Yes, it’s that time of year again, time to clip! The Chaplin-Brice clan, of Low Bridge End farm, welcomed this small Canadian lass to be nosy and inquisitive once more, with the ever patient sheep-farmer William showing me the ropes. I’m far too excited to be giving clipping another go this year and learn more about the entire process. I did try a bit of sheep shearing two years ago, but it was just a little try on a quite a beginner-friendly sheep! As you can maybe see from the photos below, my last attempt at clipping was made easier because the sheep in question was a) quite small and b) had very little wool to begin with (most had fallen off already)!
We began by ‘catching’ (rounding up) all the Hebrideans. They are a lovely rare breed sheep – quite a primitive breed originally from the islands off north west Scotland. Catching requires use of the resident sheep dog, Nell. I love this little dog and miss her a lot when I’m not on the farm – she is quite clever with a lot of personality. Maybe not the very best at sheep dog work, but she gets the job done! hehe.
After catching the sheep they were all in a wee fenced off area. From there you need to choose your sheep, and try to wrangle ’em out of the pen and over to the bench/area where you are clipping. There is a bit of an art to catching them, hoisting them onto their backside, and then getting them and yourself onto the little clipping bench. I had a hard time with this part, so Will kindly did a lot of it for me (damn it though, I wanna be an independent woman!!).
I started off well enough – the actual clipping felt a lot easier and more natural than the last time I had a go at it all. But then came trouble – all the Hebrideans I tried to clip really just wanted to kick, and thrash, and kick some more. One of the more memorably trashing experiences ended with me getting kicked in the jaw with an errant, flailing sheepy hoof. Perhaps I don’t exude the necessary levels of calmness and confidence that other proper sheep farmers do when clipping, but for whatever reason all the sheep wanted to do was thrash about! 😦
After the hoof-meets-face incident, I was far more nervous and a bit disheartened at my abilities, so William had to help me to keep the unruly sheep legs in check for the rest of our time clipping. I left the farm feeling beat up (literally) and slightly downtrodden about my abilities as a future shepherdess. So many bruises all over my legs and arms form the horns and hooves, eep. I came away from the experience with several things in mind though…
1) I need to be stronger! My goodness my arm strength is not up to handling 55kg worth of sheep! And these are small breeds, I have no idea how a relatively petite shepherdess can handle a monster breed like Texels or Lincon Long-wools (ewes can be over 250lbs, apparently!!). If/when I do have sheep, they will be of a size I can handle by myself!
2) I want to try again. I don’t want to be intimidated, I want to be confident – and this will just take time and practice. I know that this is a learning process and things that might come naturally to some (eg folks who grew up handling livestock), and it will take me some time to pick up.
3) There is an art-form and a technique to everything. Yes, even handling and clipping sheep! The particular art form of hand clipping (as opposed to clipping with electric shears) is a bit a of a dying skill, which is sad – I love the idea of more traditional practices.
So that was my day clipping sheep! I hopefully will have another try at it before heading back up to Scotland, but for now I am slightly worse for wear but have learned lots :). Oh, and if you’re wondering why there are no photos of yours truly clipping – by the time I was going to get the camera out and start snapping, I had gotten ‘hoofed’. After that I decided that it was better to receive help in keeping the sheep from thrashing me instead of taking photos! Maybe next time though :).