On Sunday, September 28 I had the great honor to shear some Ouessant sheep, which are part of the Capella Grazing Project. The Ouessant is a very rare breed and the smallest sheep in the world, and these particular sheep are 65% Ouessant and 35% Shetland. They are some of the very few sheep of their kind in California, are not easily replaced, and belong to a woman whom I met at shearing school in 2013. I really, really did not want to make a mistake. I couldn’t fall asleep the night before for fear I’d accidentally kill one. Though I’ve never even come close I knew that if it were going to happen, it was sure to happen with these sheep!
Fortunately, we two lady shearers had a beautiful, sweaty day in a 20-acre apple orchard in Sebastopol.
The fog hung on much later than usual, giving us welcome cloud cover. We enjoyed a pleasant breeze all day.
Though I learned to shear in a barn, most of my tiny flock shearing encounters don’t include one. Instead, it’s what I call “shearing in the wild,” which involves looking for a flat piece of ground and sometimes building a pen. Hammering four stakes into the ground, dragging fence pieces over and making hinges out of rope worked just fine.
The flock is too small to have a strong flocking instinct or herd mentality. They tend to scatter quite easily and don’t drive well. To get the sheep from Point A to Point B without incident, we built a long chute out of electric fencing (not turned on) that ran from the flock’s current grazing area down to the makeshift pen.
It worked! Behold, the running of the Ouessant!
With the sheep in their pen it was time to shear, which I did not take photos of (per usual). I keep meaning to take some, or to ask someone else to take some, but there is so much to think about and do during shearing that any thought of taking photos vanishes pretty quickly.
I did take one photo about halfway through shearing, just before a break. You can see a gorgeous Ouessant fleece, black with bits of caramel color, on the tarp for skirting. These sheep make some downright stunning wool. It helps that my friend is such a caring, diligent shepherdess: I’ve never seen cleaner sheep. They had no tags, get sheared twice a year, and had so little vegetable matter in their fleeces that it’s not even worth mentioning. Whomever spins these fleeces is lucky indeed!
Mark my words: this is the last time I shear with a tarp, which only gets crumbled up and makes shearing more difficult than it already is. The sheep’s hooves, the shearer’s feet and the power cord of the shears all get tangled up in the tarp together. Unsafe and time consuming to straighten out. I am buying a shearing mat that will travel more easily in my car than plywood, so help me God.
This sweet Maremma was a stalwart shearing companion all day long. She is so bonded to and protective of the flock that the shearing seemed far more stressful to her than to the sheep.
All in all, a beautiful day with clean, cool, happy sheep at the end of it. So grateful for this shearing treat!