“The first rule of shearing is the shearer has to win.”
So says Amy Wolf, teacher, mom, livestock judge and, yes, sheep shearer.
Did you catch that? Wolf.
“As in predator,” she noted before hundreds of spectators who had turned out on Saturday for the annual shearing demonstration at Bellevue’s Kelsey Creek Farm.
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To prepare for the afternoon’s work, she sat splayed on the stage, reaching for her toes.
“Every athlete has to stretch,” she said with a smile.
Then Wolf proceeded to show a steady procession of sheep she meant business.
First, she guided her prey — 200 pounds of fluffy ovine — to center stage, holding the animal under its chin.
Next came the fake-out.
“Sheep will want to do the opposite of what you want ’em to do,” explained announcer Doug Davies. So if you want to pull a sheep onto its side, give it a quick shove forward.
A life lesson, perhaps? Wolf smiled once more.
Then she rocked the animal gently and, lickety-split, had its head locked between her knees. Some ewes looked startled, others almost somnambulant.
While some cooperated, others wanted nothing to do with this nonsense. In the latter category was the “herd leader.” Twinkles. The thinker in the group, Wolf said.
So it would be a battle of wits. And if Twinkles had her druthers, she’d pop up and bolt.
“It’s finesse,” Wolf explained, “not brute strength.”
Wolf, of Monroe, learned to shear from her dad, Al Schwider, who with his wife, Lin, runs The Pines Farm in Maple Valley.
As an eighth-grader in Los Angeles, Schwider took an interest test that suggested he was suited to farming. That wasn’t going to happen in Los Angeles, but a job at Boeing allowed him to move his family to Maple Valley in the 1970s, where they set up shop.
How did Schwider learn to shear? From a poster that came with his first set of clippers. After about 100 sheep, he said, he began to get the hang of it. And with the skills Schwider taught them, Wolf and her brother were able to earn enough to put themselves through college.
“You have to have the right rhythm, the right stroke,” Wolf explained. “It’s physics. Like a wrestler.”
In less than four minutes, the job was done. A pile of fluff lay on the stage, and Twinkles was led back to the pen.
The other sheep seemed to have already forgotten her. They sniffed at her skin, as if they were trying to figure out who this strange-looking creature was, and what she had done to her hair.
Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org