Local Knowledge - Big Sky Journal

March 01, 2019 1 min read

Local Knowledge - Big Sky Journal

"A March wind blows over the Beaverhead Valley and piles dark clouds on the horizon, harbingers of the coming snow. Tucked into a fold of land outside of Dillon, Montana, a low-slung barn reverberates with noise: Sheep bleat, dogs bark, people holler, and above all floats the constant metallic hum of shearing clippers. Four men work on a raised platform, its plywood surface slick with lanolin, each deftly moving through the sequence of steps they’ve executed thousands of times before: Pull a lamb from the chute, flip it on its back, clamp it between the knees to hold it down, and commence shearing — first the belly, then the legs, head, and back. Roughly 55 strokes if you’re good.

The sheep are docile, the men swift and precise, and two minutes later a full pelt drops to the floor in one piece. The freshly shorn scamper back to their flock, and the shearers begin again. Handlers pick up the pelts and toss them into the air like a blanket unfurled over a bed, and the wool settles over skirting tables — round metal tables that spin — where they will be examined, tidied up, and then neatly folded to be bundled into a bale with others.

The year could be 1900. In many ways, little has changed in the world of sheep husbandry and the mechanics of shearing. But if you zoom out, take in the rest of the scene, and learn about the context, it very quickly becomes clear that this is a 21st-century operation — a modern approach built on the strengths of the past."

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