The latest estimates on sheep numbers from Statistics Canada show there are 802,000 sheep in Canada, 212,000 of them in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
That indicates a need for sheep shearers in the two provinces where Shaun Fajnor is among those who do the job.
“It’s a pretty small community,” Fajnor said about shearers. “There’s good job security, that’s for sure.”
As of early March, he had already sheared about 3,000 sheep since the start of the year and expects to relieve about 20,000 sheep of their wool by the end of the shearing season, which extends from Christmas to July.
He sometimes works with a crew of shearers, depending on the size of the flocks involved.
“We’ll go to one area and shear there for three or four days, a number of flocks, just to make it efficient.”
Fajnor gives one beginner-shearer school each year, which brought him to Jim and Margaret Oosterhof’s farm near Lethbridge March 6-7. Students from around the province and as far away as Saskatoon participated.
Chris Van Arnam of Cremona, Alta., said he has Angora goats on his farm that will need shearing. He has experience shearing sheep in New Zealand so the course provided further instruction.
Kathy Mitsch of Calgary was there to learn shearing so she can help her mother with the task. Victoria Wallace of Saskatoon had the same goal. Her mother runs sheep near Chilliwack, B.C.
“I knew it was a physical thing,” Wallace said about shearing. “It’s almost like a dance.”
Fajnor was pleased that some of this year’s students already had shearing experience, which makes his task slightly easier.
“We start from the beginning and we just do little bits at a time rather than doing the whole (sheep) at once. We bite it off in really small chunks. Yesterday they weren’t even shearing full sheep from start to finish. They’ve just been doing little pieces at a time,” he said.
On the first day, students shear only the sheeps’ bellies. Later, they might do one leg.
“By the end they’ve compartmentalized everything and can string it all together rather than trying to overload them with information. It tends to work a lot better and it’s physically easier on them.
“We don’t have people drop out because they can’t get out of bed in the morning. Shearing sheep is hard even in perfect conditions.”
Proper animal handling is key to the task and Fajnor spends time instructing students on how to hold the sheep while shearing using its natural tendencies and pressure points. The animals are docile during shearing if the handler is managing property, he said.
“The way they’ve been designed and the way we husband them, (sheep) have a bit of that in them where they are passive. And also we work on positions to keep them comfortable and we use pressure points so that they do sit. You will see some of the students struggling because they don’t have them in the correct position.”
Fajnor said he enjoys shearing, which is a requirement because it also requires patience. It also helps to have clean, dry sheep, and for beginners, animals that are not too large.
The ewes at J & M Farms fit the bill.