Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Sheep need to be sheared and the year we started our herd, two of our three ewes, Rachel and Eve, had been sheared before we got them.  Buttercup had not.  I, being ignorant and brave, said no problem, we’ll get a pair of handshears since we have no electricity in the barn and we’ll do it ourselves.  So, bravely, late one Saturday morning, Eric and I retired to the barn to shear Buttercup.  Sheep as a rule don’t like to be sheared, much like children don’t like haircuts.  They won’t stand for it.  Or sit for it.  Or be still for it. Sheep are like the child in the barber’s chair who keeps looking to see what you are doing to them.  Therefore, they have to be immobilized.  Most people do this by laying the sheep down and rocking her back on her butt.  In theory, then, one shears her neck and down her sides and back, rolls her over to do one side of the back end and then rolls again to do the other side.  Buttercup decided to dispense with theory and we spent the next three torturous hours holding her down while I clipped three inch by one half inch sections of her fleece at a time. 

Sheep shears.  photo:
It was a nightmare.  I didn’t dare stop because I was afraid that I’d never have the courage to finish the job.  To Eric’s credit, she stayed down very well. To my credit, I only nicked her one time and she didn’t bleed;  and I only swore a little when she kicked me.  At one moment when I was shearing around her belly, I told Eric that at no time during our plans to turn this place into a working farm, had I imagined myself getting this up close and personal to a sheep’s privates.   Shearing the sides was one thing, but shearing around her privates after she had been forced to endure three hours of this was an entirely different matter.  Buttercup thought so, too.  To Buttercup’s credit, she only kicked me three or four times, and the bruises faded in a couple of months.

When we were finished, Buttercup looked like a skinny goat with a big head that had taken a wrong turn in a cotton ball factory.  She hid behind the barn for the rest of the day. I think she was embarrassed.  My parents stopped by a couple of hours later and my mother took one look at the poor animal and said, ‘You didn’t shear her very close.’  I told her she was supposed to look that way.   At that moment, Garland stopped to see and his first comment was, “You didn’t shear her very close.  You could have taken lot more off.”  Geez.  Everybody’s a critic.  I related blow by blow the difficulties of shearing closely a sheep that has been pinned to the floor for three hours. He looked at me and said, ‘Three hours!  It would take you forever to sheer a flock if you take three hours for every sheep.  Why, the little 4-H kids can do one in four minutes.”   I was speechless.

The next year we made it a point to invest in a nice pair of electric shears.  So, one Saturday we borrowed my Dad’s generator and went to it again.  This time it was much faster.  However, it was much more difficult to keep from slicing and dicing the sheep to pieces.  Luckily, in the package with the shears, was a sample can of Bluecote, an antiseptic spray that we could use on nicks.  It’s called that because it is made from tincture of gentian and sprays a beautiful blue/purple.   The most difficult places to shear this way were all of the places on a sheep which have folds of skin, for example, where each leg joins the torso,  around the privates, under the neck.  We were very thankful for the spray.   We cut our shearing time per sheep down to close to thirty minutes, which won’t ever win any shearing contests, but which sure beats three hours.   We thought we had done great, with only a few bleeding cuts until we were done and looked at our newly sheared flock of purple polka-dotted sheep grazing peacefully in the pasture.  



  1. Oh, my goodness, those shears look crazy. The sheep made me smile.

  2. Really - What on earth was I thinking?!

  3. Woman. You amaze me. I'd have cut a leg off with those things. On the up side, there'd have been leg o' lamb for dinner . . .

  4. Would it be worth the trouble to try to think of something you could swap one of these knowledgeable 4-H kids, to come shear your modest flock in 4 minutes each? You have lots of skills.

  5. Love your sense of humour, Robin. It reminds me of the giggles I had , when reading Gerald Durrel's, "My family and other animals!".

    My husband and I have always wanted to retire to the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands...Howick area...enjoy a small plot (they call it a Lifestyle farm..hahah) and get back to basics and nature..but that dream is a few years away..IN the mean time I console myself learning to quilt and make bread and jams and other crafts, and ..well to prepare myself to farm in my old age!

    That is how I stumbled into your blog..I started looking into alpacas and found your lovely blogsite!

    Youtube is addictive and fascinating, so many people sharing their skills and knowledge, often in a most entertaining way.:-)

    Regards Val

    1. Hi Valerie, Welcome to the blog!


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