Tom grips the scissors tightly in his right hand while he strongholds a sheep in his left. He makes quick decisive cuts while shearing the long sheep wool. By the end, free of the heavy wool, which sits in a large pile, the sheep looks half its original size. Now the sheep will be able to be cool for the summer and slowly grow back its wool, until next year, when it will be sheared again. I am astonished the sheep did not get hurt once. Even as Tom allowed volunteers who had no experience shearing a sheep before cut some of the sheep’s wool, the sheep is free from even the tiniest of scratches. The scissors never once touched the sheep’s skin.
At home, I own three sheep. Each spring my sheep also get sheared, however the technique used by the shearer is not as kind. Instead of scissors, the common practice in the U.S. for sheep shearing, is to use an electric razor.
As Tom leads us on our tour around his luxurious sheep farm in Killary, Ireland, I scramble to catch up with him. Once I catch up to him I tell him about how my own sheep are sheared with a razor, not scissors. Due to this, I explain, my sheep often get nicked and develop open wounds that are prone to infection.
Tom sputters. “That is just plain cruel!” he exclaims, speechless. “You need to find another shearer this instant!” From his face, I can tell that Tom is visibly upset about how my sheep are sheared. I explain to him that shearers in Maine, where I am from, are rare to find and all that we have employed have used the same method of shaving. Before coming to his sheep farm, I hadn’t even known there was an alternative.
As Tom and I discuss his sheep and my sheep, I take a moment to take in the scenery around us. The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. We are surrounded by a five hundred acre sheep farm, filled with luscious green grass for the sheep to graze and set next to the water, which offers a cool breeze on this warmer than normal June day. It is a sheep’s paradise.
“I used to name the sheep,” Tom tells me, “but now there is just too many, I can’t keep up.” The fact that he cares enough to name his sheep proves the level of care he gives his sheep – a level most large sheep farmers in the U.S. do not. Tom provides the sheep with a habitat now close to extinction in the U.S. Most sheep in the states that are bred for meat are kept in pastures that don’t even pass F.D.A. standards. Tom has created a haven for the sheep to live in. Two lambs skip behind us, bleating excessively.
“They think I’m their parent” Tom explains, “Their mother died during birth, so I had to feed and raised them myself.” In the U.S., it would be rare to find a farmer willing to put the time and effort into raising two lambs on their own. It is more likely, had those two lambs been born in the states, neither would have made it past a week. I am hopeful that before more animals lives are negatively impacted that the U.S. will begin to mimic a model similar to Tom’s sheep farm for raising animals.