Yesterday I went to a small sheep shearing show at a farm called The Point, where an attractively weathered farmer named James gave a sheep a dramatic haircut on a long, well-hoofed wooden platform in a corrugated black tin barn.
This 6-month-old Drysdale female squirmed and fussed impressively but in the end the farmer won. The wool, which looked a little dred-locky, came decidedly off. James was insistent, quick, skillful, sure of his role (though she did get a small bloody nick which James downplayed). It was her first shear; this will happen twice a year from now on.
Here’s before, during, and after.
She looks kind of naked, right? I couldn’t help but think of bad haircuts I’ve had and about Samson giving Delilah his most prized possession. There was definitely something biblical about the whole act. In the Bible story, Samson had two vulnerabilities: his attraction to untrustworthy women and his hair, without which he was powerless.
Anyway, here’s James’ eventual embarrassment of wooly riches, which are not worth what they used to be (the price of wool has decreased given the new synthetic alternatives, and New Zealand’s sheep population has gone from 80 million to 30 million):
When James’ father-in-law ran the farm, there were 2000 sheep. Now there are 300, just enough for James to run two daily tourist shows (he and his wife also run a small B&B on the farm). We also met a black sheep (they occur one in a thousand).
This sweet Huntaway Sheepdog named Jed took his job very seriously:
And here’s Ram Man, docile enough for photo ops and feeding. He had a gentle little nibble, like a nuzzle, and no slobber:
So if you’ve read this far… I don’t know enough about wool production to offer an opinion about how the sheep raised for wool are treated. My understanding is that they don’t fare well on large-scale farms where they don’t have room to move and are slaughtered once they’re “spent,” as with any big agricultural operation. I was slightly conflicted in supporting this endeavor and wished I’d done more research first so I could have made a more informed decision. The sheep looked well-treated and free-range (in a setting stunning to us humans), but what do I know.
James was also selling a line of NZ commercial lanolin products like lotions and balms (lanolin is the oil pressed out of Merino wool).
During the shearing, and all night, I couldn’t get Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” out of my head:
She tied you to a kitchen chair.
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair.
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.
But I can’t even say what I think these words mean in this context. Something about shackling, debasing, degrading. Something about claiming another’s most gorgeous possession as their own, as their birthright.
Something like that.