Sheep shearing: not just a job but a way of life | TheFencePost.com

Sheep shearing: not just a job but a way of life

by Becky Talley

Fence Post Staff Reporter

Robert Taylor of Thornville, Ohio, carefully shears around the head and neck of his sheep during the 2002 International Sheep Shearing Contest held Jan. 19, at the National Western Stock Show. The bleating of lambs mix with the low hum of sheep shears as the audience quiets down. The competitors stand ready with well-oiled equipment waiting for the go-ahead. The timing starts, the first lamb is positioned and the 2002 International Sheep Shearing Contest is underway.

This is the 27th year that the National Western Stock Show has hosted the National Shearing Contest and the 25th year the contest has received international billing.

The first contest was held for juniors in 1969. The professional competition was brought to the Stock Show from the Indiana State Fair in 1976 and has been drawing competitors and audiences ever since.

“It’s going great guns,” said Sam Haslem, one of the two superintendents of the shearing contest. The second superintendent, Mike Harper, provided the lambs for this year’s contest.

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The competition draws contestants from all over the world including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and even South Africa. It gives them a chance to show off their skills, learn new shearing techniques and promote quality preparation of wool for market.

The object of the contest is simple: shear four sheep in under six minutes without making second cuts or nicking the lamb in any way.

This pile of wool has come from several different sheep. The shearers want to keep the fleeces together without too many extra pieces that won’t stick with the fleece. After the wool is shorn at the competition it is put into a baling machine where it is packed tight and covered in plastic. This type of packaging takes less storage space than burlap wool sacks and is easier to handle.

Time, absence of second cuts and condition of fleece each count for 20 percent of the score. The manner of handling sheep and absence of cuts on the sheep each account for 15 percent of the score. Finally, appearance of shorn sheep accounts for 10 percent of the score.

For each violation the shearer makes, points are deducted in that category. Cuts and nicks are seriously watched. If a sheep is cut in a way that impedes function, or is severe, shearers could get disqualified.

Though it may seem tough to shear that many sheep in that little a time span with so many rules, it’s just another day of work for these competitors. Many of the professionals travel worldwide to practice the art and can shear hundreds of sheep a day by themselves.

This year, top honors in the Professional division went to Dave Foley. He received a $1,500 cash award from the sponsor, Oster Professional Products, a shearer’s jacket and a belt buckle.

The winner in the Junior competition (under the age of 21) was Kyle Kilstrom of Madrid, Iowa. He received scholarships from both Oster Professional Products and the National Western Stock Show.