Emily Chamelin on Harvesting Wool…
Last year just after WOVEMBER was over, Susan Gibbs wrote this amazing post about her shearer, Emily Chamelin. The whole team at Juniper Moon Farm were hand-making and selling prints called “Where sheep may safely graze” to raise funds to send Emily to The Golden Shears competition.
“Where sheep may safely graze” © Juniper Moon Farm
As a special treat for all WOVEMBER readers, we thought you might enjoy learning more about the Golden Shears competition – what it involves, and what Emily’s experience of attending was like! We therefore present our Q&A with Emily Chamelin, with photos that she has kindly us to accompany the text. For further information on Emily’s trip to New Zealand, you can read more on her website.
1. First of all, could you explain what The Golden Shears is? What do you do when you go there?
It is an Olympics of sorts. Every country gets to send 2 representatives for each event… machine shearing, blade shearing, wool handling, and wool pressing. I went for blade shearing.
The event is held every other year in a different host country. It was in Wales in 2010 and will be in Ireland in 2014. Each host country typically provides Shearers with some practice sheep and then a long list of “cultural activities” like parades, dinners and meet’n'greets. The actual competition consists of 3 rounds where each person attempts to get into the top 8 final heat. There is also a secondary competition featuring country teams based on how their individuals place. In a competition there are 3 scores that get added together to make the final score. The lowest score wins. The first score is a time score. For every 20 seconds you acquire a point. Shearers in the professional machine shearing level are shearing each sheep in 45 seconds, for the blade shearing you have to shear a sheep in 2 – 2 1/2 min to be competitive. The next score is the board score. A rotating panel of judges stands over you and every time you make a mistake they will click a small counter in their hand (typically right next to you ear so you can hear it!) a mistake includes second cuts, and skin in the wool. The last component is the pen score, in which once a sheep has been shorn and is pushed off the stage a judge looks over it. The job is graded on appearance; any ridges of wool, wool left on (especially in the armpit areas) and any cuts, accumulate points. These three scores are combined to make the final score.
2. What was it like to represent your country at The Golden Shears? Is this the first time you have represented the USA there?
It was absolutely amazing. This was my first time as a USA rep and to be able to go to New Zealand on top of that was unbelievable. The Kiwis really go all out on their shearing sports, and it shows in how professional they were in all the details. We got to walk in the “parade of countries” where all the representatives walked, and to be in the company of so many great Shearers was overwhelming.
USA Sheep Shearing Team: from left, Kevin Hickman (team manager), Emily Chamelin (blade shearing), Kevin Ford (blade shearing), Loren Opstedahl (machine shearing), Alex Moser (machine shearing), Terence Pelle (wool handler), Leanne Brimmer (wool handler)
3. Which events did you compete in at The Golden Shears awards? I’ve taken a little look at your amazing page here: http://chamelinshearing.com/new_zealand – what does the photo that says “Emily Chamelin, USA, 1″ refer to?
That picture just shows the monitor over my stand for the competition. It shows my name and country. The yellow number is my current “board score” which I explained above. The blue 3 is just which stand or spot I was shearing on, the white 1 is just letting people know I am shearing my first sheep for that heat, it will go up as I pull the next sheep out.
4. What kind of sheep did you shear in New Zealand? And did you develop any special loves/hates for specific breeds while out there?
I was there during summer so I ended up shearing lambs the whole time I was there working. I was working in the Christchurch/Canterbury region which is similar to where I shear in the midatlantic in terms of climate. Most of the lambs were Romney crosses of either Texel or Suffolk for meat purposes. Nice shearing lambs for the most part. Texel crossed lambs were strong so you had to hang on! Suffolk lambs just ended up being a bit thinner. For the competition we sheared Romneys again and some Corriedales in the blade heats. I HATED the Corriedales as they had pebbles and rocks in the wool which dulled my blades and made my blade shearing heats pretty miserable. I loved most of the Romneys we did as New Zealand has this wonderful habit of shearing most sheep twice a year (called second shears). The wool is clean, not matted at all, and the sheep shear like a dream. They were great. Just so you know I found that Romneys in New Zealand had wool that was more like Border Leicester’s over here. Very strong.
