Sheep and Sheep ClippingIn the mid-19th century the economy of Auchindrain changed from cattle to sheep. The main product was now wool, for which there was a steady demand at good prices.
When the sheep flock was valued in 1900, it consisted of around 650 animals, half “yowes” – breeding ewes, and half “wedders” – neutered male sheep being kept to produce wool and meat. Sheep need to be clipped every summer to remove their thick fleeces. If left unclipped, sheep can suffer from heatstroke or become infected by flies and maggots.
The Auchindrain’s sheep were clipped by hand using a blade shear. Blade shears are special tools that would have had to have been bought rather than made in the township. They consist of two sharp, flat blades joined at the top by a semi-circular piece of springy metal. Clipping began at the sheep’s belly: the shearer would rest the sheep partially upright and lent against their legs. A skilled shearer could clear the wool off the belly in three clips. The shearer would then move around the sheep’s body, finishing his work at the sheep’s rear.
As the fleeces were clipped, helpers (often children) would ‘skirt’ the wool, picking off any large chunks of dirt and soiling. The fleece was then rolled up, tied and packed into large hessian sacks. Children would be placed inside the sack to tramp down the rolled fleeces, packing the bag more densely.
The wool would be stored in one of the township’s barns – hessian bags piled as high as the rafters. We can see evidence of this in our Bull and Wool House: after clipping, the workers seemed to have sat on top of the wool sacks, writing their names on the rafters with sheep dye. The township’s inhabitants are likely to have sold some of the wool to a dealer and keep the rest for their own spinning and weaving.