A Country Life
Shearing the flock is a big day.
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