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For The Shear Joy

By Staff | Aug 4, 2010

Duane Carpenter of Beallsville shears a sheep. It is a traditional farm task that he used to help pay for college and continues to practice today.

It is that time of year where it seems every state, county, and town has some sort of fair. The state fairs are large, gala affairs that may last two to three weeks. County fairs are made up of mostly local citizens and usually only runs for few days to a week. And the town or street fair lasts usually only a couple of days, usually on a weekend.

The annual festivals have a variety of attractions for the fair visitors to enjoy. Arts and crafts, carnival rides, and stages shows that can host national talent and the girl who sings next door. One of the attractions that are common at many fairs is the livestock display-a variety of animals that are groomed for show to compete for blue ribbon prizes at the fairs. Horses, cattle, and chickens are just a few of the many animals found on any America farm that are brought to fairs.

Fairs often provide an insight into the many different aspects of taking care of a farm and its animals.Horses are shown, cattle are sometimes milked, and poultry show off their fancy plumage. One of the activities that take place in fairs around here is often a demonstration of the craft of sheep shearing.

I became interested in this skill when I heard of an engineer who used this skill to help with his college expenses. Duane Carpenter of Beallsville used some of the money he earned to obtain his chemical engineering degree from Ohio University in Athens. Duane has worked for the past 18 years as an engineer in the chlorine department of PPG Industries located in Marshall County. The job of being an engineer in the chemical industry is a long way from being a shearer of wool at local fairs. So I asked Duane how he got started and a little about his unique skill.

Duane invited me to accompany him on a job to observe the process so he could better explain the craft. “When I was 16 my Dad first taught me how to properly shear a sheep on the farm. I also learned a lot about the trade from Paul Taylor while I was in FFA. I was taught the Australian method of shearing. The sheep’s rump is seated on the ground, which gives you more control and is a more humane way of removing the wool.”

Duane grew up on a dairy farm in Belmont County, Ohio. His parents still have the 360-acre family farm where his dad still keeps over 100 head of sheep. Duane and his family own a 112-acre farm near Beallsville where he also raises sheep. At the present time he has 35 ewes.

While in college, Duane worked at a feed lot in the summer, along with spring and winter breaks to earn extra money. I asked, what was the most sheep he had ever sheared in a day? He explained he needed extra money to buy books for college one summer. Duane started out shearing lambs one morning and when finished, he had sheared 100 in a day. He also explained he felt the physical effects for several days afterward.

As I watched Duane clip the wool from each of the full grown sheep, I asked how long it takes, normally, to do a sheep. “Last September, I sheared a lamb at the fair in 3 minutes and 52 seconds, not a record, but pretty good for me anymore.” I also wondered what the typical fee was for sheering a sheep. Duane explained that the going prices are about three dollars a head. After having watched Duane work up a sweat in the heat, I believe he is probably glad he became an engineer rather than a professional sheep shearer.

Duane is a regular at the Belmont County Fair sheep shearing competition. I asked what the judges are looking for in completion besides speed. “The judges want the fleeces to come off in one piece. After you complete the shear they check the sheep for nicks and tags. You start off with 100 points and they subtract for mishandling, nicks or cuts, and speed. In competition you get three lambs to sheer, one easy, one hard, and one in-between.”

Duane explained the important thing is how you hold the lamb to keep it docile as you sheer. “It’s all in how you hold the sheep and get its feet off the ground. If it is fighting you; most likely you are doing something wrong.”

The wool that is sheered is sent to Columbus where it is graded and sorted to be sold in lots by Mid State Wool Cooperative. The wool of most local sheep brings about 25 to 30 cents a pound. In December the cooperative sends a check for the harvested wool. Most wool from around here is a course grade and ends up in rugs, carpeting, and blankets.

Duane is one of many who enjoy carrying on one of the many different traditional jobs found on farms. Today many of those skills are being lost because the small America farm is always struggling to make ends met. The state and county fairs give each of us an opportunity each year to see some of these skills that are still practiced on local farms.

Farming is a way of life that must be worked every day throughout the year with long hours and sometimes very little to show for the hard work. Livestock and field crops require constant tending to remain a viable asset for the small farmer. The county fairs give those that still hold onto theses values an opportunity to come together in competition and renew old acquaintances. And those of us who do not live or work on a farm get an opportunity to see an important part of America culture as we look Thru the Lens.