Sheep shearing school to be held at Morgan County Fairgrounds in Brush, Colo. | TheFencePost.com
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Sheep shearing school to be held at Morgan County Fairgrounds in Brush, Colo.

Over the weekend of Feb. 24–26, the Morgan County branch of Colorado State University is sponsoring a shear shearing school to help train new students. The event will be held in a heated building at the Morgan County Fairgrounds, which is located at 750 Ellsworth Street in Brush, Colo. It runs from 8 each morning and ends at 5. The registration fee is $150.

Lunches, breaks and equipment will be provided. Shearers should wear clothing made for chores, including boots with rubber soles.

"There is a shortage of shearers in Colorado and throughout the United States," said Marlin Eisenach, livestock agent at the Morgan County Extension office. "Shearers can make good wages after they learn the proper techniques." This includes handling machinery and sharpening blades.

During the weekend school, "students are taught in the New Zealand method, which was developed by two brothers in that country many years ago. Their method demonstrates how the shearer has control of each sheep by his hands, feet and legs, which allows one hand to operate the clippers. The sheep being sheared are under very little stress during this process, and it's usually completed in 3 to 5 minutes to each animal."

Wool is a highly versatile and useful fiber. It is durable, and creates strong fabrics. It is so flexible and elastic that even after being stretched it will ease back to the original shape. It keeps wearers warm by trapping air between fabric and skin, and can even absorb large amounts of moisture, like rain, without making the wearer feel damp. As a bonus, it's naturally flame-resistant. WOOL BLENDS

Weavers often blend different wools from different breeds together to add extra elasticity, loft, softness and luster.

Eisenach has had a lot of experience with sheep. "I grew up on a family farm that raised registered Suffolks," he said. Suffolk sheep are known for their dark brown faces, ears, and legs, and large bodies, and their wool is basically used for yarn, flannel and tweed. "We also fed cattle and grew corn, beets, alfalfa hay, pinto beans and wheat," he said

After receiving degrees from Colorado State University, Eisenach returned to the family farm until 1986, when he took the position as Extension livestock agent in Morgan County.

"In the 30 years I have been an agent, I have hosted or helped to coordinate six sheep shearing schools. The first five were sponsored by Sunbeam Corp. After they sold the business we had to look for new sponsors to provide the equipment, instructors and the sheep to shear."

The Colorado Wool Growers are big supporters along with Colorado State University Extension, Steve La Valley, Extension sheep specialist, and Rule Feeders who provide the sheep.

Why is shearing so important? According to the mission statements of Colorado Wool Growers Association, "The shearing of sheep is a necessary process. They must be shorn regularly to prevent excess wool from interfering with their bodies' ability to thermos-regulate.

"Excessive wool growth also make the sheep susceptible to predators and parasite attacks. (It can immobilize an animal on physical obstacles in their environment, such as dead branches and sagebrush.) Annual shearing is for their comfort and well-being, and usually takes place before lambing season, aiding in lamb health and survival."

When it comes to learning the trade, though, be prepared for a sore back, legs and hands. "You'll definitely go home dirty," Eisenach said. "Students get covered with lanolin from the wool, sheep manure and oil from machines, go home being dirty." Expect to wrestle a few of the more difficult animals but as a rule, once a sheep has been settled on its rear end, it sits quietly.

Starting from the shoulders, the wool is shaved downwards, towards the tail. An experienced shearer will end up with one large, solid piece which is shaken open and laid on a stack. Looking at the dirty, grass-stained mounds of wool, it's hard to believe that after being cleaned, spun, and woven it will be sewn into beautiful clothing.

"We definitely encourage the public to come and watch the process," Eisenach said. "Everyone is welcome." Some might even want to sign up for themselves next year. ❖