Shearing time for sheep in Germany’s mountains

USINGEN, Germany (AP) — It’s time for the sheep in Germany’s Taunus Mountains to get their summer look and the shearers are making quick work of relieving the 1,000 or so in Volker Schuhmacher’s flock of their shaggy coats.

A team of four shearers works its way through the animals, keeping the sheep in a firm grip while removing about four kilos (8.8 pounds) of wool from each one.

The most experienced cutters can shear a sheep in two minutes. The job is not as easy as they make it look: the shearers must wield their tools while keeping under control a wriggling animal weighing up to 100 kilos (220 pounds) and not necessarily eager to lose its winter padding.

The ritual is carried out for the sheep’s benefit, however, sparing them from carrying a heavy coat during the warm summer months. Schuhmacher is not thrilled by the growing heap as a helper gathers up the wool and adds it to the pile. There’s no money to be earned from the cut fleece, which is compressed into balls that take up space.

“You can’t get rid of it,” the farmer says. “I still have last year’s wool.”

Arnd Ritter, an adviser on sheep farming to the regional government’s agriculture service, told news agency dpa that one issue is that potential customers want large quantities of wool of the same quality. He said Germany is notable for keeping a variety of sheep breeds, with differing wool qualities, so many prefer to import wool from countries such as Australia, China or New Zealand where flocks are more uniform.

Still, the weather has cooperated in the range of low mountains north of Frankfurt this year. Warmer temperatures are better for the sheep at shearing time.

“When it’s cool and they are naked, that’s not so good. They have to get used to the temperatures without their wool,” Schuhmacher says. “But with the weather now, it isn’t a problem.”

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