With all this cool weather on this side of the Earth, it's easy to forget how much we have come to rely on wool to keep us warm against the harshest of the elements. And all this is thanks from the humble sheep, often depicted as a white fluffy creature often employed on the night-shift of fence jumping for sleepless humans.
Naturally dyed wool
In reality, sheep are usually a dirty cream to grey matty herbivore with a grumpy desposition. Nowhere is this evident than at a sheep dog trial. They stomp their feet and charge their attackers. I'd never want to be caught against one in a dark alley.
Nonetheless, so much comes from them: wool for clothes, milk for cheese, lambskin for pelt, lanolin for cosmetics and meat for consumption.
And ask any visitor to Australia or New Zealand, sheep shearing is one of those quinessentially Australian/Kiwi holiday experiences. One which I have never seen before, so understandably, the SO was appalled and insisted that I watch a sheep get undressed.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect - perhaps wool flying everything as the shears sped along their bodies, or a shearer cursing and swearing at having been bitten by an irritated sheep. But what unfolded was a sheep, which once wrangled and dragged by its forelegs on its butt to the shearer, was incredibly docile and content to being pinned between the shearer's legs.
His job isn't just about harvesting the wool from the sheep, but also about ensuring the sheep are comfortable. Crutching is a shearing process that removes wool from the sheep's face (so it can see), around tail and the hind legs (so faecal matter and urine doesn't soak up in the wool, preventing blowflies from breeding), and around the belly (so sheep jizz doesn't crust there and lambs can suckle comfortably).
So the next time you pull on that jumper or expensive woolen suit, remember and spare a thought for the sheep shearer, who sweats in a shear shed surrounded by bleating creatures, heavy and hot with wool which is thick in lanolin.