Ewe* to You: Wool From Farmers and Ranchers

Farms and ranches are where wool products get their start. Most of you know this, but just in case you don’t,  the video below shows how wool is removed from the animal (to be processed and woven into cloth).

My point? There’s a whole lot more to making that wool suit you wear than buying fabric, cutting out a pattern, sewing it together, and hanging it on a rack. The farmers and ranchers that grow the fiber that becomes your suit are an indispensible part of the production chain.

Here’s the deal. Sheep make wool. Farmers and ranchers take care of sheep. Sheep shearers remove wool from the sheep. Sheep make more wool… It’s a great (and sustainable) production cycle.

If farmers and ranchers can’t afford to raise sheep because of unnecessary regulations, predators, and high costs, you may end up wearing polyester double knit or something.

OK, I’ll get off the soapbox now.

Did you know that shearers get paid based on how many animals they shear? The good ones are quick, skillful, and like the Energizer Bunny. Many of the professionals are also highly competitive. The American Sheep Industry posted this amazing report in 2009:

“Two American shearers set precedent for marathon endurance sheep shearing in the United States on July 11-12 at Estacado Industries Inc. in Dimmitt, Texas. Attempting the feat of shearing for 24 hours straight was Doug Rathke (48) of Minnesota who sheared a total of 607 sheep and Gavin McKerrow (60) of Wisconsin who sheared 487 sheep.

To put these benchmark numbers into perspective, Rathke sheared 25.29 sheep every hour (2:23 minutes per sheep) andMcKerrow sheared 20.26 sheep per hour (2:58 minutes per sheep). The shearers were allowed breaks, but the duration of each rest was added to the end of the time period to ensure each shearer sheared for a full 24 hours. As the sheep passed through the hands of the shearer, their physical stamina and mental preparedness wore; however, each animal that came out of the chute was as fresh and lively as the first one sheared.”

I’ve tried shearing before, but only on a handful of unlucky ewes. It’s hot, stinky, back-breaking work. Sheep don’t just docilely lie down and stay there. They’re hard to tip up into position and they don’t want to be in that position. Fortunately for them, my dad finally took the shears away so I wouldn’t nick any more of his ewes!

Enjoy the video below. I’ve got nothing but admiration for these guys and gals. Watch how the wool just falls away from the animal – a skillful sheep shearer with sharp blades leaves a pile of wool looking like a discarded jacket.

Farmers and ranchers are getting good prices for wool now. It’s about time. For years the price for wool has been so low that the only reason to shear was for the animals’ well-being and comfort.

So, next time you put on a wool suit or burrow beneath a warm wool blanket, think about the sheep, farmers, ranchers, and shearers that play a huge part in “making” wool.

* A ewe is a female sheep. Of course, wool comes from rams and wethers (castrated males) too.


Double J – Shearing from Kendall Media Group on Vimeo.

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