Wild and woolly | TSLN.com

Wild and woolly

I have always liked sheep, although I hasten to add, the relationship has always been strictly business. In high school I raised market lambs and later ran a commercial flock right alongside my cows. As part of my sheep project in the FFA I learned how to sheer sheep and how to dress them. Although I hasten to add, once again, that by “dressing” them I did not clothe them in frilly dresses and silly costumes and enter them in Lady’s Lead contests. (Do they still do that?)

Because I was about the only person in our county willing to STOOP so low to shear sheep, I became fairly proficient at it. Along with some commercial flocks and student projects, once a year I was called upon to shear the sheep at a large park near our town. The words “park” and “sheep” being relative in this case. The park was a hundred acres of dirt and poison oak that was as inviting as a mound of fire ants. I still have no idea what breed the sheep I sheared were. All I know is they were wild and woolly!

The ewes were part of a “zoo” in the park that included a pen of starving coyotes, deer, peacocks and two llamas. In other words, animals you could see in the general vicinity without having to go to the pathetic zoo. It was the kind of politically incorrect place that in today’s society I’m quite sure the animal rightists would have picketed. And in this case, justifiably so. The zoo was a neat as a pen… a pig’s pen, and it smelled worse than a multi-user litter box. Even buzzards bypassed the place.

The fellow in charge of the park was also supposed to take care of the zoo but he hated the animals. Mostly what he did was drive around the park all day keeping his uniform clean. When he met me at the appointed hour to unlock the sheep’s cage it was hotter than Phoenix in June and I couldn’t help but notice that the two llamas were suffering terribly. I could tell that the park ranger felt a little guilty that the llamas had never had a haircut and he asked if I would shear the llamas too. Although I’d never shorn a llama before I accepted the challenge. A move I would regret later as the outcome was not, shall we say, resume-enhancing.

My specialty in shearing sheep were Suffolks because they had bald faces and no wool on their legs, the two anatomical parts that I always found the hardest to shear. Sadly to say, the park sheep were not Suffolks. They had wrinkly necks and fought my every move. Normally sheep will calm down once you get them on their rumps but not these. I had to tie them up to shear them like Mexican shearers do. Making matters worse, their wool was filthy and it dulled my blades to the point where I pulled more wool than I cut. Normally after I sheared a sheep my boots would be polished to a high sheen due to the lanolin in the wool but after shearing the park sheep my boots were covered in dirt and cockleburs. The ewes looked worse too because I put KRS everywhere I cut them and they all ended up looking like black sheep.

Then it was on to the llamas. I was really making the fur fly, or whatever it’s called (llamas don’t have wool), when I noticed that the first llama was not putting up much of a fight. That’s probably because the llama was deader than disco. Now, I hate to admit this but I’d actually had this happen to me once before when a lamb died while I was shearing it. The lamb’s owner wasn’t mad that it died, just that I had failed to dress it out in a timely manner. So, remembering this lesson, I did my best to dress out the llama even though I didn’t know if people ate the darn things or not.

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I fully expected to get yelled at by the park ranger for killing one of his two llamas but when he came back he looked at the llama carcass hanging from a tree and said, “The sheep look rough but I sure do like the job you did on that llama.” And he meant it! He cut the carcass down, threw it to the starving coyotes, booked me for the following year and gave me a generous tip for downsizing his zoo.

email lee pitts at itsdapitts@charter.net