While many people have had a bit of a rest during the Covid-19 lockdown, Glenavy sheep farmer Ross McCulloch has been working harder than ever.
The lockdown timing meant he had to tackle most of the shearing himself – he couldn’t get shearers in when it began, and there were sheep that had to be shorn before heading to the meat works.
He wasn’t sure exactly how many sheep he shore.
“I started to count them, then thought
He reckoned it must have been 600 to 700, but he never had a full day to get stuck in to the task, having to fit the shearing around other farm jobs.
“It kept me fit; kept the heart rate going for a few weeks.”
When the Level 4 restrictions were eased, Mr McCulloch was able to get professional shearers to polish off the last 800 sheep in two days.
He was now shearing the farm’s Coopworth ram lambs. It cost too much for the professionals to handle the stud stock, and while he was paying them close attention Mr McCulloch could see which ones to cull for faults.
Each fleece also needed to be weighed.
The thistles that had become embedded in his hands were still coming out, he said.
Wool buyers had advised farmers to store their wool until the market recovered from the Covid-19-related downturn.
Mr McCulloch hoped that would happen before he needed to build another shed to contain it all.
He was dismayed by the low prices for a product that was “so wonderful”. And he wasn’t impressed that so many people knew of its multiple ecological, warmth, insulating and fire-retardant benefits yet still wore clothes and laid carpet made out of “plastic”.
His family has been marketing its own black and coloured wool online and at markets as knitting yarn and in scarves, baby blankets, throws and hot water bottle covers woven by Oamaru’s McLean & Co Hand Woven Textiles under the brand name “NatEwe-Ral”.
Mr McCulloch said the lockdown had led to a surge of interest in knitting, so there had been increased demand for the yarn.
Fleeces had also been sold to people who were spinning wool.
Some of the black wethers’ pelts became sheepskins – something the McCullochs had always valued.
Mr McCulloch’s father, Bruce, was proud of the farm’s products and traditions, sticking with sheep while most neighbouring properties had been converted to dairying.
They were still farming the land Bruce’s grandfather drew in an 1899 ballot.