Thursday 6 August 2009

Hand Shearing

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Bellingham Heritage Centre recently held a 'Woolly Weekend' which included hand shearing demonstrations. A comment heard on the day was "I thought all sheep were shorn by hand" - fair comment.

Indeed all sheep are still shorn by hand, however the majority are shorn by using an electric powered shearing machine with a man/woman controlling not only the sheep but the hand piece as well. Electricity powers the motor then via drive shafts, cogs and spindles the handpiece is powered ready for cutting wool(in fact it will cut anything it comes in contact with, including skin and clothing, I know!). To make the contact with machine and wool you still require a person, the piston consists of human muscle and sinew from the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

To my knowledge there is not an automated machine which takes a woolly sheep in at one end and spits it out bare at the other end. There could be an business opportunity there for an imaginative soul....

Back to hand shearing - the above photo shows what we all call hand shears and they are the traditional if not rather old fashioned tool for shearing sheep. For all I say old fashioned they are still readily available and to be found on every farm and many people are still able to, and do, clip with hand shears, the only difference is they clip a few with the shears not the whole flock.
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The 'good old days' of hand shearing were very sociable events with neighbours travelling around each others farms helping one another out. The heritage centre has a photograph on display of nine men shearing out doors at the sheep pens and women and children on hand to wrap wool. The crack (banter) would flow all day.

I've heard of men managing 100 - 120 a day with the hand shears no bother and tales of barrels of beer shipped in especially for the job, a sheep being killed to feed the hungry souls and baking by the women for days beforehand ensuring no one goes hungry. There was competition with the women folk too, striving to be the one noted for the best 'feed' and competition with the men folk to see who could pick the best clippers out of the pen. Not that different from today in many ways but miles apart in others.

For an insight into shearing years back head for Clive Daltons Woolshed Blog. Copy and paste this link into your browser and enjoy a step back in time. Well worth a read


Dr Clive Dalton said...

Hi Helen - great blog on shearing.You are right -there isn't a machine where the sheep goes in one end then it cums oot shorn at the other - YET!

Australian researchers have been working for years on robots and have got well down the track with a laser guiding the shears. This was a massive challenge with their wrinkly Merinos that you need to keep well away from!

The other topic still under research is chemical shearing where you give the sheep an injection and in a few days the wool can be pulled off. Problems are the sheep ends up bald, and you have to cover them both before treatment (to prevent losing the wool) and after to prevent sun burn.

So am afraid you'll just have to up your target for next season. You can always cum doon to NZ for a bit practice in the meantime.

A full day's shearing of 9 hours doing 400 sheep is equivalent of running two marathons.

Tarset Shepherd said...

I'd overlooked this comment, apologies to you Dr Dalton. As I couldn't ever imagine running one marathon then I will accept that I will not be clipping 400 sheep in 9 hours!

As for going to NZ to practice - very tempting but would I need to learn to clip the 'proper' way? As old habits die hard!