For those who have never experienced shearing then let me fill you in a little.
First the Cocky begins to pace… days before the shearing is planned, continually checking weather patterns to make sure there will indeed be “dry” sheep for the first day and thereafter. Wet sheep means no shearing. Wet lanoline fumes from the wool can poison a shearer and anyone else handling the wool in the shed let alone the damp challenging the shearer’s back, knuckles and knees. Consequently sheep are herded undercover the afternoon prior just in case there could be a sprinkle.
On the previous evening there are the shearer’s lunches to prepare. Multiple rounds of sandwiches are made, stacked in readiness to fuel and energise the shearers at morning and afternoon Smoko. This, along with boiled fruit cake, various slices and carb drenched cakes are loaded into Tupperware containers that have seen decades of shearing seasons.
It’s an early start for all concerned. The Cocky is up and at ‘em, the shearers and rousys starting on the knock of 7.30am. The first shards of morning light cut through the louver windows and drench the pens full of bleating woolly ewes maneuvering their bodies to fit behind the catching pen door in anticipation of losing their coat. A thick smell of lanoline is in the air.
The shearer turns to the pen and catches his first animal, dragging her backward to his stand. His back bends over his sling, holding her secure and with a pull of rope attached to the shearing plant it engages and the shears begin to whirr. The belly wool is shorn first, the rousy picks up and then with a quick swish of the straw broom clears away any dirty and stained wool shorn from the backend of the sheep. All these dags will eventually be used to the last greasy piece.
The cleaner wool begins to peel away, the rousy eagerly waits for the fleece to drop and grabs the armful and with skilled precision, throws the fleece onto the wool table, skirts the locks and rerolls the fleece with soft wool exposed for the wool classer to peruse. The rousy turns and clears the floor of the locks in front of the shearer in split time, replacing that straw broom in its exact position or there will be trouble with the Cocky.
From here the classed fleece is placed either in a bin or straight into a bale in the wool press. “Sheepo” the catching pens are needing to be topped up with more bleating sheep. The working dogs are ready to obey the Cocky’s orders, barking and pushing up, enjoying the task to expend their Kelpie energy. And so it continues in a frenzy until the first run pulls up at morning Smoko on the dot of 9.30am. Then the comradery prevails with much banter between mouthfuls of corn beef and pickle sandwiches.
A half hour rest after shearing 25 to 50 animals is well deserved before starting the second run. And the day continues stopping for an hour lunch break with maybe a stretch-out rest in the wool bins or a sleep on the boards and then again another rest at 3.00pm for the arvo Smoko.
At 5.00pm the first day is done. Time for the Cocky to press the last bales and plan for day 2. He hopes the overnight weather is kind for the shorn ewes. Alas not so on the last day as drenching rain and icy wind threatens the ewes of the last day’s shear. The animals in the timber and behind the corridors have protection but not so lucky those in the open paddock with the wind coming from an unexpected direction.
With true shepherd concern the animals are continually herded to stop them from huddling and dying of exposure. Extra bales of hay are brought to them at the midnight hours. There is little sleep. Sunrise is cloudy too however the sheep are head down grazing. In total 1500 ewes made it through, bar two on a night of unexpected severe weather pattern, so very badly timed.
Shearing is over until next season. Time to clean the combs and cutters and sell the wool to the best offer.
In another 3-6months we will again be back in the shed, to shear their lambs and the shed will be roaring with shearers, dogs, cockies, rousys and shears again but until then dead silence in this old shearing shed, until we meet again.
In the old days females were not allowed in a shearing shed. If they dared to venture into this sacred space of the shearing men the call : “Ducks on the pond” would be announced. Not so today as the modern day shed hosts both male and female shearers, rousys and wool classers.