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Shearing day gets woolly

Expert demonstrates the art of trimming sheep for spring

POSTED: April 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed /The Times

Wool piles up as Randy Pinson shears Petie at the Wauka Valley Farm Sunday. The farm near Clermont opened it's gates Saturday and Sunday for visitors to watch the shearing process.

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Despite gray skies and chilling temperatures, more than 300 people flocked to Wauka Valley Farm near Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the spring shearing of Lynn Johnson’s 59 sheep.

For the seventh year, Johnson invited the public to her 40-acre farm that rests under the steadfast watch of Wauka Mountain.

Johnson’s Cotswold, Corriedale and Old English babydoll sheep grew an inch of wool each month since autumn, but were shorn Saturday and Sunday as small crowds gathered in the barn to observe the age-old spring ritual.

Tommy Irvin, who has served as Georgia’s Agriculture commissioner since 1969, attended the Wauka Valley Farm sheep shearing Sunday. Irvin said he traveled from his Clarkesville home to the shearing celebration because Johnson extended a special invitation to him.

"It’s a beautiful farm," Irvin said at the end of his nearly two-hour visit.

He added that although commercial and residential development is encroaching upon Northeast Georgia farmlands, Johnson’s farm is a testament to the old way of farm life that is still very much alive and kicking.

"(Development) is having an effect on farming for sure," he said. "Economic development and agriculture tend to work at odds sometimes. Hall County is growing rapidly, in particular, but I think we’ll have an agricultural presence for many years."

Johnson said she hopes her granddaughters continue the family tradition of raising sheep and using their wool to create home-spun goods.

"I’m a big supporter of anything Georgia-made or Georgia-grown. It keeps money in the state," Johnson said. "We invite people to our farm here because we think it’s important for the kids to understand the whole story. It’s like how food doesn’t come from the grocery store. Someone puts their life and soul into growing food. This helps people to realize farmers are still out there, and they work sunup to sundown producing food for America."

With the help of her husband, two daughters and two granddaughters who all live on the farm, Johnson bags the 700 pounds of unrefined wool that her sheep produce each spring and ships it by truck to a family-run wool mill in Frankenmuth, Mich. The wool is carded, cleaned and then shipped back to Wauka Valley Farm, where the Johnsons dye the fiber any one of a rainbow of colors and then use a spinning wheel to create strands of yarn.

Johnson and her daughters, Jenna Johnson and Marci Rheinschild, then use the yarn to knit an array of items, such as scarves, gloves, sweaters and blankets.

Shearer Randy Pinson of Cartersville single-handedly clipped all 59 sheep Saturday and Sunday as children gawked at the fidgeting sheep and the mounting piles of wool.

He said one sheep can produce between four and 15 pounds of wool, depending on age and nutritional factors.

"It doesn’t hurt the sheep. They may struggle a little bit, but they’re just trying to get away," Pinson said.

For the past 20 years, Pinson said he has sheared sheep using the Australian method, which aims to remove the fleece in one piece so that it ends up looking like a rug.

"It takes about seven to 10 minutes for each sheep. You set them up on their butt, then shear their belly and roll them around and shear them as you shift them," Pinson said. "It’s the easiest on the sheep, but it’s not necessarily the easiest on the shearer — it kind of hurts your back."

One by one, Pinson deftly wrestled each sheep and pinned it into place with his legs. The clippers hummed, and black, tan and white shades of wool fell to the ground.

After cutting the last fibers off a white sheep named Button, Pinson loosened his grip, and the newly naked sheep bolted from the barn to the green paddock.

"It’s a cool day, but they’re not cold," he said.

Sara Rose McClain, 8, attended the sheep shearing with her parents, sisters and friend. She said it was the first time she had ever seen a sheep shorn.

"It’s weird how the sheep doesn’t hurt the man; it just sits there," she said.

Sarah Rose’s mother, Rachael McClain, is a fashion marketing teacher at North Hall High School and said she brought her daughters to the sheep shearing to deepen their understanding of textiles.

"I grew up on a farm and had cows and raised sheep, but now we live in a subdivision and I want my kids to have an appreciation for taking wool off an animal, spinning it and turning it into clothing," McClain said.

"Sometimes they go to the store and buy clothes and have no appreciation for the people who worked to get it there. It’s kind of a dying art."



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