First and foremost: I love animals. I will treat your animals with care, gentleness, and expert handling. One of the main reasons I started shearing was the very rough treatment I had witnessed on other farms – I wanted to offer a humane and thoughtful option to flock owners. Hard to believe, but I have heard some shearers comment that they don’t really like the animals they are shearing.
Second: I am experienced. I have been shearing for 15 years. I have my own flock of sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, equines, cattle, pigs, and livestock guardian dogs, and so work with animals on a daily basis.
Third: I care about your fiber. I am an avid spinner, and hand-process a lot of my own fiber, so I know the importance of careful handling of fiber during the shearing process.
Fourth: I am trained. I have attended numerous courses on shearing: the Maryland/Delaware sheep shearing school, the Light Livestock alpaca shearing school, Matt Best’s advanced alpaca shearing seminar at Magical Farms, Jay Mariacher’s advanced alpaca shearing seminar at Grindstone Ridge Farm, the South Dakota Sheep Shearing school, and have also taken masterclass with New Zealand shearer John Bradfield and Australia’s Mike Pora. I try to attend at least one new course a year and have other shearers critique my shearing skills as well. Shearing is a craft that one must always work at refining.
Fifth: I am full time. I am not a part-time, “hobby” shearer. I shear six days a week starting in late March and running through mid-summer. Most shearers hold “Winter jobs”. I do, too. I run two other businesses: a web development business and a farm services/barn cleaning business , both of which go into bare-bones operation mode all throughout shearing season so that I can give my full attention to your animals. I also run a very active farm animal sanctuary.
Sixth: It’s not “just a job”. I regard shearing as a service, an art, and an essential component to animal welfare. I am proud to be able to offer this skill to the animal community.
Seventh: I am patient and will be glad to answer your questions, especially if you are a new shepherd. I also find that I always learn a great deal from other farmers, so the dialogue is very important.
But … I might not be what you’re looking for.
Every shearer has his/her own approach and personality. Some shearers are incredibly fast and efficient. When you have hundreds of animals, this is the shearer you want. Some shearers travel in teams of 3 and 4. If you have a larger flock and are unable to provide on-farm help, this is the team you want. Some shearers are just starting out and want to be given a chance for experience – maybe you’d like to help with that. I’ve trained a few young folks and am always glad to refer them – because I know they are kind and will do a good job.
Here are things to think about when hiring a shearer:
- Training. Has the shearer been professionally trained to handle the animals and use the equipment?
- Equipment. Does the shearer have equipment in good working order and freshly sharpened blades?
- Animal handling. Is the shearer careful with the animals, or rough (I call it the “cowboy approach”)? Injuries can happen if the handlers are not careful.
- Assistants. Even if the shearer is good, is his/her assistant? This person is just as important, especially when it comes to llamas and alpacas, because the assistant is providing both muscle and a (we hope) good and calm attitude while holding the animals.
- Quality of the fiber removal. Does the shearer minimize second cuts, understand how the owner may want to skirt the fleece, and throw aside the belly wool/leg wool while shearing?
- Biosecurity. Does the shearer clean all equipment and disinfect between farms?
- Personality. Can you get along well with the shearer? Communication is really important.
- Availability. Be aware that the best shearers are booked up months in advance. Someone who is ready to come to you the next day doesn’t have enough business – please be careful. Most shearers work in geographical chunks, spending a certain amount of time in each region. It’s best to try to schedule early in the year, but if you call during the high season (April/May), you may find someone who can fit you in. Be patient. Shearers are on the road all the time and exhausted most of the time, so it may take a few days to return a text or email or phone call.
- Please don’t double book. The one cardinal sin that shearers will get very upset about is if you double book them and another shearer. Sometimes we will receive a phone call and scramble to try to figure out how to fit someone in, only to find that the farmer has called 4 other people at the same time. I’ve heard of shearers driving hours to a job, only to find all the sheep in the field, freshly shorn. Don’t be that farmer.