Our knitter, Cassandra Harada shares her experience of every wool farmer’s favorite day of the year, shearing day on her family farm in Warsaw, Illinois.
Sunrise on shearing day,
the barn is buzzing.
Mid february is still very cold in Illinois and seems like such an unnatural moment to shave our babes bare, but we know it’s best to do what the shearer says. Dad makes sure everyone’s got a full tummy while we wait for the van to arrive.
We’ve been raising cormo on our tiny farm for about 5 years now. This breed was developed in Tasmania in the 1960s, crossing saxony superfine merino with corriedale. They have a teddy bear look about them, as their ears sag and when their fleeces are full, they are very round, voluptuous creatures. We started with 4 ewes, picked up a few here and there where we could, breeding the rest. We have a few stand out personalities in the flock, one in particular being “Shawn”, who will love you madly to your face, but the moment you turn your back, he stamps his feet, backs up to get a running start, and head butts you across the barn. Our ewes are mostly gentle though, and would sell their left hooves for a scratch and a cookie.
Cormo are about 40% more lanolin heavy than other sheep. The sheep are so grease laden that it’s hard to figure out where to begin cutting. My mum stands watch and wrings her hands while the shearer gets started. We watch nervously as he makes broad passes in succession, creating tidy, sheep shaped blankets that roll up and get set aside for weighing.
Sheep after sheep, he cleans them all up, not a nick or spot of blood in sight. It’s an impressive feat, as some of our ewes don’t enjoy being handled. They kick and bleat, all while the shearer remains calm and continues manipulating the sheep’s skin to get a clean surface. No second cuts, no mangled fingers. Professional shearers are amazing.
After watching the shearer for a while, I check in on the ewes in waiting. This year’s clip is something special. We haven’t had any illness or parasites in the flock, so the wool is beautiful, and fine and there are no weak spots or wool break to speak of. While it varies from sheep to sheep, Cormo wool typically has a micron count of about 19. Cashmere has a similar count, usually between 19-14. Due to it’s “superfine nature, it is also incredibly warm, and a delight to wear next to your skin. I cannot wait to pull a jumper made of this over my head.
From first to last, our shearer was done in just a few hours with our 36 head. The ladies were all well enough behaved, and now happily skipping around the pasture, enjoying their new hair cuts. The rams are sulking a bit, but It will surely be short lived.
It’s time to start the process again. Putting jackets on them all, we cross our fingers and hope. We’ll hope for a few days between spring rains to keep the parasites away, we’ll hope for fast growing pastures, and an easy lambing season. Most importantly we’ll hope for good wool again next year.
Photo credits: @canyonmccartyphotography