The sheep shearing season: an interview and photo story

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Posted Aug 3 2017 by Nigel Akehurst of IndieFarmer
Sheep shearing in action

The year’s sheep shearing season is almost at an end. This week, our friends at Indie Farmer shared with us their sheep shearing photo story and interview with Ed Gingell, the so-called ‘Lewis Hamilton’ of sheep shearing, who visited Hockham Farm in 2015 to shear the flock and returned again to do the same just last week. It’s over to author and Indie Farm founder Nigel Akehurst from here.

Earlier this month we sheared our flock of Suffolk and Mule ewes – during which I photographed the process (whilst also being part of the ‘back office’ team) and documented the sheep shearing gang (Ed, Alex and Freedom) in action. The resulting photo story or ‘guide’ (in the loosest sense possible) is below.

A guide to sheep shearing

1. Pen your sheep

This is normally the farmers job and we use our mobile sheep handling system ‘Prattley’ to pen our flock of ewes and lambs.

Sheep penned ready for shearing

2. Employ a local sheep shearing team

If you only have a few sheep you could have a go with a pair of hand blades but with nearly 220 ewes it pays to call in the experts. Here’s professional shearer Ed Gingell setting up his hand piece.

Sheep shearer Ed Gingell

3. Often sheep shearers work in pairs

Meet Alex (Ed’s shearing partner over for the season from New Zealand).

Sheep shearer Alex

4. Have a solid ‘back office’ team

Often comprising of the farmers or farm workers, our job is to ensure a steady supply of ewes to the shearers. Professional shearers can shear upwards of 500 ewes in a day each!

The 'back office' of the sheep shearing team

5. Ewes going up the ramp to meet Ed and Alex

It being the hottest day of the year our ewes couldn’t wait to get their fleeces off…

Ewes going up the ramp to be sheared

Ed shearing a sheep

6. Here’s a video of Ed shearing one of our Mules

7. Rolling the fleeces

Meet Freedom (who is also over for the season from New Zealand with Alex) who’s job was to roll the fleeces and put them in the wool sack.

Rolling the fleeces

8. No sheep shearing gang is complete without a trusty sheep dog or two!

Anyone notice the numberplate?

A trusty sheepdog

9. And a group photo to celebrate a job well done…

…and in Ed’s case an impressive farmer’s tan!

An interview with sheep shearer Ed Gingell

So just how did Ed go from beginner sheep shearer to winner of the ‘Formula One’ of sheep shearing contests, the Senior English shearing circuit? He kindly agreed to answer a few questions on how he got into shearing and some top tips for aspiring shearers out there.

1. When did you shear your first sheep?

I started shearing 10 years ago with a guy called Paul Griffiths. He sheared my dad’s (sheep) and I started off by winding the wool for him. He taught me the basics and I just loved it, so I started working hard at it and learning as much as possible. Going to the shearing comps at the start inspired me to be like the guys who were right at the top and wanted to shear like them.

2. What’s the fastest time you’ve shorn a sheep in?

It’s hard to say what’s my fastest time, my best tally in one day was 528.

3. If you had to shear a sheep with hand clippers how long would it take you?

I’ve never sheared a sheep with blades but it would take around 5 min I would of thought. The guys that do it all the time could do it in 2 mins easily.

4. Are there any particular breeds of sheep you prefer shearing or are they all the same?

I would say my favourite sheep to shear would be a Mule because their wool is very open and they are very quick to shear. You can’t beat shearing Romneys though as it’s very satisfying to see the end product as there is more work in them.

5. On average how many sheep do you shear in a season? How does that compare to New Zealand sheep shearers?

I shear about 22,000 throughout the summer, I shear from May through to early October. If someone was to shear a whole year and follow the sun they should shear around 50,000 I would have thought. It depends on the type of shearer and sheep being shorn.

Ed receives his award with the Senior English shearing circuit

6. Do you have any tips for aspiring sheep shearing champions out there? And what sort of prize money can you win when you get to your level?

Anyone who wants to start shearing should knuckle down, stay grounded and listen to other shearers. Going to competitions I always think is a great thing to do because you can really see how it’s done by the top guys. Prize money can be up to £700 but most shows are around £400 – £500. Hand pieces are often donated.

7. What’s next – is there a world championship shearing contest you can enter?

Now that I’ve won the senior English circuit I’m up competing with the Lewis Hamilton of shearers. I’m just gonna keep my head down, arse up and try my hardest!

 

You can find the original articles by Nigel Akehurst published in July 2015 here and here on the Indie Farmer website. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about keeping sheep, check out our topic introduction here.