Palliser Bay, New Zealand

A perfect sunset after a perfect day

After a day of shearing and dagging (cleaning their bottoms to prepare for shearing tomorrow) many ewes, the sheepdog Roxy runs the sheep back to their pasture.

My shorn sheep

The ewe pregnant with twins sat quite still and let me shear several lines of top-quality wool off her back.

I'm nervous but continue to shear the first line of wool from the ewe.

Now, I have the sheep on my own and no one to assist in my shearing. Here goes.

Going over the missed wool from my first shearing attempt.

I didn't hold the shears tight enough to the skin and Cindy points out the wool I left behind.

Cindy of Wharekauhau holds the sheep and I attempt my first shearing with tremendous trepidation since I didn't want to cut the ewe.

Shearing close up

Cindy, who has a Bachelor of Applied Science, shears a sheep.

The tag on the ear designates the ewe’s age and the green, yellow or blue color on the back lets the owners know the ram who ‘serviced’ the ewe (the farm manager’s terminology, not ours).

Basking in the sunlight

The wool on the back of the sheep is the best and will fetch the highest price at market.

Close-up of a one-year-old ram

I'm just crazy about sheep.

John Shore, the farm manager at Wharekauhau, herds the sheep to another pen.

20 June 2001 – Early afternoon, Jim and I spent time with farm manager John Shore, who assured me I would have my opportunity to shear a sheep before the day finished. With a bashful way around people, but a child-like eagerness with animals, John charged at a herd of rams, safely tucked in a large pen, tackling one, then another, so we could have a closer look. He showed us the long, coarse hair on the animal’s back explaining this is the highest grade, but even the cheapest fluff on the legs and underside will be sold. Wharekauhau rams trade for NZ$400, a pittance, and even the finest wool from Wharekauhua sheep will not bring much more. John tells of a Merino ram from the South Island that recently sold for NZ$10,000. Realist John knows Merinos would not fare well on his land.

We headed over to the shearing shed, where dagging was taking place, making the wooden barn smell like an outhouse. Dagging, when the back-end of the animal is clipped keeping it clean and removing the poo , John’s term, takes places several times a year, as often as necessary to keep them clean. Since these sheep will be shorn tomorrow, dagging is required beforehand. Even the poo wool will be sold.

Outside the shed, a pen of dagged sheep waited to return to pasture and inside, a couple of men wrapped up their day. Left behind were scattered piles of wool on the dark wooden floor. Always eager to find a woman in a man’s profession, I eyed a young female sweeping the floor and asked if she was a shearer, but she was an organizer of the wool with no aspirations of shearing. Then Cindy entered. A couple inches taller than I am, no-nonsense, but not gruff, and womanly with a soft face, framed by long, sun-bleached hair secured back, Cindy, 23, has lived and worked on a farm all her life, except when she attended university. Cindy is a sheep-shearer in her own right and tutored me showing the proper way to hold the sheep firmly against my knee and then how to manipulate the electric shears hanging from a long rope connected to an overhead contraption.

I was afraid I would cut the animal, but both John and Cindy assured me that cuts and nicks happen all the time. These two have been around long enough to be well beyond the sheep adoration stage, where I remain. Since I was nervous, Cindy held the sheep during my first shearing attempt, where I moved the clippers along a short row of fluff. John, seeing my obvious excitement, asked if I would like to hold my own animal. Knowing the ewe I was to shear was pregnant with twins, I motioned yes with some trepidation. Cindy reminded me how to place my knee beside the animal’s leg disabling it from pulling away. Inside, I was excited and in a flutter. But what if the ewe jumped or moved abruptly?

With nerves like steel and a sheep planted firmly against my left knee, I began the shearing process on my own. With my left hand, I held the oily, heavy, pregnant animal. Then I placed the buzzing clippers in my right hand onto the ewe and slowly began removing a line of wool from the calm animal, not budging in the slightest. I felt my heart thump and run over this simple stuff. I was having the time of my life. I did not care that the greasy, thick lanolin oil was rubbing all over my arms, stomach and legs. In the midst of shearing, I thought, “The lanolin will do wonders for my chapped hands.”

Row one of the wool fell off, but like a novice, I had left half an inch of wool on the animal, which is like leaving money on the table. So I sheared that row again trimming the wool as close to the skin as I could. Clipping another row and then another, my hold on the animal faded and I knew my slow speed was making the pregnant one uncomfortable, or maybe I was uncomfortable. Cindy finished the job in less than a couple of minutes.

Once everything wrapped up in the shearing shed, we walked outside to find Roxy, the farm dog, barking non-stop at the sheep. Finally the command was given for the dog to drive the sheep to pasture. Tomorrow begins more shearing for Cindy, Roxy and John, who says he has the best job in the world.


  Wharekauhau (Jim)
  Wharekauhau (Paige)