Baaaaa! Mehhh! The sheep at the Indiana State Fair Sheep Shearing Contest weren’t too happy Monday night, and they were pretty vocal about it.
Professional and amateur sheep shearers gave more than 120 necessary sheep haircuts Monday night in the Sheep Barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds with hopes to further themselves to the world championships, the Golden Shears. This nationwide contest drew participants from all over the United States—even the sheep shearing world record holder Doug Rathke.
Ever been to a shearing contest? No? An explanation: A shearer’s “assistant” puts three sheep behind a gate, which opens on a hinge for quick access. Competition begins, and a shearer grabs a sheep and sits the sheep on its butt between the shearer’s legs.
The sheep who was just so vocal looks like a cat who’s being held by the scruff: pretty annoyed about the whole situation, but they don’t really move. The haircut order goes from belly, to left side up to neck, down the right side and finishes with the back.
By the time the shearing is finished, the competitor is dripping sweat from all over and the sheep is sent off through another gate, jumping to the ground like a bad golden egg in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s quite a sight.
Once the sheep have endured the trauma of being nude in front of a cheering audience, they are put back with their buddies, dressed in sheep-shaped capes (think barber’s smock) and given plenty of feed.
“It doesn’t hurt the sheep at all. It’s healthier for them, and they’ll feel good once it’s done, but usually they’re pretty ticked off before we shear ‘em,” said Loren Opstedahl, second place finisher. “The way we shear is all about keeping it comfortable for the sheep, which helps us get it done quicker, which helps them get back to their pals.”
Every decision is considered for speed, efficiency and health. Sheep shearing is serious business that requires specialized work clothes: double-denim jeans; a really long, tight-fitting tank top, and woolen moccasins to give the shearers’ feet grips.
“The double-denim is so the lanolin in the wool won’t irritate the skin. It’s never happened to me, but people get these huge boils on their legs,” Doug said.
David Greenburg, the event coordinator, has been planning this event for more than a decade.
“I love doing this—when it’s over,” he said. “It’s stressful. I’ve already started planning next year’s event. This one is a big competition for everyone. These boys are worried about their points. If they don’t do well here, they don’t get to go to the Golden Shears.”
The competition had three rounds: prelims with five heats, semi-finals with three, and finals with one. The top four—in order—were Alex Moser, Loren, Doug and Steve Kennedy.
“I’ve been shearing professionally for 15 years. I had high hopes that I’d win,” said Alex, who hopes to attend the Golden Shears in January 2017.
Although Doug had hoped to place first, winning was not his only reason for competing.
“I do what I do to spark an interest in the younger shearers out there. I want them to get fired up and go hard,” Doug said. “I want more records from the states, and I wanted to get these boys fired up. That’s really what I’m here for.”
Laura Arwood is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.