Today I’ve been an apprentice rouseabout. It appears rouseabout is an Aussie term – it mean a worker in a wool shed who does everything except shear the sheep and class the wool. Things such as sweeping the board (the floor area where the shearers’ stands are), picking up the fleeces and throwing them on the table to be skirted (the yukky edge bits taken off), putting the fleeces in the wool press, picking up the belly wool, giving each other as much flak as possible, getting the sheep into the shed and yards, counting the minutes until smoko……
Our next door farm neighbour comes and uses The GO’s shearing shed so for a few days a year this shearing shed echoes with the sounds of sheep and dogs and men and machines and today – me!!
It was fun. It’s been years since I’ve worked in a wool shed – not since school days. Before I worked more in the yards. Today I was in the shed. Today I tried new things – one of them being throwing a fleece.
Once the shearer has finish shearing the sheep, the rouseabout picks the fleece up off the floor and throws it on the table. Every fleece goes onto the table. To be skirted (removing anything that isn’t wanted – pieces that are badly caked with mud or poo, edges which are matted or really full of burrs, the bit with marking colour on it, and the rare, VERY unwanted black wool spot for example) and classed (sorted by its quality).
The guys made throwing the fleece look so easy – hand here and here, the magic twist of the wrist, pick the fleece up and then throw it on the table where it lands as one piece, all nice and flat. I wanted to have a go.
My teacher for this part was Ben. It’s truly amazing where your teachers come from and in what form. Ben is a stockman and tons younger than me. He very patiently explained to me what to do and then said – Have a go. The magic and mystery seemed to be slightly less mysterious after his explanation. So I grabbed the “back legs” (remembering the fleece is on the ground without the sheep “inside” it any more!!), and then the front legs, and then picked it up in a bundle. I threw it onto the table. It fell PERFECTLY. I, and everyone else, was stunned. Wow – I’ve got the magic touch too. And the second was perfect. I was feeling pretty confident.
But the third…… My beginners luck faded as the fleece ended up falling on the table not flat, twisted, over the edge, on top of itself….. It reminded me of when I was trying to make crepes – real crepes in Brittany (France) earlier this year. Ronan’s crepes were perfect with one swish of his wrist – mine had holes and the thickness varied….. but that’s another story!!
All the guys were patient with me and humoured me by letting me keep trying. Sometimes the fleece would land perfectly, often a little askew or tucked. I had to remember to throw it high – but not too high – kind of straight and level and high – and lift the bottom over the table – and pick the neck up on top – and don’t let a hanging down piece catch on the edge – and hug the whole fleece up in one go – don’t have a trailing bit – and hold onto the back legs – but let go of everything else……
Soooooo many things to remember. All the guys managed this easily – flip and the fleece is out there – flat in one bit!!
The merino fleeces were definitely harder to throw. Luckily I had started on the cross bred fleeces – much easier (it’s all relative)!! You also got a bit of a feel that a fleece was just nicely together and would throw well and others wouldn’t – a “mongrel fleece” I was told. I had lots of mongrel fleeces – a nice way I think of saying I need lots more practise. If I rushed the throwing, when both shearers where finishing together and I was the only one to pick up both fleeces and sweep the floor, I usually stuffed it. Hopeless under pressure!
I learnt so much about wool and sheep and shearing today. But the thing I loved most was being so good humouredly accepted into this team of professionals. They all knew I had no experience but willingly taught me how to be useful. Tolerated my mistakes and just simply told me what to do next time – after having given me a very humorous bad time over my mess up!! I loved how it all flowed. Each person always having an eye on what is going on and if someone needed a hand with something. No one too important to do anything. I thought back to my office days and felt I had not experienced this flow and group focus where tasks were shared. There was only one competition – all of us competing together against the threat of rain.
Thanks guys for a fabulous day of learning and camaraderie. Thanks for making me laugh so much and physically work so hard. I will sleep well tonight!!
Hasta mañana.………… (in the shearing shed)