Hard work and stressful for both sheep and shepherd.
It's a labor of love and good health,
but definitely a labor.
One of the promises we make and keep with our flock is to daily practice gentle animal husbandry.
There are a handful of days in their lives where this promise is the most valuable. Shearing day is one.
We've been shearing our own sheep for about 20 years now. We had an excellent shearer many years ago (and there are many out there) but we realized a long time ago that on this most anxiety producing day of the year, our sheep need their own shepherds the most.
They start out hungry, as for their own shearing comfort they need to have empty stomachs. The positions they find themselves in during the shearing process would challenge the most disciplined yogi.
Rather than work quickly, as commercial shearers must, we shear slowly and rhythmically - almost a dance with our sheep, if you will. We ease our sheep into the traditional positions and allow them a few moments to adjust, always supporting them gently and holding them securely. Squirming is met with patience. Sometimes supporting them means tag teaming the process, so one shepherd can support and comfort while the other controls the clippers.
While we're often asked to have spectators for shearing, we have to decline. Under normal circumstances, there isn't a more challenging day of the year for our sheep than shearing day. So our promise to gently care for them means that they have no unnecessary added stress of people that they don't know around them, staring, talking, running, laughing. It's an intimate and private dance between sheep and shepherd at our homestead where we can speak softly and reassuringly to them. They have our undivided attention and we have theirs too.
In the end, after hooves are trimmed and wool is too, the blissfully naked sheep is returned to their field to graze and enjoy the feeling of the evening breeze without the hindrance of a full fleece. The guardian dogs meet them with lots of sniffing to re-identify their charges and make sure they're fine. We shepherds may take an Advil or two as we gather up another season's clip of our flock's beautiful wool. Some is destined to be dyed for other spinners, but much is kept for the day when the perfect project comes into view. There is nothing like wearing hand produced garments made with wool from the gently tended sheep that you call your friends.