by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
When people think about careers in agriculture, they normally think of farmers. It is much more than that, though. There are many jobs within agriculture which you may not think about.
A great example is the sheep shearer. Sheep must be shorn in the late winter or early spring so they will be comfortable during the warm weather. Shearing a sheep a few weeks before it gives birth also makes it easier for lambs to find their mother’s udders to nurse.
Karen shears an alpaca
Sheep shearing is very labour intensive – so many sheep farmers will hire someone who specializes in shearing to visit each year.
My sister, a sheep farmer, hires an old friend named Karen for the job. Karen had been shearing sheep since she was 12 years old, and decided she could shear while in university as a spring and summer job. She even began shearing alpacas in 2002.
Karen works full time as a pedorthist (foot care specialist). However, on weekends Karen still travels to farms shearing sheep and alpacas. “I’m not in a place where I can have a farm of my own, and I think I would miss it too much if I didn’t get out,” says Karen.
Shearing a sheep
Sheep shearing season for Karen begins in February, and carries through to the end of June. Work with alpacas begins in April, and the season ends in June. Karen also shears a few flocks of sheep in the fall. The size of sheep flocks that she is responsible for range from two to 150 sheep.
Because there are not many professional alpaca shearers, Karen travels long distances to shear them, and herds range in size from two to just under 100 animals.
In the course of an hour, Karen can shear between 12 and 14 sheep, or four alpacas. Alpacas take a lot longer because of the difference in technique. They have to be held on their side on a table, and several people are involved in holding them down. Once the alpacas are shorn, they also have their hooves trimmed.
Karen enjoys the shearing. For her, it is like coming home when she gets out on the farm again, working alongside the farmers and helping them care for their animals. “I can’t imagine giving it up. I like being able to get away from the office, and back on the farm” says Karen.
Karen’s love for the animals is what brings her back to farms year after year, working in a job which is very physically demanding. “I really feel blessed to be able to travel around the province and work with so many different people. In the spring I work seven days a week, from the beginning of April until the end of June – but because it is two different jobs, so completely different, it doesn’t usually feel like real work,” says Karen.
Having someone like Karen, who specializes in shearing, come out to the farm, it allows the shearing process to be done quickly and efficiently. With the job being completed faster, there is less stress on the animals.
Shearing is a necessity for the well-being of sheep and alpacas, and people like Karen make it easier for farmers to complete the task.
To watch a video of another sheep shearer at work, visit www.virtualfarmtours.ca and click on the Sheep Farm Tour. In the third video box at the top, you can watch Farmer Bill shear one of his sheep – a process that only takes a few minutes.
Posted by FFC on April 26th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care
Tags :: animal care