with a roughly cut ewe than a problematic
fleece. Besides, from their perspective, it's a "bad hair day"
no matter what.
This is the first year I've worked primarily with an electric,
hand-held shear machine (looks like the big brother of the clippers
you see in a men's barber shop). It's faster than hand shears, but
slower than the shaft-driven shears the pros use. Since I still
have a lot to learn, and since I only do it now and then, I expect
that I'll stay at this level of shearing and not try to master the
When folks ask what dues at Windward cover, I've added "free
haircuts" to the traditional list of benefits, but no one's
taken me up on my jest so far.
Windward is cooperative association of individuals dedicated
to developing, communicating and implementing the principles of
selfreliance and providing assistance to people in transition.
Visit their website: www.windward.org,
or email: email@example.com.