Sheep shearing school takes place at the Moffat County Fairgrounds |

Sheep shearing school takes place at the Moffat County Fairgrounds

Seventeen students learned the ins and outs of shearing sheep during the three-day class.

Mikel Patrick from South Weaver, Utah shears a sheep during the hands-on portion of the class. (Max O’Neill / Craig Press)

For the first time since the 1980s, Northwest Colorado hosted a sheep shearing class Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds hog barn.

The three-day class was hosted by Moffat County CSU Extension Director Jessica Counts, along with shearing instructors Doug Rathke of Minnesota, and Anthony Steinfeldt of Central Utah. The event was sponsored by the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners, the Colorado Wool Growers Association, MJK Sales & Feed, Villard Ranches, and Snyder & Counts Feed.

Counts was slated to host a class in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the highly-anticipated class just three days before.

There is really no reason that the region hasn’t hosted a shearing school for over 30 years. Recent interest in hosting a school has been sparked by the need for small flock sheep shearers in the area, although a shortage of sheep shearers is an issue affecting both small and large sheep operations throughout the country.

“I think mostly there really hasn’t been anybody to take the initiative and champion the program,” Counts said. “There has also been an increase in interest in small flocks, which makes schools like this a little bit more pertinent. Unfortunately, these schools are not quite meeting the needs to help our large-scale shearing contractors.”

Over the three-day class, instructors taught 17 students the Australian shearing method, equipment maintenance and repair lessons, and provided guided, hands-on shearing practice. Classroom work included learning the parts of the sheers and how to put it together and fix it when it breaks, while the hands-on part was giving the students the actual ability to shear the wool off of the sheep. The students also learned the proper techniques to remove the wool and how to maintain positions which keep the sheep comfortable while they are being shorn.

Counts first went to a class that Rathke and Steinfeldt taught at Utah State University in 2019, prompting her to want to bring the class a little bit closer to home. She wanted to help people learn the skill in order to fill the need that exists in the shearing industry.

“There is a need because there are large shearing contractors throughout the United States who are needing employees who will travel with them. It’s just a trade and an art that isn’t as common as it used to be,” Counts said.

The 17 students that came to the class traveled from all over the country, with only three of them being from Moffat County and others coming from places like Montana and Illinois. Though the program in Moffat County was just three days, Counts said that in order to become a proficient shearer, people need to continually work at it for weeks, months and even years.

The wool has to be sheared off in order to keep the sheep clean and infection free after being outside all winter. The wool that was shorn from this program will remain the property of the livestock owner, and will be sold to the commercial textile industry through the Northwest Colorado Wool Pool.

Sheered sheep grade around a pen at the hog pen at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. (Max O’Neill / Craig Press)

“If they’re not shorn they can get mud, feces, and other contaminants in the wool which attracts flies and maggots, causing disease and discomfort for the animal,” Counts said. “So it is really essential to the animal’s well being that it gets taken off every year.”

Counts is planning on hosting another three-day beginner school in March 2022 . That will be followed up by a two-day advanced school in the same time period.

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