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Moar sheep - Tactical Ninja

Nov. 22nd, 2010

10:10 am - Moar sheep

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After a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing in which the weather report kept changing and my client kept switching days, Saturday dawned threateny but not-actually-raining. So I dragged myself out after rivet and rikan_feral's housewarming and went to tackle the Woodburn Drive Run.

This is a particular corner of Wellington that contains one very onto-it lady who, instead of calling me out to shear her four sheep, organises everyone on the road to have their sheep in on the same day, meaning the total was 33 sheep over 7 farms, and I just go from farm to farm till they're all done.


Most of them had their sheep in. But not the first farm. They have some sort of curse over their sheep in which they never manage to get their shit together before I arrive. Ideally, the sheep should be got in the day before and kept off the grass for at least 12 hours. This means they poop about 10kg of grass out of their insides and are thus lighter and easier to handle. Also, without a belly full of grass squishing up their insides when I bend them, they are more comfortable during shearing and less likely to flail about. That's the ideal.

The reality is that most lifestylers' yards are knee deep in grass because they hardly get used and the sheep actually get fatter while they're in there. But I am the eternal optimist and I try to encourage good practice.

So anyway, Farm No 1 has three sheep and they weren't in. One of these sheep is a ram, he was kept by mistake as a lamb because they thought he was a ewe, and now he's a four-tooth (three years old), he's fully mature and tips the scale at ~100kg. Luckily he's placid. So we got the sheep into the yard and the first thing that happened was one squeezed under the gate at the other end and took off up the hill. Meanwhile, I wrestled the ram to the ground by grabbing him and hanging on till he stopped running, then using the Vulcan Death Grip to make him fall over. And enlisting the farmer's help to drag him to where the handpiece was because 100kg of ram, full of grass, is not something I can move on my own. He was very obliging and let me shear him (yeah, it's like that with rams, if they fight I'm fucked basically) - nice of him I thought.

I told them that if they still have him next year and he's not empty when I get there, I'm going home and they can shear him themselves. I also said I'd call back after the others were done and see if they'd caught the escapee yet, and off I went.

Next house has two sheep and they weren't in either. "It'll only take 2 minutes" they said. I was skeptical, but okay. The first one really did only take 2 minutes - they lured it with pellets and then grabbed it. I was soon shearing in the middle of the paddock. The second one, however, had seen what happened to the first, and was having none of that. It took at least 10 minutes to catch it and I got amusement from watching this sheep get the better of its people, but eventually they grabbed it and I was soon on my way again.

These are Dave's sheep (and that is Dave):



Dave's sheep are perendales and come from Rotorua where they got mismothered as babies and ended up in the 'not worth anything' flock, so Dave took them. Perendales are nice sheep to shear because they have open wool and not much on their legs and face (the awkward bits), and are nice and rounded with no wrinkles. As you can see, three of them look awesome now they're two-tooths. The other two? Not so much. This little guy:



Is thin and midgety and his wool is sticky - it's a weird thing that happens when they're sick, the wool sort of sucks onto the skin and makes the comb ride up out of it, giving an uneven cut. If you look at where his leg is sticking out, you can see it's sort of shaggy and not smooth like freshly-shorn leg should be. He's been drenched, trimmed and deloused so hopefully that will help but to be honest I think he's a dier.

These sheep belong to Organisey Lady:



She's eclectic in her sheep breed tastes as you can see. On the far left we have Freckles who at 10ish is probably now the oldest sheep on my run. He's also very fat and hiding his double-strength bum behind *wossisname* the Suffolk. Suffolk is the biggest sheep of the lot these days - she's not as heavy as the ram but she's taller - she comes up to my hip at the shoulder. I don't really like Suffolks - they are beautiful looking sheep but they're prone to foot trouble and they grow fricking huge, and have a stubborn, brainy-enough-to-be-annoying attitude to go with it. The other two are a Jacob cross and Arapawa cross respectively, and both have small horns which make life interesting when you're trying to shear their heads.

This lamb belongs to Mike down the road:



I think she wants her wool back. I managed to shear this lamb in less than 2 minutes (this is a feat for me) because she is in such good nick and obligingly just sat there while I cut her wool off. Yes, she's a romney. Romneys are awesome.

