Monday, June 17, 2019
Putting Out a Fleece
Wool is actually a byproduct, John Balderson said. It’s the lambs, which can be grown for their meat, that pay the bills.
Sunday, October 8, 2017


If you want a barometer of the upcoming winter, you should have seen the sheep shearing demonstrations at the Sheep Folklife Fair on Saturday.

The first wooly bugger John Balderson wrapped his catcher’s mitt-sized hands around bolted to the other side of the pen. The second was just as reluctant to lose its fur coat, but Balderson managed to drag it into the shearing pen with the help of an assistant.

“No, no—not my coat,” its big bleating eyes seemed to say.

A little boy gets wide-eyed and wide-mouthed as he watches the action.

Balderson paid no heed.

He wrapped his legs around the sheep, digging in with his heel-less moccasins, which resemble elves’ slippers with their turned-up toes. He tipped the ewe over on its back and made a couple long strokes down its belly. He sheered the inside of its hind legs and the crotch.

Then he took the shears from the top of the tail upwards along the backbone.

A youngster watched intently, his eyes wide open as his face morphed between quizzical and wide-mouthed fear for the safety of the sheep.

Shearing can benefit lambs that live in wet climates where rain saturates their coat weighing them down.

Then his face turned to one of amazement, as Balderson cleared the neck and shoulder of wool, and straightened his 6-foot-plus body.

One coat gone in less than five minutes.

He flung the fleece out through the air, letting it land in one piece on the ground in front of spectators.

The soft wool resembled cotton candy.

Sheep wool can be processed to cut down on the shrinkage that used to bedevil wearers of wool.

Balderson will mark his 54th year as a shearer in April 2018. And, despite the decline of sheep in America, he is as busy as ever. He gets one week off a year—at Christmas—before starting the shearing circuit all over again in Washington State.

It used to be ranchers never sheared their sheep in fall. They just sheared a little around the tummy to make lambing easier when lambing time came in January or February, Balderson told a little crowd that had gathered around him full of questions.

But some ewes will inadvertently smother their lambs if they lay on them with a full body armor of wool, he added. So it makes sense to do it early.

And, despite the fight these two ewes put up, sheep don’t get cold when shorn, he said.

John Balderson said his hips and knees would take a beating if he wore boots with heels.

“I’ve shaved some in below-zero weather, and it doesn’t seem to bother them. I’ve never seen them shivering,” he added.

There was one notable exception. A rancher in the southwestern town of Notus had 700 sheep pile up on Easter Sunday when a spring storm blew in on year.

It was April. But they had just lambed. And they had just been sheared so they were stressed. And they hadn’t been fed in timely fashion, which would have given them the umphhh they needed.

Wool from this part of the country used to be taken to Portland to scour and wash but the water got too expensive so now it’s usually taken to Texas.

From there it goes to a woolen mill in Pendleton, Ore., or North Carolina…maybe even China, in some cases.

Coarser wool from Suffolk sheep goes in mattresses. Softer wool from Rambouillet sheep, such as that Balderson was shearing Saturday, goes into shirts.

The sheep industry was caught off guard when synthetics emerged on the scene immediately following World War II, noted John Helle, who works a family sheep ranch in Dillon, Mont. That put a big dent in the sheep industry.

“But our body needs to have protein fibers next to it,” he said.

Wool has come back into favor as sheep such as Merino sheep have been bred to produce super fine, super soft wool.

“Bacteria won’t grow on wool so you can wear SmartWool for days without it smelling,” he said.


The 21st annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival concludes today with the Sheep Parade featuring dancers, musicians and 1,500 sheep down Ketchum’s Main Street. The parade starts at noon.


  • Sheepdog trials continue from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Quigley Canyon on Hailey’s east side. Admission: $3.
  • A free sheep photography outing will leave at 9 a.m. from the Ketchum Post office, 151 4th St. in Ketchum.
  • Flat Top Sheep Rancher John Peavey will answer questions about the sheep industry from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Starbucks.
  • The Wood River Sustainability Center will sell lamb dishes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Irving’s Hill, corner of Main and 4th Street, in Ketchum. Cindy and Gary Braun will provide cowboy and songs that even Roy Rogers would have liked.
  • Peavey will lead a Sheepherder Hike to look at tree carvings left behind by sheepherders from 2 to 3:30 p.m. A shuttle ($10) leaves from the Ketchum Forest Service Park at first and Washington streets. Or, you can follow in your car for free.


~  Today's Topics ~

Ketch’em Alive Even Catching the Kids Now

Bicycle Stunt Man to Headline Summer Solstice Bash

Street Party for the Planet Offers Snazzy Door Prizes












Advertising /Marketing /Public Relations
Inquiries Contact:

Leisa Hollister
Director of Marketing
(208) 450-9993
The largest online daily news media service in the Wood River Valley. We are the community leader, publishing 7 days a week. Our publication features current news articles, feature stories, local sports articles/video content articles and the Eye On Sun Valley show 6 days a week on COX Channel 13. See our Kiosks around the Wood River Valley!
P: 208.720.8212
P.O. Box 1453, Ketchum, ID  83340

© Copyright 2019 Eye on Sun Valley