Since last week’s story about shearing, we still had one sheep left to shear – sweet Vera. Vera has photo-sensitive skin and doesn’t respond well to the close shave given by electric blades. Last year I hand-clipped her and she had a much more comfortable summer as a result. Giving Vera a haircut is now part of my summer jobs.
Hand-clipping Vera serves two purposes; leaving a half centimetre or so covering of wool on her gives her some protection from the sun (which triggers her allergy). And using hand shears is less aggravating on her skin.
So I chose the one day in the week where thundery showers weren’t forecast and off I went to find Vera with my bucket of bits. In my bucket I had: Jakoti hand shears, hoof clippers, Protego wound spray, bailer twine, anti-blister rowing glove for my right hand, plasters, halter, midge spray, midge net, water, a handful of sheep nuts.
Having located the flock, Vera was easy to spot, she was the only sheep who still resembled a roly-poly teddy bear.
I take my time shearing, better said, I have no choice but to take my time shearing because I’m not an expert by a very long shot. Although Adrian and I once learnt to shear the standard ‘Wool Board way’ where you do 16 specific moves, moving at one with the sheep, removing the wool deftly and gently whilst keeping the sheep comfortable at all times, we realised it was a little beyond us. We would need to practise shearing more than just once a year to get good enough to do it safely and confidently. This is why we book in a pro shearer like Guy.
Last year in a moment of madness I decided to not only shear Vera, but quite a few others too. I found the ‘standing up method’ to be quite successful and not too painful on my back. The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time per sheep because there is more room for error so you have to go slowly. The sheep isn’t ‘stretched out’ as it is when you shear the standard way so you have to make sure you don’t snip little wrinkles of skin. This is particularly the case where there are joins, for example where the legs join the torso, where the jaw joins the neck or the tail joins the bottom.
So, having popped Vera into a pen, I started at the tail end of her back, made an opening in the wool and snipped in lines along one side of her back. Then I did the other side which was a little more tricky because I had to reach over her and position my hand at a different angle. All the while I snipped, my left hand guided the way, feeling the terrain. Although I have a pretty good map in my head of the anatomy of a sheep, there’s nothing quite like having a pair of blades in your hand to jolt you into a different state of mind. It’s a bit like reading all the theory about lambing, and then actually doing it.
I had started off putting a halter on Vera and tying a tether to the hurdle so she wouldn’t move around, but after a while I removed it as she seemed quite content chewing the cud and standing in the one position. This made life easier for both of us as I could move her round to snip her wool at different angles, and Vera didn’t feel constrained by the halter and tether.
After about an hour and half I had removed three quarters of her wool but felt the need for a cup of tea. I let Vera out to graze and went back to the house for some tea and toast. Adrian emerged from his study like a small boy at the sound of the kettle and the ping of the toaster. We chatted about Vera, the weather and Adrian’s work, and then back I went to finish off Vera before the rain started.
I’ll be honest, despite the cup of tea, I was pretty tired at this point. I’d had an intense couple of weeks doing other physical jobs around the farm. In between this I had an important trip to Edinburgh where I was dancing in a show (my other life). All in all, I was looking forward to a day off. But with the weather being so showery I had to grab the opportunity to get Vera finished before the next downpour.
When I got back to the fields the sheep were still where I had left them fortunately. This meant I didn’t have to run around with hurdles setting up a new pen. I led Vera back into her little pen and spent another hour or so finishing her off.
I did the rest of her face and neck, the remaining side of her flanks and belly. Now I was on the home straight, all I had left to do was her backside up to the udders. As I straddled her facing her tail so I could get a good angle, Vera started to get twitchy. The straddle method is my standard approach for dagging sheep and admittedly, normally I have Adrian helping me to make sure the sheep doesn’t wriggle around too much. In the absence of Adrian (aka my combi clamp), I opted for Plan B, I tethered her up and sprinkled some sheep nuts on the ground. This worked a treat and I made a pretty good job of trimming Vera’s bottom even though I say so myself.
With Vera shorn at last, I opened the hurdles. Vera skipped out with her new hair do and re-joined the flock who had put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign for some serious grazing. Meanwhile, I hobbled out and sat on a rock for a while listening to the sound of sheep eating which is weirdly hypnotic and quite pleasant.