For newcomers to the Washington State Shearing School, Sarah Smith has a single recommendation: Get prepared.
“It’s going to challenge them physically and mentally,” said Smith, Washington State University Extension regional specialist for animal sciences in Moses Lake, Wash. “It’s about having those exercises and stretches so you have the right muscles ready and then be able to visualize the process, so that when we put a sheep in your lap and a sharp pair of clippers in your hand, your mind can start to think through it. A lot of times, if people haven’t mentally and physically prepared themselves, they almost kind of lock up and struggle miserably.”
Smith started sending students exercises in November to prepare them for the course April 2-7 in Moses Lake, Wash. Most students begin to understand the process around day three or four, she said, likening it to learning how to ride a bicycle.
“They are going to hurt after day one, I guarantee you,” she said.
The school has space for 16 students and filled up in one day, Smith said. Sixty people are on the waiting list, and discussions are underway to offer a second school in the fall, she said. To get on the waiting list, contact Smith at 509-754-2011, extension 4363, or email email@example.com.
Established in 1977, the school trains commercial shearers and helps small-scale ranchers learn to shear their sheep.
Most sheep need their wool removed annually for the comfort of the animal and for sustainable product to sell.
Some breeds have to be sheared twice a year.
Smith estimates there are roughly 50,000 head of sheep in Washington. In 2017, the state produced 270,000 pounds of wool.
Demand for finer, next-to-skin wool has skyrocketed. Smith credits the renewed interest to groups of consumers interested in getting back to nature, and the rediscovery of wool’s properties, such as breathability and moisture resistance.
Australia and New Zealand have fewer sheep than previously, Smith said, which has contributed to the increased demand.
Coarse wools are in low-demand, so the industry is looking for other uses, such as in sneakers and carpeting, Smith said. Some fiber artists also use coarse wools, she added.
“I think sheep lend themselves well to small farms and beginning farmers,” she said. “It’s not quite as intimidating as cattle.”
The school, put on by WSU Extension, the Washington State Sheep Producers and Columbia Basin Sheep Producers, is at the Grant County Fairgrounds.