Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Joel Barton Sets New UK 9 Hour Lamb Shearing Record

On Saturday 4th August after a few hours sleep I blundered out of bed at 2.30 in the morning. Why? To witness Joel Barton's attempt at a new UK 9 Hour Lamb Shearing Record. He was starting at 5.00am and I wanted to be there.

When I arrived at Walter House Farm, Woodchurch near Ashford, Kent, there was an atmosphere of quiet tension. No one was rushing, no one was talking much, everyone was intensely focused on the final preparations.

Preparing the lambs is a highly skilled job in itself. Shearers had worked through the night dagging the lambs to the strict requirements of the rules. Only an area over the tail the size of a man's fist is allowed to be shorn in advance. This means the lambs have full belly wool and, being Romney lambs which carry a lot of wool, wool between the teats and up the legs. In competition shearing, the sheep are sheared in front of the teats so the shearers can go flat out. Record attempts are supposed to reflect the shearer's normal day at work so he still has to contend with all the fiddly bits.

Three judges were there from the British Isles Shearing Competitions Association (BISCA): Charles Fuggle from East Sussex, Arwyn Jones form Wales and George Graham from Ireland. The judges ensure the record attempt complies with the strict rules. They monitor the quality of the shearing and any injuries to sheep. Quality and animal welfare are not sacrificed to speed and numbers. If the shearing is not up to standard or sheep are being injured then the judges will stop the attempt.

The day was structured with military precision. At 5.00am Joel Barton dragged the first lamb out of the pen. He sheared for 2 hours, losing less than 10 seconds between lambs. Every 15 minutes he paused to change the cutter and gulp a drink but these pit stops lasted maybe only 20 seconds. After 2 hours shearing, Joel had done 119 lambs. Then there was a hour break for breakfast.

The rest of the runs lasted 1 hour 45 minutes each, with breaks in between. This pattern reflects a normal shearing day. In the second run, Joel sheared 110 lambs, then 106, 102 and finally 100. When the attempt started, everyone stayed quiet, afraid of distracting Joel. I switched the flash off on my camera in case it disturbed him. Joel had his music playing and he was in the zone. 

As the day wore on and more people arrived to watch the audience took on the job of shouting encouragement. There was a countdown to the 500th lamb, with lambs being shorn in around 54 seconds each it was hard to keep track. Joel sheared his 500th lamb at 4.22pm.

He needed to shear 522 to break the record, with less than 40 minutes to go and the record not yet broken we shouted Joel down the last side of each lamb. I can't begin to imagine the pain he must have been in by then. At 4.45pm, with 15 minutes left Joel broke the record. Joel finished at 5.00pm. The new record: 537 lambs shorn in 9 hours.

I took my spinning wheel but I had to give up spinning for the last hour - it was way too exciting!

I estimate Joel sheared about 430kg of wool in the 9 hours. He filled a woolsack an hour:
It only took Joel 3 hours to shear all this wool
Joel has a Just Giving Page, money raised will go to the British Heart Foundation.  

I am gradually adding photos from the day to Flickr, I have several hundred to sort through, so it may take a while. You can see the pictures here.


  1. My back iis hurting just thinking about such a mammoth task! Well done Joey.

  2. That's amazing! Huzzah for Joel for setting a new world record! It's so tremendous that you got up at 2.30am to go and see/document this historic event!

  3. 2 hours in my garden bending over hurts my back.