Shearing day at Verdigre Livestock Market

Written August 7th, 2015

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By Jason Wessendorf

The Verdigre Livestock Market had the feel of a boot camp barber shop Friday morning, July 31, as a team of
sheep shearers systematically dispensed buzz cuts to their somewhat hesitant clients.
Alex Moser and Kevin Hickman, both of Iowa, Emily Chamblin of Maryland and Terrance Pelle of South Dakota
brought their own shearing stations with them. The group travels around and just “go where the sheep are,” according
to Alex, who wanted to shear just one more sheep before stopping to speak with the local newspaper. The wait would
not be a long one…

Alex said that his record for an 8-hour day was 423 sheep. There are 480 minutes in 8 hours, so assuming he took
no break and ate no lunch, that’s roughly 1.13 sheep per minute. He said that he, Kevin and another fella had sheared
1,123 sheep in 8 hours – more than 3/4 a sheep per minute as a group. At a laid-back pace, Alex said a couple minutes
per sheep is pretty average.

My parents raised sheep when I was younger. A real nice guy from Bloomfield – Don Olson – would come by to
help us shear. He ran the clippers while the rest of us did the coralling. We took turns getting the next sheep “on deck”
(sitting the sheep down and holding them) while we waited for him to finish the one he was working on.
Fast forward several years, I was a teenager helping a farmer outside of Creighton shear sheep, and who should
show up but Don. He must have been everyone’s “go-to guy,” I thought. It just goes to show you, if you do something
few others do, and do it well, people will seek you out.

I don’t recall it being very easy, nor the sheep very willing. Some things never change, it seems, as the group at
the livestock market on Friday morning were soaked in sweat prior to 9:00, with 60 head already shorn in the short
time they had been there.

While it may just look like a simple trim, there is a lot more involved in shearing sheep than a person would think.
The wool must be harvested correctly so that the sheep suffer no damage and so the wool remains usable. A person
might be surprised to learn that there are sheep-shearing schools in Montana, California, New York (Cornell), Missouri
(Lincoln University Cooperative Extension) and elsewhere dedicated to teaching the craft.

There are only so many people willing and able to shear sheep these days, a skill which dates to around 3500
B.C. when man first learned to spin sheep’s wool. Curt Zimmerer, co-owner of the Verdigre Livestock Market, said
these people are just simply “getting harder to find.”

Luckily, there are still those who don’t mind wrestling sheep down for haircuts, and here’s hoping it stays that
way.

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