One hundred years ago the Bair Ranch, which is located in south central Montana, was huge. Very huge. It is said that Charles M. Bair owned 300,000 head of sheep by 1910, which was the largest sheep operation in North America. Instead of hundreds of thousands of sheep the Bair Ranch has a decidedly smaller flock, but the operation is largely the same. And as in past years, the first signs of the approaching spring usually means it is time to shear sheep on the Bair Ranch.
I was recently the guest of the Bair Ranch where I could witness up close and personal the time-honored tradition of sheep shearing. I arrived at the ranch long before the sun rose above nearby Martinsdale, Montana and the south fork of the Musselshell River and ranch hands were already busy at work. Sheep shearers from across the United States, England, and New Zealand spend several days shearing the Bair Ranch’s flock of Targhee sheep. It is back-breaking work, but like a lot of work in agriculture, it must be done.
It usually takes less than five minutes to carefully trim the fleece from each sheep. It is then tossed onto a grading table where it is is separated into different piles and grades. The largest and cleanest pieces of wool fleece are the most desired. They are rolled into a ball and placed into a machine that looks like it is used to bale hay. From there the bales are sold in Billings. The wool is then cleaned and sorted again. Ultimately is ends up in a place like a South Carolina textile plant, where a good portion of it is used to make clothing and blankets.
Here in this my latest edition of 20+ photos I have photos from my morning on the Bair Ranch. Aside from the fact that shearers use electric sheers instead of manual sheers, the scenes you see in these images are nearly the same as they were a hundred years ago.
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