OK so back to the first place, had they caught the sheep? Not exactly. But they had managed to corner her and tie a gate across the corner so she was stuck there. Unfortunately where she was, was on a 30 degree slope about 100m from where the handpiece would reach to. So I fashioned a halter out of the rope in my boot and a tiedown, and 'walked' her down the fenceline, shifting the rope from post to post each time she stopped fighting.

She was not impressed:



But I have opposable thumbs and an IQ over 100 and damnit I will not be beaten by a sheep. She's now bald, and being also a Romney*, once she knew she was beaten she just sat there like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth while I shore her.

But by far my favourite sheep on this road are Norm's Arapawas:



Arapawas are a relatively recent addition to the lifestyler folio of weird breeds. They're a feral breed from Arapawa Island, bred down from sheep left there for whalers and the like to use for food. They've been feral for about 100 years and they're originally of merino descent. However, like any breed that needs to survive without help, they've evolved out all the carefully-bred-in merino traits such as being wrinkly (and thus prone to flystrike) and white (and thus visible to hawks when little). Their wool is fine like merino wool, but NO WRINKLES! They live on practically nothing, and here's the best bit if you're a shearer - they only grow to about 45 kilos max. And they have no wool on their heads or legs and hardly any on their bellies. They are compact and small and easy shearing and they don't flail around.

And Norm just sent me this:



I have no idea why I'm holding the handpiece in my left hand - I think maybe I'm about to adjust the tension on the cutter - but yeah, I don't normally shear like that mmk?

They look really cool when they're shorn too:



The only drawback is that they take a full year to mature to eating size compared with 3-4 months for a commercial breed like Romneys. Which is fine if you're not trying to make money off them. Although, I'm pretty sure there'd be a market for the wool overseas if one were canny about marketing it.

So that was my day on Saturday. It totalled only 33 sheep, which at the speed I can shear a good-shearing sheep in a woolshed would be just over an hour's work, but with all the adventures and the driving from place to place and the fact that most of them weigh more than me and the chasing sheep around in giant yards, it took 6 hours. I came home with $260 and could have had all the fleeces too (about another $150 worth), but I turned them down due to lack of storage. Also, I found this. It's evidence of how tough it is for lifestylers to find a shearer, and it's made me wonder if I should encourage The Kid to pick up a handpiece. Even if he just did the dagging to start with, it's a reliable source of pocket money for not that much work really, and something that will always be in demand as long as sheep are a popular choice for lifestylers. Hmm..


* Romneys are the most common breed of sheep in NZ - they cope well with our somewhat high rainfall and they grow a nice, strongwool fleece. Also, they're quite placid and that's important if you want your sheep to put their energy into growing meat and wool rather than fretting. Their big downfall is they are stubborn as hell and when they get hoha they lie down and refuse to move.


Yesterday I was kind of sore and needed some gentle stretching, so Polly and I went and played in the mud at tieke and happyinmotion's house. It had the colour and consistency of poo, but I'm told it'll give the limewashed walls a lovely golden undertone. Also, playing with mud is fun. You should do it this weekend. *nods*

Wot I did on my weekend by Tats. IR tired. I have one client booked sometime this week and another on the weekend with the polwarths. I consider these to be my anniversary sheep, because they're the ones I shore before I went on my first date with Dr Wheel. I told their owner I was going on a date and she was all "OOooo" and the next year when I went back she remembered and asked me how my date went, which was kind of neat. So yeah, anniversary sheep. ;-)

Comments:

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From:anna_en_route
Date:November 21st, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
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You should *so* encourage the kid. It beats a supermarket job in terms of payrate and it's a skill in demand internationally too.

Arapawas look neat!
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From:clashfan
Date:November 21st, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)

a market for the wool overseas if one were canny about marketing it.

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"Made with Arapawa wool, from New Zealand's own sheep" or something like. Yup, I can see it.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 21st, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)

Re: a market for the wool overseas if one were canny about marketing it.

