CLARK, NJ — Residents of the Clark area were invited to the town’s Robinson Plantation to watch the shearing of two sheep, Desdemona and Ophelia, on April 17. The sheep arrived with fully grown coats of wool from Stony Hill Farm in Flemington and their wool will go to a wool bank at Rutgers University.
Desdemona was the first brave one to take her turn.
Each spring, the sheep are sheared in April to not only accommodate the change in temperature, but to practice healthy hygiene. The wool on the sheep becomes very long and oily.
“I would shake your hand right now, but it’s all greasy,” said sheep shearer Ben Shineman of Flemington. “I’m part of 4-H, and I do this all the time.”
The oily substance coming from the body of the sheep is called lanolin. It’s the primary ingredient in most lotions. Just a single touch of the wool magically makes the skin smooth. “My hands are never dry or cracked,” said sheep shearer James Miller.
While Desdemona was being sheared, Ophelia was crying out towards her. She seemed jealous that all the attention was turned over to the other sheep. She also missed having a friend in the pen with her.
“Sheep are like us,” said Miller. “They’re very social creatures. If we leave one alone too long, it will get depressed.”
Ophelia did breathe a sigh of relief when Desdemona returned to her side. Both of the sheep stood side to side, breathing heavily. Ophelia was getting anxious, as she could tell it was her turn.
“She knows it’s her turn next,” said Miller. “Sheep aren’t dumb animals. They’re just flighty and skittish.”
Desdemona had reached a point where she allowed herself to be petted by the people around her. Ophelia remained on edge, anticipating what would happen when her turn came.
“The sheep on Stony Hill Farm belong to a small flock of about six sheep,” said Miller. “The mothers have a tendency to be unsure about raising the young at first unless they see another mother in action to demonstrate. They are bred until they no can longer do so and then they are sold to a butcher to prepare the meat to be shared with friends and family. The farming culture is kind of dwindling though. We still share meat with each other. I remember that until I was a certain age, I had never even bought any meat at the grocery store. It all came from the farm.”
It was clear then that the shearers didn’t see the sheep as pets. They viewed them the same as any other animal on the farm. They prepared themselves for the end result by not getting too attached.
“We can’t get too sentimental about them,” said Miller. “Although I don’t think I could ever slaughter them, it’s just a necessary evil. Then again I guess that’s what the shepherd does. He cares for them but then a time comes when it’s the end.”