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'Wild and wooly' sheep shearing class held at Hopland

Sheep shearing is hard work, but has rewards.
Many sheep shearing students said the process was "the hardest thing they have ever done," reported Glenda Anderson in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The newspaper ran a lengthy feature and a photo gallery of the annual sheep shearing school held at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center this week.

Reporter Justine Frederiksen of the Ukiah Daily Journal also reported on the sold-out sheep shearing and wool classing training at the 5,300-acre Mendocino County research center.

“And 60 percent of these people had never even touched a sheep before,” said John Harper, UCCE advisor and shearing school leader. Nearly all the students were women and included an artist from San Francisco, a retired fire chief, a UC Davis graduate student, and a woman who was learning to shear ahead of travels to New Zealand “because I think it will be a good skill to have for work, in case I want to stay for a couple of months.”

“One of the things new students have the most trouble with is what we call ‘tipping' the sheep, or flipping them over,” Harper said. He explained that, to get the sheep into the ideal starting position, you need to push its back legs down with one hand and tuck its head in with the other, twisting the animal into a sitting position with all four legs dangling.

UC Hopland REC sheep shearing students are part of a new wave of sheep shearers and wool enthusiasts industry officials hope will reverse decades of disinterest and decline. The shearing classes were booked well ahead of time, said Hannah Bird, a community educator at the research station. Many students are seeking a break from city life or jobs tying them to a desk.

Wrote reporter Glenda Anderson, shearing sheep is sweaty, back-straining work that earns just $2 to $5 per sheep. But an expert sheep shearer taking part in the program said sheep shearing for a living has its benefits.

“It's a lifestyle thing. I could work six months a year and travel around the world,” paying for the travel by working here and there, he said.

Posted on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 5:04 PM

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