Veteran shearer Aaron Loux has helped teach shearing at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY for four years, and works shearing for shepherds with herds of one to 3000. He first attended Cornell’s shearing classes when he was a junior in High School. He lives a nomadic life, travelling to the farms where he shears, with his home base at his parents’ Busy Corner Farm in Cummington, MA. He served for two years as co-chair of the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair.
When Loux was young, his family would hire a shearer at their farm. “I kind of dreamed of doing it from a young age,” he said. He sheared his first sheep at age 10, held in place in a headstand.
“I went to shearing school and found out how to do it right. Friend and neighbors wanted me to shear. Pretty soon it became my profession. I put myself through college by shearing. I was told by my parents and mentors to find another job to complement shearing. I find enough work shearing, don’t have time for a second job. In the spring I shear seven days a week, from mid-February to the end of June,” he said.
He travelled to Australia and sheared in New Zealand for four months to experience “shearing with the world’s top shearers every day… It’s like a sport with skill involved, players more talented than I am.”
Loux teaches shearers to take their time and to relax. He finds that shearers come in two extremes, some too aggressive and others too timid. Loux aims for somewhere in the middle, working towards an efficient pattern in rhythm with a lot of footwork. “It’s stressful for a sheep to be held down for an hour,” he explained.
Loux works for farms in New York that hire four or five shearers to shear their flocks of 2,500 to 3,000 sheep but on average, herds tally 100 sheep in size.
He currently sells yarn through his second business, Left Hand Lazy, so named because, “When you’re shearing, people think your right hand does the work. It’s the left hand doing a lot of work, leading the skin, moving the wool for the right hand to make it a good clean blow.” Instructors once told him his left hand was lazy, something he still keeps in mind.
He rewards producers who have produced nice wool; if they have nice wool and nowhere to sell it, he ocassionally buys it. “I hate seeing wool thrown away or not used,” he said.
All wool is different, affected by factors of quality, weather, sheep stress, genetics and breed. Certain types he prefers. “Merino wool is the finest there is. Fineness has to do with softness. Merinos don’t do very well here, or they already have a market,” he said. “Border Leicesters make very durable strong wool that is good for sweaters, though not as soft for being against skin. My yarn tends to be very masculine, making a good man’s sweater. It’s a grayish black color. In the commercial market, black wool almost worthless.” Mixing it with commercial white wool, he developed dark charcoal yarn.
During the winter, he is involved with the lambing of his own sheep. He recently added Border Leicesters to his existing herd of Polled Dorsets, Hampshires and Tunis.
He has 50 adults wintered over, and expects as many as 100 lambs, which he is raising with his older brother Nathan.
“What I like best is working with the sheep and the shepherds. I like the flexibility and being independent.”