“This is not something everybody thinks is a great way of making a living.”
– MARI A STIGLMAYR
The winner and still North American champion hails from the Interlake. That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s not baaad at all.
Maria Stiglmayr of Fraserwood successfully defended her title in the intermediate category of the North American Sheep Shearing Challenge held recently during the Calgary Stampede.
It was the second straight championship year for Stiglmayr, who took top spot in the intermediate category in 2008.
True, this year’s competition wasn’t all that stiff. Stiglmayr only had to beat one other competitor in her class, who didn’t even show up until the second day of the competition.
But first place is first place. And Stiglmayr certainly proved herself last year, besting four
other competitors in what she calls “a real race.”
The stampede’s shearing challenge is a timed and judged competition measuring both speed and quality. Judges deduct points for second passes with clippers, for remaining tufts of wool, or for cuts or nicks in the skin.
Stiglmayr, 25, has been shearing sheep part time for seven years and is one of only about half a dozen professional
sheep shearers in Manitoba. She is also the only one in her sheep-producing family to take up shearing, although her 17-year-old sister is now starting to learn the trade.
The reason there are so few commercial shearers around is that the work is physically demanding, said Stiglmayr, who emigrated at the age of four with her family from their native Austria.
Besides actually clipping wool, shearing involves lifting and dragging ewes weighing between 120 and 250 pounds and keeping them in a position where they don’t struggle. A professional shearer should be able to finish an animal in three to five minutes and keep it up for eight hours a day – with breaks, of course.
“This is not something everybody thinks is a great way of making a living,” laughs Stiglmayr.
But there are benefits, such as getting to travel and meet all kinds of interesting people. And, of course, getting to work with sheep, which Stiglmayr considers a somewhat misunderstood animal with an unfair reputation of being neurotic and prone to dying for no good reason.
Stiglmayr plans to attend a shearing competition at a stock show in Denver, Colorado in January, where she could face up to 60 competitors.
She’s not sure about going to the world championships, usually held in Australia, New Zealand or the U. K. However, Stiglmayr did take part in an international wool-handling competition in Norway last year, where she reached the semi-finals in her class.
Sheep shearing is a business. Competitions are just for fun, she [email protected]