A Coun­try Life

Shear­ing the flock is a big day.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Mary Bell Thorn­ton

The stress of shear­ing day

The date is set - GWWP: God is Will­ing, Weather is Per­mit­ting.

The sheep are dry and ready for their an­nual shear. The mus­ter­ers and their dogs have ar­rived. There is the manda­tory rear end­sniff­ing from the lat­ter and over-piss­ing the piss­ing on tus­sock, stump and tree to es­tab­lish top dog.

Mus­ter­ers and dogs take up their po­si­tions above the flock. The head shep­herd makes sure ev­ery­one keeps their place and ea­ger dogs are kept in po­si­tion.

At first the sheep are un­sus­pect­ing. They con­tinue to graze and take no no­tice of the com­pany ever so slowly mov­ing down the hill. The day is hot. The mus­ter­ers sweat in the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and the dogs retch on the grass seed that in­vades pant­ing jaws. There is no breeze to cool the air.

Then the sheep sense the en­emy closing in. Men, women and dogs go on high alert. One sheep breaks away. Dogs are called to heel and sent across the face to ward off the er­rant sheep. One mus­terer, older than the rest, loses his foot­ing and tum­bles head­first into a gorse bush, emerg­ing on the down­hill side with a blood­ied shirt but he’s man­aged to turn it back. In its haste the sheep tan­gles in a mis­placed wire fence and som­er­saults, a per­fect for­ward roll that im­presses the on­look­ers and puts a bit of lev­ity into the se­ri­ous busi­ness of mus­ter­ing.

Slowly but surely, the net of hu­mans and dogs tight­ens, and the sheep re­sign them­selves to their fate in the makeshift yards.

Then the shearer ar­rives, hangs his sweat towel on the rail and tests the mo­bile shear­ing ma­chine and gen­er­a­tor. He fits the hand piece and rechecks the blades for sharp­ness. With mus­cled arms, his long, lean body strong be­neath his sin­glet, he waits for ac­tion. His felt boots and bowyangs tell the story of days spent on the boards. The rousie re­leases the first sheep as tired mus­ter­ers look on. The dogs lie pant­ing in care­fully se­lected patches of shade.

The first sheep is un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously turned on its back and leant against the shearer’s legs. The pull cord kicks the shear­ing ma­chine into life and the first blow is struck. Blow fol­lows blow. Sweat flows as the sheep is slowly ro­tated in the age-old tra­di­tion to re­move its thick creamy fleece. The rousie re­moves the belly and other taggy bits of wool as they fall to the boards and the first fleece is free. It is skill­fully sorted and taken to the wait­ing bag.

It’s tough go­ing in the Jan­uary heat with only the shorn sheep feel­ing the benefits of the hard labour.

Fi­nally, the last sheep is in po­si­tion on the boards and the shearer braces him­self for a fi­nal ef­fort. The team keeps the mo­men­tum go­ing to the last blow when the sheep, de­nuded of its coat, gath­ers its dig­nity and skit­ters off the board in the si­lence af­forded by the pull cord of the shear­ing ma­chine.

The sound of tabs be­ing torn off the beer cans drowns out the pant­ing of the dogs as mus­ter­ers, rousies, shearer and dogs show their re­lief at the end of a long, hot job.

And all this ef­fort is for just two pet sheep, Mas­port and Vic­tor, who live in a pad­dock much larger than they need. They com­pose them­selves af­ter the ig­nominy of their an­nual hair­cut and man­age to recog­nise each other de­spite their changed ap­pear­ance. Then it’s back to the se­ri­ous busi­ness of eat­ing grass. n

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