Woolly-headed idea for sheep shear
If there was one good thing about my flock of sheep it was that they were instantly recognisable. Whenever they ran away, which was often, it took neighbouring farmers only a cursory glance to identify who they belonged to and, as such, I was duly informed. Swearing ensued, dogs were loaded into the ute and the sheep retrieved.
There were about 50 of them and the reason everyone knew they were mine was twofold: townies always forget to close gates, and my sheep looked nothing like anyone else’s. My sheep looked like animals gone terribly, perplexingly, wrong.
I’ve been reminded of my shearing attempts after the recent discovery of a merino wether that has long eluded the combs. A bit like those of us whose last haircuts took place pre-pandemic,
Shrekapo grew wild and woolly during his years of isolation until this weekend when he was shorn, losing nearly 19kg. My sheep never got that bad, though parts of them were well on the way.
There’s an old saying that if you want something done right, do it yourself. As much as I’d like to pretend that’s the reason I decided to shear my sheep, it is not.
Fool that I am, I did it because I’d seen it done umpteen times before and thought it looked easy. Like many Kiwis, I’ve grown up watching tough men and women shear sheep after sheep in quick succession, looking for all the world like it was the simplest thing to do. I also did it because I’m mean and didn’t want to pay someone for something I could do myself, which, as it turns out, I couldn’t.
Years ago I started hosting international tourists keen to get up close to Kiwi pastoral life. These unwitting folks would be bussed out from their cruise ships to my pretend farm, where they’d milk a cow, bottle-feed an overgrown lamb, then watch a sheep be shorn. I rang a local shearer and inquired about prices.
‘‘How many sheep have you got?’’ he asked.
‘‘One,’’ I said, ‘‘in front of 80 shrieking people taking photos.’’
He quoted me $100, far too much for such a simple job, so I set out to do it myself. While I was good enough at the belly, leg and back blows, I was terrified of shearing the beasts’ necks, certain I’d slit their silly throats, so left everything above the shoulders. This left my flock looking like woolly-maned lions at best, and pink-skinned somethings in Elizabethan collars at worst.
I’d excuse my technique by telling the Americans these were a special type of sheep, mumble something about facial fibres, then wrestle the animals back into the holding pen. When the show was done, they’d rejoin my other bobble-headed victims.
Last year, Jack Fagan broke his dad’s world record by one when he completed 811 lambs in nine hours. To put this into perspective, it took me half an hour to shear three-quarters of a sheep. The tourists and I thought that was marvellous but over the season the appearance of my flock grew increasingly strange, and the mirth of the neighbours too much.
Shearing is an artform, a skill that takes years of dedication to hone. And, like all skills, if you don’t have them you just have to suck it up and pay someone who does. Finally I relented and rang the shearer, who was clearly unimpressed to hear from me again. ‘‘How many need to be shorn this time?,’’ he asked.
‘‘About 50 heads of sheep,’’ I said.
Virginia Fallon is a Stuff senior writer and columnist.