Sheep shearing a family affair

Mitch Lies/Capital Press Mike Cowdrey tags ewes in preparation for lambing Nov. 18 at a farm in Brownsville, Ore. Behind him is his son, Cody, and his father, Lynn.

Three generations of Cowdreys take on family business

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

BROWNSVILLE, Ore. -- Sheep shearing, according to veteran shearer Mike Cowdrey, isn't for everybody.

"It's the kind of job that you either like doing or you want nothing to do with it," he said.

The Cowdrey family must love it.

Cowdrey, 51, is the middle of three generations of Cowdreys involved in shearing. Mike's father, Lynn Cowdrey, 75, is semi-retired from the business, but still helps out now and again.

And he still has what it takes, Mike said. On his 74th birthday, Lynn sheared 100 lambs, Mike said.

"If the sheep aren't fighting, it's a good deal," Lynn said, when asked about the pluses and minuses of sheep shearing. "If they start kicking, it's bad."

For Mike's son, Cody Cowdrey, 25, who works as a farm hand on a south Willamette Valley farm, sheep shearing is a second job.

"It's a great part-time job for me," he said.

Sheep shearing isn't for the unskilled, Cody said. "You just don't walk in and get her done," he said. "It takes a while to learn."

On Nov. 18, the three generation of Cowdreys were tagging ewes outside Brownsville.

Mike said he can tag about 50 an hour. Tagging, which is easier than shearing, is done in preparation for lambing. The most lambs Mike ever sheared in a day is 307, he said. That week, he averaged 263 lambs a day for five days, he said.

Sheep shearing can get competitive, he said. "It's pretty easy to get to racing doing it," he said.

Sheep shearing isn't immune to economic downturns, Mike said. But the family business rarely gets hit too hard.

"Sheep have to be sheared," he said.

At worst, he said, when sheep numbers drop in the valley, he is forced to travel more. And traveling, he said, is one of those pluses for sheep shearers.

"We get to travel and see a lot," Mike said. "That's one of the big pluses. Plus you are your own boss, and you meet a lot of people."

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