Friday, 18 March 2011

Why sheep shearers should be allowed to enter the UK

This week I heard the news that sheep shearers will have difficulty coming into the UK as the number of unskilled workers entering the country is being capped.  My blood boiled at the idea.  First, I object to sheep shearers being classed as unskilled, I challenge anyone who thinks shearing sheep is unskilled work to give it a go, they would soon change their mind.  Secondly, the sheep industry needs the shearers from overseas, we do not have enough home-grown sheep shearers to shear the British flock.  There are approximately  36 million sheep in the UK.  About 500 overseas shearers enter the UK each year.  They shear 20-25% of the UK flock.  Sheep shearers are different from other migrant workers, they are not coming to stay, they are only here for the season, then they move on.  The sheep shearing season in this country is from May to the end of July.  These are not permanent immigrants, they are passing visitors.

In addition the argument that we should train the unemployed to take on these jobs done by workers from overseas does not stand up when it comes to shearing.  Shearing is seasonal, anyone training as a shearer will have three months work per year and be unemployed for the other nine months of the year unless they become a migrant worker themselves and follow the shearing seasons around the world.  Not an attractive option for anyone with a family. Then there is the question of being up for the job, to shear one sheep then collapse in a heap completely exhausted you need to be physically able and fairly strong.  Shearers are paid by the sheep at the rate of around £1 per animal.  To make a living you must be able to shear between 100-400 sheep per day.  It takes a person as fit and flexible as an athlete and with the right mindset to shear 400 sheep a day, day after day.  

Furthermore there is the question of what happens to the sheep in the worse case scenario where the overseas shearers are not allowed into the country and we do not have enough shearers to go round.  In this case, sheep will be waiting well into August or even later to be shorn.  As the summer progresses and the fly population increases sheep will get flystrike, a terrible occurrence where flies lay their eggs in the fleece, the eggs hatch into maggots and the maggots eat the sheep alive.  I have seen plenty of sheep with a hole in them you could fit your fist in, they suffer terribly and without urgent treatment they die a slow and painful death.  Another thing which can happen if a sheep is not shorn is heat stroke, extra woolly breeds, such as the Poll Dorset, are particularly prone to this.  Sheep can and do die from heat stroke.  Then there is the problem of getting cast.  If a sheep is not shorn the new fleece will still grow under the old fleece, this forms a heavy mat of wool.  If the sheep gets onto its back it can be unable to right itself because of the weight of the fleece, a sheep stuck on its back, if not rescued will die very slowly.  I’ve heard of cast sheep which had their eyes picked out by crows and in one case a badger ripped open the udder of a trapped sheep to drink the milk, while she was still alive.  Not shearing sheep is not an option.  Shearing them in August will put them at risk and cause suffering.  

This issue of letting the overseas shearers into the country crops up year after year.  It is time this nonsense ended.  We should welcome and respect our highly skilled, hard working friends from overseas.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Getting my rams in a row

This week I went to a networking event hosted by the Invicta Chamber of Commerce.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was rather afraid I might come away talking about blue face thinking, getting my rams in a row and the need to think outside the Prattley.  Feeling like a Romney ewe who has wandered in with the beef cattle I made a start at this thing called ‘networking’. 

It seemed to be de rigueur to exchange business cards with everyone else, I found myself fumbling around in my handbag for business cards still in the printer’s box.  After all, if I run the cards free range in my handbag they’ll be dog eared in no time.  I watched what everyone else did and noticed most people had their cards tucked into a suit jacket pocket and were highly competent at whisking one out.  Note to self:  next time wear a suit with pockets.  I’ve always assumed the pockets on my suit jacket are utterly useless since they aren’t big enough for a Swiss Army knife and a length of bailer twine.  Now I know.

People were approachable and really helpful.  The room was packed with collective experience; I came away feeling energised and less alone.  If you run or are thinking of running a business which, like mine, is literally warm and fluffy, you may feel reluctant to attend business networking events, however I’d definitely recommend you do.  Try contacting your local Chamber of Commerce, there are events you can attend without being a member and you never know, you may meet someone who has a pet sheep or an alpaca in their back garden!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Unravel 2011 - shopping heaven for the fibre enthusiast

I went to Unravel at Farnham Maltings over the weekend.  Were you there?  If so, what did you think of the show?  And more importantly – what did you buy?  If you didn’t go, Unravel is a fibre festival, something like Woolfest but on a smaller scale.  There were two Gotland sheep penned outside, to my amusement under their own personal gazebo, but these were the only animals.  There were talks, workshops and plenty of trade stands.  It was very busy.  Fortunately there was a good supply of comfy sofas and plenty of milling space so it was possible to find a corner to rest and contemplate the next purchase.  

I went to a talk by Susan Crawford.  I first met her at Fibrefest 2009 when I bought her book A Stitch in Time.  I can’t wait for the next volume!  She talked about adapting vintage patterns and choosing the right yarn, it was a fascinating insight into the process.  There was a beautiful twinset on display from the new book, it was inspired by some victory buttons which were produced to celebrate the end of the Second World War.  The buttons were designed with such detail that they even included the Morse code for V - dot dot dash. 

I was especially interested to hear about Excelana, a vintage inspired yarn Susan is working on.  The wool comes from sheep bred in Devon, the yarn is processed by John Arbon, also in Devon, and only goes as far as Bradford to be dyed.  The sheep the wool comes from are what is known in the sheep industry as mules.  A mule is produced by putting a longwool ram onto a hill breed of ewe.  The most common mule is the North of England, which is the result of putting a Blue Face Leicester ram on either a Swaledale or a Scotch Black Face.  In this case, however, the sheep have been produced by putting a Blue Face Leicester ram onto an Exmoor Horn ewe.  They are known as the Exmoor Blueface.

There was a cardigan on display made from pure Exmoor Blueface wool.  I had a feel, the yarn did have that slight ‘bite’ people often expect of wool.  Personally I’d have worn it but many people probably would be put off.  As a result of this handle, the Exmoor Blueface was then blended with pure Blue Face Leicester.  The blend gave the desired results.  Excelana is 70% Exmoor Blueface and 30% pure Blue Face Leicester.  The addition of that 30% has resulted in a yarn with a lovely soft handle.  Definitely wearable next to the skin. 

Of course I had to buy some samples:

I also bought some raw Gotland fleece.  I have never spun Gotland so I am really looking forward to the experience.  I will let you know how I get on.   

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The dog is done!

Great news, I have completed the commission to spin the dog fur!  To recap, the fur came from Alaska, a rescue dog who is believed to be half Malamute.  The task was to spin the fur pure.  It has been a long haul, the fur was very short and slippery, but I can report I have finished the job.  I have spun nearly half a mile of pure dog fur.

Here is the result:

 This is what nearly half a mile of spun dog fur looks like!