SOMEWHERE NORTH OF HAMBURG — I would never be so presumptuous as to shear a sheep myself: It’s a full body shave so the process is, shall we say, intimate.
Feeding them and scratching them behind the ears where they can’t reach is about as intimate as I’ll ever admit to getting with sheep.
But I do know people with the skills, experience and electric clippers to do the shearing job.
Volker raises sheep in a beautiful small village (ein schönes kleines Dorf, since I am using a computer keyboard with umlauts at the moment) in the once and future autonomous Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein.
Each spring, Volker shears the year’s growth of wool from his sheep, a service he also performs for the grateful flocks of a few friends and neighbours who are also into sheep.
The sheared wool is once again being used for knitting and weaving, but only because corn and grain production for biofuels (we’ll talk about that piece of crazy business some other time) is so lucrative — only because of government subsidies — that it’s supplanted a lot of the world’s cotton farming, thus raising worldwide cotton prices, thus collaterally raising demand for wool and worldwide wool prices, thus making wool once again a financially viable commodity in Europe. For many years, there was so little demand for wool, compared to cotton, that the wool sheared from these particular Schleswig-Holstein sheep was just used as a natural insulation for houses (which is a nice, ecologically appealing concept, but really a waste of good wool from the farmer’s viewpoint).
The shearing is a necessary process for the sheep. By late April they were already sweating profusely in their thick winter coats under the warm spring sun.
Local media a week ago carried the story of an Australian sheep which wandered away into the Outback five years ago. When found recently, the sheep was weighed down with 70 kilograms of wool, barely able to move after half a decade without shearing.
So Volker’s visit on Easter weekend, though a matter of some alarm for both adult sheep and their lambs (who are not sheared), freed them of a heavy, sweaty burden.
Here´s how Volker shears a sheep.
He starts at the nape of the neck and works toward the tail, shaving down the sides of the sheep as he works his way backwards.
Then he goes back to the head and removes the remaining mane around the neck, not touching the face or lower legs.
Once sheared, the sheep are mighty different — slimmer, lighter and trembling with post-traumatic excitement. Actually, they sort of look like a room full of little old men in a sauna. Sorry, sheep.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes for lambs to recognize their clean-shaven mothers. Unsheared sheep often act quite aggressively toward their de-fleeced sisters, and uppity young ram lambs, despite their actual inability to perform libidinous acts yet, are still driven by natural instinct to try to mount the newly nude ewes. (I guess it’s sort of a sheep MILF thing.)
The newly shaved sheep stay indoors for a while, partly to let the lambs get reacquainted with their unfamiliar mothers and partly to avoid sunburn from the strong afternoon sun. Really. Sheep can sunburn without their protective coats.
Then it’s back to the good life in the pasture.
So, with a few more photos of Volker and the sheep, here´s looking at ewe, kid.