It was a very interesting and educational day for me as a spinner. So...especially for all fellow fiber enthusiastics (and others interested), here's a little photo journal of the visit!
(I actually wrote a super extensive blogpost that covered pretty much everything my guide explained to me during this day, plus some extra information I researched myself about merino sheep, their wool and the shearing business here in New Zealand. And then somehow Blogger didn't save my post, and when I wanted to finish it today it was all just GONE! *dangerously frustrated*... Now all the info is in my head, instead of in this post (and I refuse to start over, I already spent a couple of hours on it...grrrrr!). Let's just agree that if you've got any questions, you'll post them in the comments, and I'll try to answer them as well as I can, okay?)
Above the shearing shed in action. On the far right you can see Shaun (my guide for the day and an employee of NZ Merino). Shaun is my housemate's brother, who kindly arranged for me that I could join Shaun on one of his shearing shed visits.
The shearing team consisted of 4 shearers and lots of helping staff (guiding the sheep, swiping the floor, picking the wool, etc.). These guys can shear up to more than 100 sheep a day (per person!), depending on the breed. The complete, average flock contains around 3000-4000 sheep here in New Zealand, so they often spend around a week at one farm. When the whole flock is done, they move on to the next farm...a kinda unique lifestyle! One that seems to be paying off quite good as well, according to one of the shearers I spoke with. The better and faster you shear, the more money you make. Shearing contests are held regularly around these regions as well, which is another way to make big money.
The shearers all work with their own gear, which they take with them everywhere they go. The machine shears have a power-driven toothed blade, that is driven back and forth over de surface of a comb (behind the comb teeth in the picture above...but they move so fast that you can barely see them!).
A little video of all the productivity that was going on in the shearing shed. There's a busy vibe, everyone's constantly moving. The team works together like a well-oiled machine, it was so fascinating to observe!
The Merino's, patiently waiting to be shorn. Different parts of their bodies produce different kinds of fur (varying in fineness, staple, quality, etc.). All parts are being sorted and collected, literally nóthing goes to waste. If you'd like to read more about the Merino's and the (kind of awesome!) fiber that they produce, click here. I'm thanking part of my outdoor clothing to these animals; layers that keep me warm and dry without overheating me...and also without a sweaty smell! So yeah, I think Merino's rock :)
Spreading out the fleece to pick, sort and class it. It's really amazing to see how big it is, and that the shearers manage to shear this all in one piece!
First the raw edges of the fleece are picked (also called 'skirting', this removes the dull and shorter locks), then the fleece proceeds to the classer...a person who looks at the quality and fineness of the fleece (see below).
I was totally impressed by this female classer, who manages to distinguish 16.5 micron fleeces from 17 micron fleeces (and so on). Seriously...how can you feel a 0.5 micron difference?! That's years of experience and a thorough education going on here, so don't underestimate it ;)
My favorite pictures of this day, the shearers in action. They work super quick, while constantly bended over (no surprise one of them actually used a kind of belt to support him). This job is physically tough, really tough. I was blown away by one of the shearers telling me that his niece, a small and skinny girl, is actually a top shearer...are you kidding me?!
Now look at those jumps of joy when the shorn sheep are released outside! They just lost about 3-4 kg of wool, so they literally feel like a heavy burden is taken off them.
During the day Shaun and the shearers explained a lot about the whole process: what happens to the wool after the shearing, where does it go, who's involved, etc. If you'd like to read more about it, check out this wikipedia page that covers the basics pretty much, or ask me any question in the comments. It's interesting stuff!