On a recent Saturday morning, my Hub and I rose at the crack of dawn to drive from our home in northern Illinois around the tip of Lake Michigan and up the opposite coast to Holland. We travel this route often because our daughter and her husband live there.
This time, however, we had a different destination. We were headed to Shady Side Farm so I could watch some sheep being sheared. My man was kind enough to come along :)
About a year ago, I learned about this farm and their Shearing Day, which they open to the public as an educational event. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. In part, it was a way to recognize and honor the animals which provide this AMAZING fiber I so love to work with.
As we drove up the lane, we were met by a neighbor who was helping out. “Is this your first shearing day? Welcome! You can park right here. There’s the barn where they’re shearing the sheep — just go right on in!”
The barn is a long, low building with a staging area for the shearing and several animal pens. Upon entry, our first sight was of a just-sheared fleece being tossed, dirty side up, onto a rack to be “skirted” — which means the visible debris gets picked out before the fleece is set aside for processing later.
Just beyond that, the shearer was wrangling a very pregnant sheep into a sitting position to get her haircut. We learned that perfect timing for shearing is just before lambing so that, after giving birth, the mamas can better share their body heat with their young ones and the lambs can more easily find their mamas’ milk.
This shearer, just 20 years old, can shear an entire sheep in less than 5 minutes. The sheep do not struggle against him, no matter what position he puts them in, as long as they feel secure within his hold. He sheared about 80 sheep before the day was over!
As soon as the shearer lets go, the agitated ewe — looking like a skinned mango! — is up and dashing back to the familiarity of the pen.
She trots past the holding pen where the others await their turns.
This is Lona, the Farmer’s Wife (and a fellow blogger over at Farming in the Shade). She had this smile on her face every time I saw her! I asked her how they happened to open shearing day up to the public.
She said it was triggered a handful of years ago by a comment she saw online, ruing the “fact” that sheep had to sacrifice their lives in order for people to get the wool! She was astounded by this misunderstanding and decided to do something about it. Shearing Day was born.
And they’re doing a great job. Please click on over to Lona’s blog to find more photos of a really interesting day. The process is described here in much better detail than I have done.
HEY! By the way, did you know…
…? Yeah, neither did I. Wool. It’s amazing!