I am writing this in a state of desperate resolve, hoping I can find someone with helpful advice. Even with double margaritas and a soak in the hot tub last night, and Aleve and coffee this morning, my joints are screaming and my back has stiffened like a pole. As many of you may have guessed, we sheared yesterday. And I did not even hold the shears! Here's the situation:
I used to shear my own flocks, but hubby and I are nearly 70 and, though still active, not in the best shape. So we have had help. After running through a string of semi-qualified, often crazy people (I even tried listing on Craig's List, but that's another whole story! ) we seem to be left with a sorta local guy ... let's call him Rodney... who has been coming down for several decades, when he isn't sick or out of town, or busy or, well, you know. This year I lost half of my goat fleeces because they matted while waiting for him to get things together, and many of the long wools are LOOOOOOONG! Two of the Wensleydale rams had more than 12" of dreadlocks.
I understand how difficult shearing can be, and take special pains to keep the fleeces clean and the sheep healthy. They are my business, after all. I don't think I am excessively demanding: I don't yelp about a nick here or there, I just get the Blu Coat. Second cuts make me grit my teeth a bit, but I am making myself be quiet because there doesn't seem to be any hope for improvement. I try to explain, year after year. Yesterday Rodney asked (as he chopped up a nice black fine-wool ewe), "Can you use this fleece?" I picked up a handful that he had just sheared, and spread the locks out on my hand, showing him one piece 3" long, and the rest chopped into 1" bits. "Well... not much of it. See?" But there is never any acknowledgment or apology, or effort to improve.
Although we are available almost all of the time, Rodney will only shear on Saturdays, the one morning when we sell at the market. So we rush home at noon and pen the sheep and goats, then wait - and wait - often two or three hours - for him to show up. Rodney's top speed is about 4 sheep per hour, so you can do the math to see the hours, days, and number of trips required to shear our flock of @ 50 animals. And, because I keep Wensleydales and angora goats, this is a twice-a-year ordeal.
When Rodney arrives, he is generally exhausted, having sheared already in the morning, and it takes a while to assemble gear, argue about where to shear, find combs and cutters that aren't broken, and clean the crud off his tools and boards. Once set, hubby and I catch and deliver each animal, check for bell collars, etc. If hubby is working, I do it alone. Rodney will wait patiently while some ram or other drags me around the catch pen, but very seldom intervenes, even to the point of opening (or closing!) a gate, unless the request is screamed out in panic. When the shearing is done, I may be able to get him to trim hooves, but often he just "forgets" and releases the animal so we have to either run it down and catch it again, or just leave it 'till next time. We gather fleece and trash and sweep the boards and spray the wounds. Sometimes the bleeding goes on for hours, and many will limp for days after their foot-shearing.
Yesterday was tough on all of us. After chopping away at two Wensleydale ewe lambs, Rodney ran his finger into the shears. He wanted to keep going, so wrapped it good and on we went. But I swear he was taking revenge on the animals. His board was slick, and angled slightly downhill, but rather than use that to his advantage, he insisted on starting with the animal in front of him, facing down-slope, so that he had to fight it every inch, and everyone eventually ended in the dirt (or weeds). We opened the tarp even bigger, to try to salvage the fleece. One ten-year-old ewe lost about 3" of skin over her jugular, which bled like crazy, but fortunately the vein seemed intact, at least last night. Others had ribs, flanks and bellies opened up. He sheared the ear-tags off my registered ram, and nearly severed his hamstring, and a ram lamb had his ear so badly gashed that I couldn't staunch the bleeding no matter what. His beautiful, white curls (first shearing) were drenched in blood, the board was bloody so that the fleece was acting like a sponge, sopping up the blood. "Hold his head down," Rodney suggested, while he tried to finish the first side. The lamb was very cooperative, but I could see that his ear was filling with blood, which soon spilled over my hands and out onto his neck, again into the fleece.
We "finished" just before seven, and I gave up on cleaning the goats, who were dragging around huge hunks of shed fleece. It will fall off sooner or later, and at least they are still in one piece!
So, finally, at the end of this rant, here is my plea:
Can anyone refer me to a competent and dependable shearer? I have 5 months to find one, because I am not going to call Rodney again. Requirements are rather basic:
1. Show up when you say you will.
2. Separate fleece from critter with minimal damage to fleece and critter.
3. Trim feet and hold for pour-on if necessary.
We live in north San Diego county, and have a "rustic" guest house if someone needs a place to crash if traveling.
Thanks for suggestions, or at least for letting me vent.
Thank goodness for summer. Now I just have to get busy skirting and sorting.