Shearing Goats and Sheep: Dirty, Rewarding Work

Master Shearer travels extensively to practice craft.

| May/June 2009

David Kier, Eleva, Wisconsin, is a Master Shearer.

David Kier, Eleva, Wisconsin, is a Master Shearer.

Heidi Overson

The sight of David Kier’s van pulling into a farmer’s driveway can always bring a look of fear to a sheep or goat and a smile to the farmer’s face. Shearing is often one thing that many sheep and Angora goat owners cannot do on their own, and a good shearer who is faithful to his clients is crucial and hard to find.

David Kier, from Eleva, Wisconsin, is a Master Shearer who, in 1979, took a two-week shearing course at the New Zealand Wool Board Shearing School in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Over the next four years, he sheared 12,000 sheep in New Zealand, as well as 7,000 head in California. David currently shears 5,000 sheep in Scotland for one month out of the year and 6,500 sheep and Angora goats in Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan.

David can shear an animal in 1 to 3 minutes. He shears “open style,” which means he doesn’t tie the animal’s legs. This is a New Zealand style. He uses a Lister™ shearing plant, a rigid tube, both Lister™ or Australian Sunbeam™ handpieces, and a variety of combs. He must match the combs for different breeds and weather conditions.

The work is intense and requires an extreme amount of patience; it’s not a job for someone with a temper. David spends many days on the road, away from his family and farm. “It’s grueling, and it’s dirty,” he says.

His job has its perks, though. When he’s shearing “on a gang,” which is a number of shearers working together on a large herd, the job is a bit more concentrated and fun.

“We have a fast, uninterrupted pace,” David says. “There can be up to 12 shearers going flat tack. We’re shearing from 160 to 450 fleeces an hour. It is fiercely competitive, as there is always another shearer about your speed that you are trying to keep up with or surpass. It’s all in good fun, and we share a great comradeship. When we’re done at night, we do a lot of socializing.”

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