Danny Smith of Kingsville, Mo., pulled up to the farm around 2 p.m. He didn't leave until a little more than two hours later, but he had completed his job in half an hour. Smith has been shearing sheep for 40 years now, learning when he was 14 from his father. He deftly removed the winter coats from seven sheep without breaking a sweat, chatting all the while with the small crowd watching as he held the sheep between his knees and his electric shears in his right hand. With his left hand, he lifted one of the sheep's legs, then another, straightened out the tail and even flipped the sheep over to make the long back strokes. Watch a video of him at work below.
Smith is a busy man this time of year: Shearing 100 sheep and/or goats in one day is not unusual. He often travels through several farms in one area, stopping for food, refreshment, and a spell "spinning yarns" about his life's work on the front porch. Afterwards, he moves down the road to the next farm and the next handful of ruminants awaiting their spring "haircut." Shearing sheep is an art not many undertake, and I couldn't help but wonder, as I talked with Smith and watched him working, if anyone was going to take his place in the years to come. Who would be his apprentice?
In this age of Wal-Mart superstores and mass production, it's hard to believe there are still artisans, such as Smith, who specialize as small-scale farming artisans. Similar to the traveler who repaired horse shoes, the hand-welder of metal farm tools, the mobile abbatoir, and the basket weaver whose creations held farm-fresh eggs, our small-scale farms and homesteads are in need of these small-scale specialists who keep the farm running. They need our support, our homesteads need their skills, and the sustainable farming and local foods movements need to incorporate these positions more and more as we grow in number and need. (Talk about job creation!)
Do you know of a similar craftsmen and tradeswomen who work in your region? Let us know about them in the comments field below.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.