Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sheep Shearing

Today I drove out to Windrush Farm in Petaluma where they were having a shearing day. Windrush is run by Mimi Luebbermann who, together with Marlie de Swart, operates a CSA for shepherds in West Marin and Sonoma Counties. I think this is such a great venture, connecting interested fiber folks with locally produced materials.

I think the Community Supported Agriculture model is brilliant. People buy shares in future harvests, which allows farmers to have a more steady cash flow throughout the year. Consumers get to support local agriculture, and farmers have a bit more breathing room, and don't have to finance their operations with bank loans.

Of course, I wasn't at the farm because I was doing some kind of Good Deed. No way. I wanted to get cozy with the sheep.

The shearer, John Sanchez, was incredibly skilled. He'd nab a sheep, plop it on its butt, and the sheep would just sit there with a mildly surprised look on its face. There was no struggling, and no bullying.

The first part of the fleece to be cut off was the belly and rear end. This part of the wool is suitable only for compost. There's just too much unspeakable foreign matter for it to be viable.

The sheep did look a bit undignified, but they clearly weren't scared or upset.

Once the bad wool has been cleared away, John would shear off the rest of the fleece in one huge piece. It was rather like peeling an orange.

A good shearer gets the wool off in long strokes, and doesn't go over the same spot more than once. Doing so would result in a lot of useless "short cuts" that would lower the quality of the yarn produced from this fleece. Short bits of fiber make for pilly sweaters.

Volunteers and farm visitors helped "skirt" the fleeces, meaning we removed any remaining sheep poo and twigs that were missed during shearing. It was a beautiful spring day, clear and warm. You might not think that people would be excited about picking at poopy wool, but we were all as happy as could be.

This is the fleece off the back of one sheep. And behind it are bags and bags of fleece. The whole place smelled pleasantly "sheepy" -- of hay and lanolin.

Although I haven't finished spinning the fleece I bought last summer, I could not resist the beautiful fiber on sale today. I brought home a huge bag filled with pale grey wool. When I spread it out on the living room floor to show Robb, the cats just about lost their minds. If a cat could pull a nose muscle from sniffing too hard, both Linguine and Smog would have done so.

So, I'm putting myself on notice. I've got to pick up the pace on my spinning, because all this fleece takes up an awful lot of room in the house.


Ashley said...

This is so NEAT!

And it's nice to hear that the shearer was gentle and that the sheep weren't bullied or scared. I imagine that it's like that on a lot of farms - a scared animal is harder to work with than a calm animal and farmers know that. I wish more of the general public would realize it!

Kristin Sherman Olnes said...

Really cool. Thanks for sharing.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

So much fun! I've only shorn a sheep once, and honestly, I don't know how sheep shearers don't end up crippled for life. It's hard work, but amazing to watch someone who's skilled at it. I love that sheep go into a sort of daze when you roll them on their butts. It would be great to take wool all the way from sheep to sweater, I think it's fabulous that you're spinning your own yarn.

Stefaneener said...

What a lovely day. I'm still impressed that I've resisted a fleece so far. . . well, except for that baby alpaca. Okay, I'm with you. Spinning, only spinning! Off we go.

Pica said...

wow, what a great day! Have fun prepping that fleece. (10 minutes a day definitely is enough to get a lot spun over a few weeks, Per JMM this past week...)

Anonymous said...

You should consider joining a sheep to shawl team - loads of fun, and they usually shear a symbolic sheep to start the teams off... Gad XX


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