Back-to-back: Shearing, spinning, knitting challenge

Wendy Elliott
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Kings County Advertiser/Register

Expert sheep shearer Sarah Nettleton of Arichat is not only good with clippers, but articulate about the tradition.

Nettleton was recently at the International Back to Back Sheep to Shawl Challenge at Gaspereau Valley Fibres.

Nettleton was taught by her late father, Brian, who thought all six of his kids should know how to shear a sheep. Three, she says, took him up on the notion. She currently manages her family's sheep farm and maintains a busy speaking schedule on all subjects pertaining to wool preparation. She can shear, demonstrate fleece throwing, skirting, rolling and also speak about wool processing.

“I have good technique,” Nettleton says, “but I’m not fast. If I was fast, I could earn even more.”

Sheep shearers in New Zealand can earn $300 a day plying their trade. Nettleton knows of one 60-year-old shearer who can trim 400 animals in a day. The rate in Canada is between $3 and $5 per sheep. Nettleton says it takes five to six minutes to shear one animal.

She explained to the crowd on hand how she positions the animal for maximum comfort and speed.

“Their only defense is flight since they have no claws.”

Most sheep are sheared in spring or summer. There are some who shear in the fall so more animals in the barn.

Nettleton first trims the wool on the stomach: it is discarded.

“She’s been sleeping on that for a year.”

The Sheep Thrills team took the wool, spun it and knit a sweater - all in one sitting of just under 10 hours. Manda Mansfield of Gaspereau Valley Fibres says the work was completed almost two hours ahead of last year’s time.

“We also were able to raise $1,018 for the Carey Me palliative care program as well,” added Mansfield.

“It was a great day and fun was had by all.”

The local team consisted of Debra Oxby, Delia Burge, Amanda Nash, Brenna Swinamer, Dale Gruchy, Liz Miller and Deb Orridge Barnhill.

The Back to Back challenge is a world-wide event, with teams racing for the best time.




Geographic location: Arichat, New Zealand, Canada

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