Just shear joy in giving sheep a buzzcut at Willows Farm in London Colney
- Credit: Archant
IT’S not often I have found myself with a sheep between my legs.
Kind of like straddling an odd, woolly pouffe or stool, it was a bizarre moment in my life and without a doubt defined a morning I won’t forget in a hurry, although the sheep I was about to relieve of its woolly coat will probably try to.
Last Friday Willows Farm in London Colney invited me to try my hand at sheep-shearing. The 11-year-old farm does this every summer to keep their livestock cool and free from blowflies and their eggs, and turn the very necessary practice into a demonstration during half-term for children to gain an understanding of where wool comes from.
Farmer Andrew Wolfe, a pro at the ancient practice with over 25 years farming experience, demonstrated to a gaggle of eager children how he removed the wool, while keeping it fun and educational with a wealth of facts.
He made the job look effortless and even pretended to dance with the sheep at one point, cheekily asking the kids peering over the fence whether they had been watching Strictly as he leant the animal over in a ballroom-esque move.
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Although aimed at children, the demonstration is just as informative for adults too – I certainly learnt a lot. The farm only gets £3-4 per fleece they sell which doesn’t seem very much considering the labour involved.
Wool apparently keeps a sheep cool to a certain degree but it won’t keep them dry which is why they secrete lanolin to stop them getting drenched.
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Farmer Andrew selected a sheep and brought it to the demonstration platform, ready for me to take centre stage. Poor sheep, I thought. The one day it’s chosen from dozens of others and it has to have a knock-off haircut from me.
It was brought out of the pen and Andrew showed me where to put my feet and also where to put the sheep’s head to make sure it was as at ease as possible and couldn’t run away. This turns out to be a selection of strange positions which helped the sheep to relax and kept it steady but I can’t imagine were very comfortable – a bit like it’s very own yoga lesson.
Once in position I was handed the shears. Big, heavy, lead-coloured, and buzzing incessantly, they are a little intimidating and I did hold my breath a bit when I went in for the big shave – nervous I would nick the sheep’s skin.
But they are purpose-made for this kind of thing which you soon realise and my fear of hurting the sheep dissolved. After hesitantly approaching the wool like I was scared of it, I got into my stride – probably a bit too much – and beamed with pride after taking a minute to remove what would have taken Andrew about a second.
Surprisingly, my shearing skills weren’t too shabby. Yes, I had my hair in my face as I forgot the farming rule 101 of bringing a hair band thus slowing down my shearing speed, and yes I was scared to move my welly-clad feet in case the sheep rebelled and made a run for it, but on the whole I did the best I could on the very small patches of wool I shaved off.
I leant down to gaze at my handiwork and caught the sheep’s eye, which was peering around my left leg quizzically. My cheery smile – an effort to bond with the sheep post-shear – failed miserably and the animal’s stony glare returned to the watching crowd. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate my efforts.
Farmer Wolfe took over again and finished the sheep off so it was ready for a hot (hopefully) summer. The shorn fleece, which was about the size of an average rug and weighed about two to three kilos, was then rolled up, ready to cart off to auction, while the sheep, grateful to be released, scampered off looking rather embarrassed as if it just discovered it was naked.
You’ll thank me later, I thought.
For more information call: 0870 129 9718. Willows Farm Village: Coursers Road, London Colney, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL4 0PF