Thursday and Friday of last week I spent several hours at Rising Meadow Farm in Grays Chapel, North Carolina, watching sheep being sheared during the farm's annual shearing weekend. It was a new experience for me, for while I was raised on a cattle farm and I am familiar with pigs and goats as well, I have never been around sheep and had never actually witnessed one being sheared. What made the experience even more fascinating was the folks doing the shearing were doing it with hand powered shears or “blade shearing”. To top it off, the lead shearer was Kevin Ford, from Charlemont, Massachusetts, arguably the most experienced blade shearer in the United States and one of the top shearers in the world. Kevin has written “the” book on blade shearing, he gives workshops, and he competes in shearing contests in this country and internationally. He also shears commercially, traveling from Massachusetts south to North Carolina every year shearing flocks along the way.
Blade shearing is slower than shearing with electrical clippers, but it easier on the sheep and leaves a little more wool on the sheep for protection. There seems to be more control and finesse involved with hand blades, and it was fascinating watching Kevin work with a sheep. The control he had over the blade and the sheep was amazing. I felt very lucky to be able to watch a master at his profession work the first time I was witness to it and I am appreciative of Kevin and the folks at Rising Meadow Farm for letting me get close to the action and to answer all my questions.
(Photographs copyright 2011 by Dan Routh)