GILLETTE – A group of about 25 people gathered on Saturday in an old, dusty barn.
Some sat at a table, some on a beam along the wall. Others sat on fleece bales nearby. Young and old ate pork plates, beans and salads, as a cattle dog ate under another table.
However, they did not travel to the historic Edwards Ranch south of Gillette just to eat.
They came to cut and Roy Edwards brought his sheep.
“I studied at a school like this 26 years ago,” he said, standing at the end of the troughs as the lunch break ended.
For many of these participants, some of whom participate in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, this was the first time they cut the wool themselves. It is an ancient technique, but it differs and brings its own challenges.
“They make a lot of cuts on the sheep, and they tear up all the fleece, but that’s what you have to learn,” said Ronda Boller, a Campbell County rancher who helped organize the event. “There’s no other way to shear a sheep like this.”
Many sheep from Campbell County have been sheared by Australian or New Zealand shearers over the years. International aid would come from their part of the world, where shearing occurs almost year-round, to Wyoming, where the wool shearing season usually resolves several months before the summer.
The history of sheep shearing goes deep into Campbell County, but the methods differ from the bottom. As the saying goes, “There’s more than one way out of cat skin.”
Well, the proverb has been shown to apply to sheep shearing.
“Their technique is much faster,” Boller said of wool cutters from Australia and New Zealand.
In Wyoming, shearers tied up sheep before working on winter coats. But in Australia and New Zealand, it is more common to cut “freely” without the animals being tethered.
Despite his enthusiasm and willingness to cut again, “free” proved challenging for Cadena Cantu, 14, of Moorcroft, after receiving a lesson from Gus Pellatz.
“I’m small.” I’m low, “Cantu said.
It is not clear when the sheep shearing class was last held in Campbell County, but it is generally agreed that they have become rarer.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for some of these editors to travel around the world to Campbell County, which was partly the way Boller and her husband got the idea to organize a class.
When they needed help shearing their own sheep, they realized the lack of capable hands for the job. Soon, with several sponsors on board, they helped organize a two-day editing school, which the community had the opportunity to join for free.
Wade Kopren led the class with local editors. LeeAnn Brimmer taught wool handling. It was sponsored by Campbell County Woolgrowers Auxiliary, Campbell County 4-H and Edwards Rambouillets.
With the growing shortage of those dedicated to the art of wool cutting, a handful of people left Edwards Ranch on Saturday night two days and a few woolen fleeces closer to keeping this art alive.