After all the lambs were born and some sent to camp and the ewes who didn’t lamb were separated out together, it was time to get ready for shearing. Daddy found out that if the sheep had contacted cockle-burrs in the pastures and they had them buried in their wool, he would be docked in price. He found it to be true and now what was to be done? The problem was solved by Mother taking the tongues out of shoes and making finger stalls so they could be used to pull the burrs from the wool. Now all the sheep had to be brought in, caught one by one, held on a bench and worked over. The leather stalls worked fine and protected the fingers, as those burrs were sharp as needles. Old shoes and some new ones were used; what a job! We had buckets of burrs to burn. The hoes, too, came in handy. As the boys were now in camp, they were on the lookout for snakes, but also, burr plants were to be chopped out before the burrs got ripe.
Now that the lambing and burring was over, the shearing had to take place. The first year the boys did the shearing by hand, and it was a terribly big job. I will attempt to tell about the process, because my grandchildren and perhaps my great grandchildren will never see it, for even in my day we had machines for the shearing.
Sheep shearing with old-fashioned clippersThe shears they used were something like scissors, except much larger, but used the same way. The fleece (the wool which came off of the sheep) was gathered up by hand and put into a big gunny (burlap) sack which was about twenty-four inches in diameter and nine or ten feet long. The gunnysack was suspended on a stand. The boys built the stand with lumber which was taller than the sack and had a hoop which held the sack open at the top of the stand. The sack was suspended down to about two feet above the ground. This had to be sturdy enough for a man to jump into it and tromp down the wool to make it firm in the sack. Norman and Floyd did the shearing, sometimes Daddy. Lemmie picked up the fleece and tied it into a ball, and Garney threw it up to the top of the platform above the sack. Lemmie, Daddy, or one of the hired men packed it down by tromping on it; I think they took turns with the jobs. After a sack was well packed up to the top, it was dropped down to the ground by removing the hoop at the top of the platform. Then the top of the sack was sewn together and tied with an ear on each side to be handled and rolled aside. It was an interesting process and people came from mile around to watch it done. I hope I have explained it sufficient for you to get an idea of what a job it was for them to do.
photo courtesy of flickr
photo courtesy of flickr
All work stopped, usually at 10:00 a.m. and Mother, Augusta, Mable and we little girls brought fresh doughnuts, coffee, and water and everyone rested. It took a full batch of bread. Mother made bread in a No. 2 washtub. Was it ever good! She fried our own bread doughnuts. Of course the older girls did the housework, baking, bed making, and the many things keeping the home for all the children and men folk.
The shearing kept up until all sheep on the ranch were sheared and put out to pasture. The wool sacks were kept in the shed until the buyers made a bid. Usually two or three bids. Then the wool was hauled in to Haswell to be shipped on the train to the buyer.
I'm not sure I could have kept up with the responsibilities of the wife and mother of such a large family. Della and her daughters certainly knew how to work and run a household well. And I don't think I know any boys who would be willing to pull burrs from sheep wool - after cutting up their shoes to do so! My life looks pretty soft!