5. How does shearing sheep at big, organised contests like this differ from the work you normally do as a shearer?
Contests are completely different from my normal work. While in a contest you have to be clean and quick, I get people on my jobs telling me to PLEASE NOT GO TOO FAST, which I think is funny because a really good shearer is quick and efficient! I was awestruck in New Zealand by how good the Shearers were. Also on jobs I tend to spend more time talking my clients through the process, discussing management issues from the past year, analyzing the wool, and educating. This tends to break your concentration and it is hard to get into a rhythm. I actually have very few opportunities to practice for competitions when on the job. In a competition you are expected to shear 3-5 sheep in quick succession which can test your endurance if your not ready for it. I also feel less pressure shearing in competitions because while a judge can be tough nothing is as tough as a client when you’re shearing their pets!
Emily shearing at Juniper Moon Farm, photo © Susan Gibbs
6. What was the best thing you gained from competing in the Golden Shears awards?
I gained a ton of confidence because of this opportunity. I was able to hone my shearing pattern to be more efficient and have even fewer second cuts; I met and made contacts with many top Shearers all over the world which will allow me to shear practically anywhere on the globe now; and most importantly, I made some great friends. Shearing is a pretty tight community and while there are some rivalries within, I have never met someone who would not help me when I sought advice. I have so much support and was always encouraged. I love this industry and the camaraderie that results from the hard work and long days.
7. It looks from your amazing report like you were in New Zealand a little in advance of the Golden Shears awards, and that you went on some kind of shearing course? Did you learn a lot on the shearing course?
The shearing course was the best thing I could have done. In New Zealand their courses are all covered by their university system so I got course credit for it! The instructors were all highly qualified and were fantastic! They really hammered home proper shearing techniques. I find that when I get lazy or tired I start shearing “whatever I can reach” which is poor form, can cause unnecessary stress on your body, slows you down and causes more second cuts. My second day in shearing school had the instructors cussing me and demanding that I shear properly! If I didn’t follow the pattern and number of blows EXACTLY, they were on me! It was great because now I really keep to the pattern and have gotten faster with even better quality. They were unbelievable. Plus the school got me immediately hooked up with a contractor who worked me 6 days a week for the next 6 weeks until the big competition. They even came out to the sheds where I was working when I was struggling and gave me additional instruction. They were great.
8. Do you have a shearing hero?
When I was first learning and pursuing a career in shearing I always looked up to Doug Rathke of Minnesota who has done a lot for American shearing. He teaches a well known shearing course in New York, has put out a shearing DVD, and has competed on the American shearing team for many years. When I was researching Shearers in America his name kept coming up and I began to look to him as someone I wanted to be like. I wanted to be well known in the industry and make a difference in American shearing. I am pleased to say that he is now a good friend and still a large force in America’s shearing industry. I also looked up to the Bowen brothers of New Zealand who where influential in standardizing the shearing pattern, wrote several books on the subject of shearing and who impacted the New Zealand shearing industry in many influential ways.
9. What is most important to you, when it comes to shearing sheep? I mean, what are the areas of your work in which you take the greatest pride?
I take great pride in being able to shear with almost no second cuts and still have the sheep look good. Granted their are some sheep which are harder to shear then others but I am always striving for that “perfect fleece/smooth appearance” combo. I also strive to not cut the animal. While it still happens (I liken shearing to shaving while walking… not particularly safe) I work really hard to minimize stress on the animals, and to shear them quick, clean, and smooth.
10. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and to send us these answers… we think it will be amazing for WOVEMBER readers to be able to learn more about the work involved in getting WOOL off sheep!
Thank you so much for interviewing me! I think it is so important for fiber users to really be aware of what it takes to produce the wool they love, and to learn that EVERY fleece must be harvested by hand by a skilled crafts person. I love my job so much and love to see people enjoying wool in all it’s glorious products!
Thank you Emily for today’s amazing Q&A, and for the kind permission to use all these photos of you shearing.