One by one, they marched up the plank to their fate. Two men waited, ready to flip and firmly hold them in place.
It was sheep shearing time at the University of Findlay’s Dr. Richard C. Beckett Animal Science Center, located south of Findlay on Ohio 68, adjacent to the Western Equestrian Farm. Earlier this month, 275 sheep were shorn, a necessary activity that occurs annually.
On hand with his customized trailer and impressive shearing skills was Gregg Fogle, herd manager for The Ohio State University’s Sheep Center in Dublin, Ohio. Fogle was contracted by UF to efficiently help rid its animals of their dense, hot coats that make life miserable for sheep in late summer.
Supervising the operation and admiring his former boss’s handiwork was Joe Payton, assistant barn manager at the science center.
Shearing, Payton explained, is an art, one in which he has not perfected quite to his own satisfaction.
“Shearing is the easy part,” said Payton. It’s the physical labor the task demands that’s difficult, he noted. The task constitutes a rigorous workout. “You have to get the sheep to sit a certain way. It’s a technique of holding them with one hand and clipping them with the other.”
Generally, the longer the wool, the more valuable the fiber. Other factors include color, strength, thickness and crimp. Payton said the University’s latest wool, produced by the Southdowns and crossbreeds, will likely be used to make carpet. The wool from all UF sheep is similar, according to Farabee McCarthy, Ph.D., associate professor of chair of Animal and Pre-Veterinary Studies at UF.
The University of Findlay sends its wool to a handful of businesses, one of which includes Midstates Wool, a cooperative based in Canal Winchester, Ohio.
A handful of UF students studying animal science herded the sheep up the ramp and into the trailer for the two shearers, and gathered and bagged the wool afterward for transport.
The University’s ritual, conducted during two weekend days just prior to the start of the regular fall semester, was an iteration of an ancient practice that had once brought great wealth to herd owners, contributed to the establishment of cities, spawned other trades, inspired artists and authors such as Shakespeare, and furthered alphanumeric recording in Europe. Particularly iconic to Australia and New Zealand, the craft was further developed during the 19th century.