Anne-Lise - sheep shearer from Norway
I am a 31 years Norwegian woman, living on a dairy and sheep farm on the coast outside Trondheim/Mid-Norway. I got a master’s degree in biology, a teacher education and worked as a teacher earlier. But I farm pretty much full time now, and go shearing in the seasons. My name is Anne-Lise.
How did you get into the wool and shearing business?
I never worked with sheep until I was 18 years old. My ex-boyfriend was a sheep farmer, and that’s how I started working with sheep. We split up, but a few years later my sister was in an agricultural high school where they had a sheep shearing course, and she persuaded me to join. As I didn’t have anything else planned those 3 afternoons, I decided to join. It could be fun! So I did the course, and it was fun! Very difficult and challenging, but fun! And after a couple of shearing courses I started shearing on farms a little bit when I was 24, in the autumn of 2014. I also competed in the Norwegian champs for the first time that year, in Sirdal. I entered the junior/beginner grade, but was too nervous to do a very good job, so I only got to the semifinal. But again, it was very fun!
Some facts and figures about your job
I have shorn sheep in 9 different countries. The most I have shorn in a day is 370 sheep (9,5 hrs). In a normal day shearing in Norway I will shear 150-200 sheep, and it takes 1,5 - 2,5 minutes to shear one sheep. In a competition I usually shear a sheep in 1 - 1,5 minutes. The fastest I have shorn is 30 seconds. A Norwegian Sheep usually has around 2,5 kgs of wool, and a lamb around 1 kg. We shear the sheep 2 x year, when they go inside in the autumn, and before lambing in spring.
What is your yearly schedule?
I shear sheep in February - March (before lambing), July (old type sheep shorn 1 x year) and September - November (when the sheep go inside for winter). In spring and summer I also travel to the UK to compete in shearing. When I don’t shear, I run my farm back home.
What is important during the shearing process to retrieve a good wool quality?
Important for the shearer is a clean sheep and clean working conditions. Good shearing means not making second cuts or cutting the wool in many pieces. The challenge is to keeping the sheep calm and sort the wool correctly into different qualities.
What is the best and what is the hardest part about the job?
The best: You can always be better, you do an important job for animal welfare and you help farmers who are very grateful. I meet many great people, both colleagues and farmers, and you see many awesome places!
Worst: A very tough, physical job, that is also mentally tough because you have to deal with the pain and sometimes bad working conditions, long days or sheep not ready for shearing. Also, being a woman you have to face some prejudice as well, of people thinking you can’t do the job. (I don’t get that much anymore, thankfully!). Also, it’s hard to deal with people thinking you are cruel to the animal, when, in fact, you are helping the animal, and doing what you can to make the experience as smooth and gentle as possible for the sheep.
What does wool stand for, from your perspective?
Wool is quality, wool is nature, wool is renewable, wool is versatile, wool is warming and cooling, wool is beautiful, wool is strong, wool is flexible. Wool is a real super fibre.
Shearing as a competition what it is all about?
In short: Double quality + time. It’s all about having the lowest score. There is one set of judges looking at us on stage, to see if we cut the wool in pieces. If we do we get a point, which is a fault. The less points, the better. There is a new set of judges looking at the shorn sheep behind the stage. They haven’t seen what was going on on stage. They assess the quality of the shorn sheep. If there are flags of wool left on or ridges of wool left on, we get points/faults. And as we shear, the clock ticks, and the less time you use, the less points you get. So the total score is divided in 3, 2 quality assessments and the time.
The time is not very important in the lower grades, but it’s more important in the top grade. It is important to shear efficiently for the sheep to feel comfortable and not get impatient, but we make sure the beginners have good quality and technique before focusing on speed.
Animal welfare and shearing – what is important to you?
Always keep the sheep comfortable - that makes the job easy for both of us. The shearing is a necessary process, as the modern sheep do not shed their wool, but when a shearer knows her trade, she can do it very efficiently and gently for the sheep. Way faster than a human haircut. The shearing is much like a dance. If I’m on the dance floor, I want a dance partner who doesn’t lose me, or spin me away, but offers support, and always gets hold of me at the right moment. Then I feel safe, and the dance is enjoyable. I try to be the same “dance partner” for the sheep, offering support so the sheep feels safe. And when I do so, it will lay still and feel good. They even jump around for joy sometimes when they get the heavy wool coat off.