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Yep - combination of the fineness, the pretty colours and the "wild, wild NZ woollies" idea might just work.
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From:rivet
Date:November 21st, 2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
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It does seem like an opportunity the Kid is well-placed for, if he's interested
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From:tatjna
Date:November 21st, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
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Yeah. It's good money and is the sort of thing you can do anywhere - someone who knows how to shear will never starve.

It's also a lifestyle that sucks people in and while to me it's a great little moneymaking sideline, for many people it's a vocation and career - which I'm less sure I'd be happy about him pursuing, mostly because there are much easier ways to make money (when you're older and have more experience). When you're young and struggling with the anti-young-people attitude of many employers, handpiece work is a great way to step around having to stack shelves at Woolies.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:November 21st, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
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How hard is it to learn? Not that I'm about to go out and get sheep or anything... more just curious? And can you shear other animals as well (like alpaca)?
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From:tatjna
Date:November 21st, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
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Hehe I got asked about alpacas on Saturday too! ;-)

I've never shorn an alpaca, but I believe the technique for them involves tying their legs together, shearing one side, rolling them over and doing the other. So yes, I reckon I could do that.

I've shorn goats but I don't enjoy it because they're yoga masters (they only need to get one foot on the ground and they're up and off), they scream their heads off the whole time you're shearing them and they have horns that they know how to use. Ouch!

Shearing is quite hard to learn because you're learning several things at once - how to hold the sheep, the steps you need to take to turn the sheep so the bit you want to shear next is reachable, how to cut close to the skin without cutting them, and where to place the next blow (each sweep with the handpiece to cut the wool off is called a blow).

And of course if you're not holding the sheep right it will be uncomfortable and wriggle and because you're not holding it right it'll be easy for it to get away, and you get very tired struggling with them and that makes everything harder. Half the battle with learning to shear is in your head. But it takes maybe a week of doing it all day every day to get the basic hang of it, and after that it's just practice - about six months to get up to professional level, and you just get better at it after that.

But yeah, it's hard. Most people are advised to get someone else to do it, which is why there's money in it for someone like me.
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From:tyellas
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
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I saw an alpaca being sheared once - there's a table-like device involved and one of the rear legs is affixed to a rope at a time to prevent upwards kicking. The table-like device closes around the standing 'paca, folds around them like a sandwich, and tilts them to one side. They get the leg tied and then, yes, one side gets sheared. Then the other. Then the alpaca is put back on its feet!
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From:opheliastorn
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)
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XD That sounds fantastic! I wonder about the evolution of that device.

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From:tatjna
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
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Maybe I should fashion a table-like device for those extra-fat lifestyle sheep!
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From:opheliastorn
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)
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Might save some effort in the long run, and would definitely provide hilarity in the short run. Dooo iiiit :D

(All your shearing posts have reminded me that, duh, my uncle keeps sheep, on a farmlet in Ocean View. I don't even know if he does his shearing himself. I'll have to find out!)
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From:opheliastorn
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
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So, the Arapawas just sorted themselves into fine-wooled healthy sheep while we humans were stuffing around making merinos ever more ridiculous? Good to know. And I certainly think there could be a viable money-maker there, with appropriate rugged-but-cuddly marketing.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:20 am (UTC)
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Yeah, they did - sadly they have little commercial value because non-white wool has limited marketability, and keeping them an extra year before selling makes them not profitable.

But they're perfect for lifestylers! ;-)

*encourage encourage*
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From:opheliastorn
Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
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There's no point encouraging me for a few years yet, though I'll admit your posts have me intrigued :D Closest I've been to sheep is a friend looking after lambs when I was a kid, and plenty of running away from my uncle's around the same time.

Welp, I didn't even think of the non-white wool issue - I'm still pretty new to, er, paying much attention at all to wool in its various forms, so i guess I just assumed it all got the hell bleached out of it pre-dying, which is ridiculous now that I think about it. Still, could be a fun cottage-industry type of thing for lifestyle crafty types!
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From:victoria7
Date:November 22nd, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
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I've never seen a black & white spotted sheep like that before. That sheep is sooo cute! It looks like a little sheep-cow! I wish all sheep looked like that!
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From:tatjna
Date:November 22nd, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
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Her name is CC for Cookies n Cream, because all her white bits look like Cookies n Cream ice cream!
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