Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

They came, they sheared.

My Grandpa used to keep 10 or so sheep in his pasture behind his house.  The Mickels own 3,000 head but there are only about half of them in the pens today.  When the shearers came to Grandpa's in the spring it was nothing like this.  They sheared with manual shears; think big hedge clippers.  They tied the sheeps legs and stooped over them.  I thought they were fast! 
Wow, these guys in the trailer are like lightning with their electric shears.  (You gotta love a company that paints their shearing trailer bright purple).  Every 1 1/2 minutes a newly shorn sheep came down the ramp.

I have to make a correction from my last post (sorry, Mary, for the mis-information).  When I was told by my friend that the shearers were from Australia, I thought the company was from Australia.  The company is from Wyoming, just a state away. Three of their shearers are from Australia and New Zealand.  They come here to America in their off-season  and travel with this company from Wyoming.  The Hoopes take their equipment around the west to anyone who needs their services.  That's a lot of traveling.  I was told that they make very good money AND THEY SHOULD.  What a difficult and physically demanding job.  Not to mention the wear and tear on their bodies.  The faster they shear, the more they get paid.  Literally back breaking work.  The shearers pull the sheep in from the canvas flap that leads from the chute on the right of the photo, shear them, and send them out the doors to the left of the photo (behind the shearers) that open onto the ramp on the outside.   They push the fleeces out under the flap to the grader.  Talk about a work-out; day in and day out for about 9 hours a day.
Check out those harnesses.  They have springs on them but it is hard on their muscles and joints even with the harnesses.  They are just holding the sheep down as they shear them.  That takes some muscle to wrestle a sheep.  The harnesses help support them as they turn and bend, but even so that is a lot of wear and tear on your body.  It was a nice temperature out; about 68 degrees, but it was smelly and stuffy in that trailer, let me tell you.
An employee looks at the fleeces and rates them fine, extra-fine, course, etc. depending on the quality of their wool. He then separates them into piles and Eric loads them into the compressor (Dan, in the blue shirt, was helping Eric, because Dan thought Eric looked tired).  Eric is the son of the owner of the company (Cliff).  Cliff is in the trailer shearing and Eric works outside.
The compressor packs the wool in big square bags that weigh 500 lbs. each.  They buy the wool outright from the ranchers, take it with them and market it.

After the sheep are shorn they come out the doors, down the ramps, and when there is no more room, Dan, one of the ranchers, opens the gates one by one and herds them into this chute.  Then they are put into another pen to await the next step.   Brothers Matt and Dan and their sheepherders will check each sheep, dock the lamb's tails and brand their the sheep with their brand, a lower case h (for their Granpa Harold), doctor any that need it and separate the sheep into groups.  The pregnant ewes are separated out and sent to the lambing sheds to await birthing.
 The little lambs are with their moms in these sheds until they are sure that they will thrive and survive.
This is Emily, a niece of the ranchers, with one of her  newly born "bummer" lambs.  She (the lamb, not Emily) has a bad leg.  Emily, 15 years old, has her own small herd.  She started with "bummers" (the lambs that have physical problems or whose mothers have rejected them).  Someone has to bottle feed them until they are old enough to be on their own and the adults don't have time to take on this tedious and time-consuming task so it falls to the teenagers who agree to do it.  Emily does this for her uncles and in return she gets to keep the ones that make it. That's how Emily built up her own herd.
 They are branded (red oil paint is sprayed on the sheep several times a year as their fleece grows; no hot irons like they do with cows) and then the lambs are mixed in with the rest of the bigger herd.  Emily contributes money for their feed and upkeep to her uncles.  A few years ago she took out a small loan which she has already paid back.  She has quite a nest egg at fifteen.  You can see some of Emily's adult sheep in the first photo.  Her brand is the capital letter J.  She makes money when she sells the lambs. The teenage children in this family have quite a start in the business.
Look at Morgan.  He's practicing lassoing just like his uncle Matt, who is amazing with his lasso.  I've never seen anyone lasso sheep.  It actually came in quite handy many times today.   All the cousins, aunts, uncles, Grandpa, Grandma, and even a few friends like us, were welcome to help.  Some were a lot more helpful than others.  I'm quite sure this will be my first and last shearing party.

Fun for a city girl (humor me, I'm not "that old") to be in on the action.  When we commented on how hot and dusty and how much work it was to stand around, prodding sheep into chutes we were told over and over how much fun everyone was having working together.  And they really were.
Great family friends and great memories.

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