Your Questions, Answered! What do sheep shearers eat?

This question from the hither-and-yon brought a smile to my face. I wonder about the two people who typed “what sheep shearers eat” and “food for sheep shearers” into search engines. Was it a shearer who didn’t feel well after lunch? A kindly wool grower wondering what to prepare for a visiting shearer?

Whomever typed these queries, they are good ones. The answers are not (for my stomach, anyway) obvious. What do sheep shearers eat (besides lamb)?

Here is what works for me. In order of importance:

1. Switchel

Switchel is “good for you Gatorade.” This stuff is my godsend, my absolute cannot-live-without, and has seen me through more 103-degree shearing days, feisty rams, and 100-degree baling days than I can count. It balances your electrolytes.

The recipe I use comes from a zine from The Medicine Chest.

In my big old Thermos, I combine:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
a couple pinches of sea salt (You sweat a lot while shearing, you need this.)
1 teaspoon grated ginger (I freeze a lot of ginger root so I have it on hand.)
crushed mint leaves (optional, but I love them)

I add hot water to melt it all together in the bottom of my Thermos, then fill it with ice and cold water, and shake it.

2. Oranges and bananas

Ironically, shearing takes everything out of you, including your appetite. Your body needs to replenish itself yet has no desire to do so. If you’ve ever run a marathon or engaged in a similar endeavor, you probably know this feeling. In the middle of a shearing job, I almost cannot stand the thought of food.

Oranges and bananas are the exception. Both are easy on your stomach. Oranges contain water, sugar, and a little fiber. Bananas go down easily and have potassium that helps prevent cramps in your legs and feet. Sometimes I have cramps in my feet after wearing shearing slippers all day, then having to keep my right foot angled on the gas pedal. Bananas help stop that.

Switchel and oranges alone can get me through a shearing day in good shape.

3. Quinoa salad

No, this is not just because I’m a woo woo, crunchy organic California shearer. It’s because quinoa salad is one of the few things I can stand to eat for lunch on shearing days. It’s cold, it’s light, it’s high in protein, and I can eat as much or as little of it as I want. The rest keeps in my cooler and I can eat more of it before my long drive home.

Costco has the best price on organic quinoa I’ve seen. Buy it there. You can also substitute brown or white rice for the quinoa.

Quinoa Shearer’s Salad
Boil 2 cups of salted water. Add one cup quinoa.
Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.
Simmer quinoa for 15 minutes.
While it boils, chop your salad fixings (see below).
Remove from heat, remove lid, fluff and let sit for at least 10-15 minutes.

Salad Fixings
I always toss the quinoa with 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

I add whatever vegetables and herbs I have in the house, in whatever combination sounds decent. This has included zucchini, tomato and bell peppers; bell peppers, tomato, chives, mint, and parsley; and so on. Really, just about anything you have on hand will probably be fine.

I almost always add feta cheese to my salad (not a lot, maybe 1/2 cup or so).

I usually add avocado and/or hardboiled egg as well.

I don’t need to eat a lot of this, which means my stomach isn’t overly full of food that wants to come up when I bend myself in half to resume shearing. I’ve eaten a lot of things for lunch on shearing days: sandwiches, Cheez-Its, chicken salad, last night’s leftovers. A quinoa or rice salad is just about the only thing that doesn’t come back to haunt me soon after lunch.

4. Coffee

Yes, coffee. Every year, at least one of my shearing instructors tells us not to drink coffee because it’s a diuretic. But I do drink coffee and, so far, my body has given me no reason to stop. Believe me, the other folks on the highway want me to have coffee when I’m pulling out of my driveway at 4:30 AM to get to a shearing job by 7 AM. Usually, hours have passed between my having coffee and my starting to shear, so I’ve had no problems.

5. Cheez-Its and pretzels

Lest you think I live on switchel and quinoa alone, I have to say there’s something delightful about salty, greasy processed cheese flavor after a long day of shearing. Cheez-Its and pretzels are easy to eat while I’m driving or stuck in traffic. I only allow myself to have them on shearing days.

Hosts with the most
But what if you’re the rare wool producer who wants to have food on hand for your shearer? First, thank you. You are lovely for your consideration and hospitality.

Most shearers will eat almost anything after the job is done. Please don’t be offended if your shearer does not want to eat anything until this time. It’s just more comfortable that way. Truly, we’d be mortified if we vomited in front of you and/or on your sheep.

Cold orange juice and/or lemonade are really nice things to offer during the job. They taste great and give the old brain a shot of glucose.

Fruit salad is great, likewise pasta salad. These things are light but tasty.

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