Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sheep-Shearing at White Oak Farm

Between Anna's graduation and Philip's wedding, we're spending a few days visiting my family in West Virginia. My parents and my three brothers and their families all live in the state.
My brother Max and his wife Anne have owned a beautiful farm in the Greenbrier Valley for over twenty years. It's a pick-your-own blueberry farm, but they have sheep, cows, chickens, other berries, and a huge garden too. Yesterday was sheep-shearing day, and Max let me document the event.
That's his ewe Oregon in the middle with her two lambs, both ewes also.
Max and daughter Hannah herded the three into the barn.
Last year Max lost lots of ewes to coyotes, which was very sad. Oregon was young and quite skittish, and was able to avoid the coyotes, and at last he put her in with his milk cow, which protected her. With two ewe lambs, he may be able to build up his numbers again if he chooses.
They separated the babies from Oregon.
Then Max firmly wrestled Oregon and got her sitting down, leaning against his legs. She's strong and determined, but once you get her secure she doesn't fight too much.
Each year their family names the baby lambs based on a letter of the alphabet -- A's for the first year, etc. Oregon was born in the "O" year. This year is "R," so Max has been tending, birthing, and shearing sheep for 18 years.
He trims Oregon's belly first. He uses electric clippers. Years ago he used hand clippers (like the old days). He's not nearly so fast as the shearers at the state fair in Lewisburg, but I'm pretty impressed with his skills!

The babies peek through, wondering what's happening with mama.
Oregon didn't like it much, but she didn't complain. She breathed heavily through the procedure, which took about 20 minutes. Sometimes the electric clippers would nip her, and she would bleed, but she never made the slightest yip. It gives tangible meaning to Isaiah's words about Jesus as he approached his death on the cross: "As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth."
Her belly's looking cooler. I couldn't help thinking she must feel better as every inch of heavy fleece was removed.
Hannah was constantly securing Oregon's head -- every single second -- so Max could safely use the clippers. Sometimes she had to sit on the sheep's head to keep her down.
The babies watched and listened, and "baaaaaahed" quite a bit.
Poor little things.
After the belly was done, Max got Oregon on her right side and started working on her legs and side, going back to front, up to her spine. Carefully, gently.
Isn't this funny looking? Remember the old joke about how to sculpt a statue of an elephant? You chisel away everything from the block of stone that isn't an elephant? This sheep-shearing looks rather like cutting away everything that's not a sheep.
There on the top of her leg, you see one little spot where the clippers nipped her.
"Baaaaaaah!" Actually, that doesn't quite communicate the sound they make. It's more like "BLEEEEEHHHHHHH!"
Max works toward her head, which makes Oregon more nervous, which makes Hannah work harder to hold her down.
Many photos were like this: Max and Hannah and arms and legs and wriggling sheep.
Max sprayed something called Blu-Kote on each little wound to make it heal. That's the can in his hand.
After finishing the first side, they wrangled Oregon over to do the second side. Look at that big fleece!
The neck. How trusting must an animal be to let a human buzz around her jugular with those clippers? I find the relationship between farmer and animal to be a mysterious one.
The fleece is nearly off.

Hannah kept a strong grip on Oregon's head.

One final squirt of Blu-Kote
And there she is! Ready for another summer, and a new year of fleece-growing!
Here's a look inside the downstairs of Max's barn.
And then he turned the ewe and lambs back out into the sunshine and damp West Virginia fields. I'll share more photos of the farm in the next post, but here's a glimpse of some of his blueberry fields.


  1. What kind of sheep do they have? What do they do with the fleece? Thanks for sharing! Enjoy the time with all your loved ones!

  2. Awww, what a cutie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!x

  3. I laughed out loud at the elephant joke and then told it to my husband. He doesn't get it! Either he's had a long day, or it's the way I tell 'em.

  4. I'm curious as to the breed of sheep too.

  5. A very interesting and well documented account of the sheep shearing. We got to help with sheep shearing last year at a friend from church's farm. It is not quite as easy as it looks is it? My job was to get the inoculation ready for each sheep.


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