On Sunday, July 27 I participated in (and saw) my first sheep shearing competition at the Sonoma County Fair. At 8 AM the following day I had a shearing job.
Every time I do something new, I’m reminded just how new something can be. Before this, I had never even seen a shearing competition outside of YouTube. I didn’t know where to sign up to compete at the fairgrounds and neither did the workers I spoke with, so I headed in the general direction of the livestock and hoped for the best.
I didn’t know what the entry fee was. When I signed up to compete, I didn’t know how many sheep I’d have to shear; they decided at the last minute whether it would be one, two or three sheep for the ladies. I just had to be ready and willing to shear however many sheep it was going to be.
I was pleasantly surprised to see men crutching (removing wool around the belly, crotch and teats) sheep in advance of the contest. Oh, how much easier shearing would be if someone else crutched them for me every time! It was glamorous treatment and I felt like a shearing queen already. The wool was only about an inch long and the sheep were lambs, not even yearlings, so they were full of energy and jumpy.
I was surprised at how many people appeared in the stands right on time for the beginning of the contest, despite the lack of signage and promotion. I was horribly nervous watching the three heats of men shear first. I watched them as closely as I could, trying to refresh my memory on making all of the right moves. Fortunately, in the third heat I was able to occupy myself with catching a friend’s sheep for him. “Catching” in this context means holding the next sheep in the pen in easy reach of the shearer, so he doesn’t lose time catching and turning them over. Harder to be nervous when you’re busy!
I wasn’t there to win, just to do well. My goal was to get the wool off without nicking the sheep, which I did. Even so, I found myself doing things in competition that I wouldn’t do on a job: I abandoned proper shearing procedure at a few points along the way. If I had an opportunity to get the wool off and it was out of the usual pattern, I just went for it anyway.
I had two other competitors and a 12-year-old girl beat both of us, and I was so glad she did. She did a fantastic job. I had to put on my old lady voice and tell her to be glad she started shearing at her age rather than mine. The man who organized the contest overheard me and said, not very nicely, “Yeah, maybe then you’d be better.” Yes sir, I know. That was my point! I brought a third place ribbon home – out of three!
It was a great time. I got to see a lot of folks from shearing school in 2013 and 2014, which made for a nice little reunion with supportive people who really understand the challenge at hand. Definitely a fun way to spend a summer Sunday!