Monday, May 19, 2008

Shearing Ouessant Sheep: Part 2. We move from Dolly the pretend sheep to the real thing. The first ram didn’t go too well: I now realise that the comb was too far back in the head and so the cutter’s teeth were almost at the same spot as those of the comb, leading to a greater likelihood of nicks, and poor entry into the wool. He’s tidied up for another year, won’t win any beauty competitions and has a few small battle wounds—all immediately sprayed with antiseptic spray—for his trouble but we are friends again and this hasn’t stopped him running straight up to me to eat from my hand. After him, we went back to square one, with loads more research, a new set of comb / cutter purchased and extensive practise on Dolly.

Next in the barber’s chair was the castrated male lamb or, as he’s over a year old, I should say “hoggart”. Aesthetically, he’s my triumph, as he looks like black velvet all over and only a couple of nicks. These nicks by the way, seem not to be serious and reminiscent of the sort of thing my father used to cover with little torn off squares of tissue paper after shaving in a hurry in the early morning before rushing of to work in a shoe factory. I must point you to our friend Val’s blog, wherein she tells us that her regular professional shearer, when presented with her Ouessants last year, “laughed and commented on needing a magnifying glass but did a reasonable job considering they wriggle like eels!” Well they do wriggle like eels but, if you have no previous experience, like us, it’s impossible to know whether that’s normal behaviour or not.

She also tells us that “the Ouessant has more wool on it per pound/kilo of sheep than any other in the world and so from under a large fleece a very small sheep emerge[s]!” She’s not wrong. On finishing shearing a Ouessant, one sweeps up the wool and then immediately wonders where the sheep has gone ... it must be here somewhere. What has been reassuring to us, is to hear Val, who has been sheep farming for longer than she cares to remember say “I have never in all this time sheared a whole sheep” (although she’s regularly trimmed up the mucky bits at the rear end).

The three ewes were, overall, a bit easier than the boys. We found a lump in front of the old ewes udder but have the vet coming here in a weeks time to blood test all our animals (Aujesky’s disease for the pigs and Brucellosis for the sheep) so he can have a look at that then. The oldest ewe was the calmest and was rewarded by just getting a single nick and the last ewe got a few but the shallowest … I failed to shear a complete sheep without a nick. Val reassured me that in all her years of having her sheep sheared professionally, amongst the various jobs handed out—catching sheep, rolling and stacking wool, etc—there was always someone whose sole duty was to wield the blue antiseptic spray.

Photos-wise: the video at the top is a little action shot and from this and the photo, you can see how I’ve had to adapt the positions on the shearingworld website to a kneeling position because their so b***y small! And the third photo is probably the most useful, as it shows me demonstrating the wonderfully effective McKenzie method back remedy position. Below are the shorn ewes with their lambs.