Shearing is plain, old fashioned hard work. It seems to me that shearers are undervalued, yet simultaneously form a group that are dying out. Problem is that the task they perform is one of the few that can't be totally mechanised, yet prices are fixed by the shearers union. Bit of catch 22 happening. That said, being involved in shearing for the day was an incredible experience and one I will long remember.
Work kicked off at 7.30am with one shearer working solidly through the day. Bringing his own shears, blades and oil with him, he set up in the shearing shed and set to it. Working from a sling which supports his weight, the shearer works bent over, holding the sheep between his legs, pinioned by his body as he works. The other essential piece of equipment is the booties worn to shear. Made from inverted sheepskin these are apparently the ultimate for someone on their feet all day. That said, their look is so unique they will never take off as the ultimate fashion accessory....will leave that to Ugg boots.
Generally a fleece is removed from an adult in close to one piece. Then the fun starts. The fleece is picked up from the floor by one "leg" then another, and with a flick of the wrist, is thrown across a special table, with the external side of the fleece facing up. The table looks somewhat like a huge abacus on its side, minus the beads, with timber slats across the surface which the fleece is draped across ready for picking over. My job then was to work my way around the edges of the fleece, removing any bad wool. This could be dirty fleece, wool imbedded with grass seed and other gunk. These sections are pulled by hand and added to a bin on the side. Once the whole fleece is picked over the fleece is then rolled in on itself, exposing the freshly cut wool and put into a bale bag on a rack. Each consecutive fleece is added to the bag as it is prepared until you have a bagful of beautiful fresh wool, making sure not to mix e Merino cross with the Black Faced Suffolk fleeces.
A good shearer has fleece removal down to a fine art, retrieving and shearing a sheep in about the same time it took me to pull the fleece. It was then a race to see whether I could bundle and bale the fleece before the shearer had flicked a new fleece onto the slatted table ready for pulling. This process went on for hours.
I escaped middle of the day to run an errand to Oatlands returning over an hour later....status unchanged....shearer still working....fleeces still being pulled and baled. We stopped at about 1.00pm for lunch, thinking we were done for the day only to find that the lambs too had to be shorn. Yikes.
As for the rams, we waited for backup for those. With the size of these guys and the fact that they are pretty cantankerous no one was going to be dumb enough to tackle them single handed. One ram gave us the run around to the max taking off and clearing the railing in the pen in his bid for freedom. Each time he was tackled and brought back he again sailed over the fence and disappeared into the far paddock. It eventually took three burly blokes, a four wheel drive, a quad bike and a dog to reign him in and get him in for shearing. Most entertaining to watch. I think it was a lucky thing I was out of range of ear shot, as I can only imagine the conversation taking place as this little scenario worked its way out.