Saturday I had a new experience: shearing gerbils. It was the Vintage Harvest Fair at Townings Farm, East Sussex. Townings is a family run farm specialising in traditional breeds. They raise Longhorn and Sussex cattle, Saddleback pigs and Hebridean sheep.
At the Vintage Harvest Fair, the public can meet the animals, see vintage farm machinery in action, browse the craft stands and watch sheep shearing. That's where I came in. This was only my second public shearing demo, a scary proposition in itself.
Being September, the adult sheep had all been shorn. However September is the traditional time for lamb shearing. So I in my enthusiasm had agreed to shear Hebridean lambs in public. Hebrideans are small primitive sheep. They have all their wild instincts intact and they have as many as four horns.
I don't have much lamb shearing experience so I went along in the week to practice. I may as well have been shearing gerbils, or ferrets as one helpful onlooker suggested. Trying to hold the lambs was like trying to grip a bar of soap in the bath. You can grip an adult sheep with your knees and thighs. The lambs didn't reach my knees so I found myself bent into all sorts of contortions trying to hold the lambs with my lower legs while bending down enough to shear them.
This was shearing in miniature. When I was going round the fiddly bits between the hind legs I really wanted to switch to a nasal hair trimmer. The handpiece felt far too big for the lambs' dainty contours. Not only were they tiny, they also wriggled and squirmed and stabbed me in the legs with their horns.
Weird things happened. On the long blows, when the sheep is lying on its side, you tuck your left foot under the shoulder. I did this and several times I ran into my toes with the handpiece. This never happens shearing adult sheep because unless you are a clown the sheep is a lot bigger than your feet.
|On the long blows|
The lambs seemed to be able to get their toes on the floor or push against my legs however I tried to hold them. I think their legs are longer in proportion to their body than those of an adult sheep so when held in the same way as an adult the lamb can get its feet on the floor and escape.
|This position isn't in the manual|
Or maybe I'm just making excuses for poor technique? I do know I need to get more practice shearing gerbils, sorry - lambs.