On a sunny spring morning hints of winter were long gone and replaced by sunshine, wildflowers, bees buzzing and the happy songs of birds.
Hundreds of sheep at R. Emigh Livestock were getting into the spirit of the season too by shedding their winter coats.
While lively music played through speakers, a crew of 19 men, some from the Central Valley, were busy sorting and shearing ewes.
“I like what I’m doing,” said Ranch Foreman Jesus Ruvalcaba, who has worked on the ranch since 1977.
As busy as the men were, however, it’s the month of October that’s the most hectic and hardest, and the best time of year, Rvalcaba said. Last year the ranch had 30 sets of triplets and one ewe gave birth to four lambs, he said.
If the mother doesn’t take care of the babies, that’s when Ruvalcaba steps in with a bottle for feeding.
“There is more activity,” he said. “You have to stay focused.”
Thursday morning the ewes lined up for their annual haircut.
The wool will be transported to auction in 450-pound bails where it will likely be used in China or to make military uniforms in the United States.
“Lamb wool is naturally fire resistent,” explained Ryan Mahoney, manager of the ranch. He added that the lanolin produced by the sheep skin also is a natural sunblock for the animal, which comes in handy after they’ve been sheared.
The ewes were lined up, flipped onto their backs and the men shaved them using electric razors.
“It’s all in how you hold them,” he said. “There is huge technique involved.”
It doesn’t hurt, according to Mahoney.
“Does it hurt to get a hair cut?” he jokingly asked. “They feel great after. We see them play a lot more.”
Each newly naked sheep was stamped with a blue “E” and released to go back to the pasture. The herd, without instruction, meandered to the green grass in the sunshine.
Once a year the sheep will get their full body sheared, but in the fall they will have just their face and tail end sheared, called dagging. Shearing the sheep also helps them prevent getting stickers in the wool, Mahoney explained.
The sheep community thought shearing season would begin earlier than normal because of the drought, however the recent rains put off the season a week or two so it’s back to normal for the schedule, Mahoney explained.