It’s time to shear the sheep!


By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Editor

Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Slate Run Living Historical Farm’s Dave Trotter shears a sheep 1880s style using a hand powered shearing machine. Trotter works the clippers while another farm worker turns the crank to power the machine.

Spring means it’s time to shear the sheep.

At Slate Run Living Historical Farm, located at 1375 State Route 674 North near Canal Winchester, they do this rite of spring 1880s style.

In the 19th century, most farmers used hand shears to do the job. But many also used a hand powered shearing machine, which would quickly pay for itself if wool prices were high. Plus, a hand powered shearing machine was faster and removed more wool than hand shears. However, both methods were time consuming. Today, a skilled shearer using electric clippers can shear a sheep in around five minutes.

At Slate Run Living Historical Farm, the farmers use a hand powered shearing machine where one person turns the crank to power the clippers while another does the shearing.

Dave Trotter, a farmer at Slate Run Living Historical Farm, gave a sheep shearing demonstration to a large crowd at the farm on April 13. He brought a ewe from the barn and held it firmly. It proved to be a bit of a wrestling match, but Trotter was in control.

“Imagine trying to give a haircut to someone who is squirming around,” Trotter told the crowd.

Another farmer turned the crank and Trotter went to his task.

“We’ll first take a little off the top,” he joked as he sheared the ewe’s head.

He noted the wool is a little more matted around the sheep’s legs than on other areas of its body. He added that this ewe had recently given birth, so she was already partially sheared around her belly so her udders would be more easily accessible to the newborn lambs.

As he sheared off the wool, small bits of blood appeared on the ewe. He said small nicks from the clippers are unavoidable because the sheep squirms as it is being sheared.

“Sheep produce lanolin (wool grease) naturally, which helps these nicks heal,” said Trotter.
Trotter did his work swiftly and efficiently with most of the eight to 10 pounds of wool from the ewe being sheared off in one piece, which makes it more valuable to buyers. Slate Run Living Historical Farm then sells the wool.

Trotter said the farm raises Merino sheep, which produce a fine, soft wool that is usually used in clothing.

“Merino wool has small fibers and it is not itchy, which is very desirable,” said Trotter. “Wool has barbs on it and a thick wool can feel itchy.”

Breeds, such as Leicester, produce thicker, coarser wool that is used for things like worsted materials or as batting or for flannels. The South-Down breed produces a middle wool that can be used in things such as flannels and carpets.

Visit for information on Slate Run Living Historical Farm and other parks.

Champion sheep shearer
Grant Watkins, born in 1883 in his parents’ log cabin in Madison Township, was renowned for his skills as a cowboy and sheep shearer. He went to California at a young age where he worked herding cattle and busting broncos. While in Nevada in 1903, he developed an interest in sheep shearing, which led to a long career as a champion sheep shearer. He once sheared 307 sheep in one day. In 1928 he sheared 10,049 sheep and throughout his lifetime he is believed to have sheared more than 600,000 sheep. Though his work as a sheep shearer took him throughout the United States and the world, he maintained a home in Groveport and a farm in Madison Township. He lived to be 81 years old passing away in 1964. (Information courtesy of the Groveport Heritage Museum.)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.