Shearing starts in October and carries through to February, sweeping across the island, with teams of shearers, rousers (sort the fleeces) and pressers (operate the machine which squishes the wool into bales), working from farm to farm, careering across the country in landrovers. The main team is 6 shearers, and they shear around 200 sheep each every day; piece work forces a focussed day, and the uniform of moccasins is as it has always been. The only change these days is the use by many of harnesses which support the shearers' backs and allow their working life to last a little longer...
The wool in the Falklands is fine - between 18 and 25 micron for the best quality; this is wool which can be worn next to the skin, and commands a premium price. (British military uniforms are 10% falkland wool.. )British wool tends to run beteween 30-50 micron; a substantial difference.The wool is shipped back on the FIRS vessel to Bradford for processing (!). It is critical that it is dry when baled - travelling through the heat of Ascension on the ship, damp wool can self combust and is classified as dangerous cargo.
All this may sound as if we are fleece experts....sadly not... we arived at the Ram and Fleece show, to be face with a line of hefty and handsome rams (ranging from 40 to 100kg), and tables of fleeces waiting to be judged. We were all invite to contribute out vote. Alongside the lifelong falkland farmers, we felt a little unworthy, but we at least gathered we were looking at the degree of crimp and fineness, the colour/luminescence of the wool, and the length of the fleece. We were amazed at the generosity of the Falkland farmers , both in sharing their knowledge, and in tolerating our utter ignorance. A fascinating day, a fabulous bbq, and the chance to drop into Ben Cockwell's studio - he lives in Fox Bay - and see some of his stunning pastels.
We flew home across the water by heli, ansd determined to drive back to west Falkland, to experience it properly.