Just a short post today. The past week was spent getting my taxes done; not a fun job. But now it is back to sheep and their wool!
My last post showed two videos of the shearing process. Beto was the main shearer in the videos. In just a couple of hours he had told me that he had sheared 150 sheep! So wonder he had the brace on, but then the floor of the shearing shed does get slippery with the lanolin. The wool is collected after each sheep is sheared and tossed on a platform next to the shearing shed. On this raised platform is a machine that will compact the wool into bags. Each bag weighs between 400 and 500 pounds! A sheep that has a black face will have wool that is black underneath and this wool is separated in the shearing shed. Most of these sheep are pulled aside and will be sheared at one time. Sometimes one will get through but the men running the sheep through the chute try to keep them separated. But sheep will be sheep and get away.
Before the wool is put into the compacting machine, a bag is added and clamped into place, the sides raised and wool is slowly added. The above video shows what is happening with getting the bag in the machine before adding the wool. The machine does all the hard work that use to belong to the sheep ranchers children. In the past before the machine, the children would be put in the bag and the it was their job to stomp the wool down so more wool could be added. That must have been a fun but dirty job with the wool flying all around them and the dirt and lanolin that would be on the fleece!
The bag is continuously changed as it can not hold anymore. The bag may sit on the platform until the space is needed for the next full bag. It is then pushed onto the ground as was seen in the above video.
The bags are then rolled by two men to a trailer.
My next post will present information about what happens to the sheared sheep! Hope you enjoy.
Imagine having to spend most of your workday bent over a ewe or ram holding the animal between your legs or putting pressure with one foot on her stomach so you can spend three minutes shearing her. It is backbreaking work but the men that I met this morning had been doing the work for many years as they traveled the west going from one rancher’s flock to another to shear the wool, a renewable product! Shearing takes place mostly in February in Arizona, although it can be earlier or later depending on the schedule of the shearers. There are no shearing outfits in Arizona. However, that does not mean there are no shearers; these men and maybe women, shear small flocks near them. They are willing to shear these small flocks as they may have sheep of their own and need to stay near their homes. The shearers today came from California. They had already sheared sheep this week so their tents had been set up in the field as they had planned to shear in the same location for a few days. They will move their operation at least once before they will move onto another state and begin the process all over again.
When they arrive, the rancher and family along with his herders will have the fences set up to drive the sheep through a maze into the shearing pen. Some of the sheep are brought into the pens the night before to be the first to begin getting their wool cut. More sheep will be brought in by the herders throughout the day. The shearers will set up their electric shearers and about 9 a.m. will begin the process that lasts for about three hours with only short breaks to stand up tall stretching their backs, move the wool from the sheep they had just sheared and then, it is back to grabbing the next ewe or ram to shear. Rams are sheared but there was none this day while I was watching. Some of this was shown in pictures on yesterday’s post.
Sometimes a small sheep herder in the area will bring their sheep to be sheared as it is too expensive of an operation for them to have the shearers come to them.
There is some redundancy in the two videos. The last shows the line of the sheep as they wait for shearing and what happens as the shearers grab one of them. Both videos shows the activity that goes on within the shearing pen – the shearing, the grabbing of the wool and getting it out of the way for the next shearing job, and the men as they continuously work. Notice that the floor is a piece of plywood that can get slippery from the lanolin found in the wool.
Tomorrow we will look at what happens to all that wool that has been sheared. Each sheep gives 10 to 12 pounds of wool.
The Auza sheep are being sheared this week and it will continue into the next few days. Over the weekend, I traveled to Casa Grande to catch up with the Auza family and the crew who would be shearing for them. I also needed my “fix” on seeing sheep as it had been since last May that I had been able to spend any time with the sheep, the herders and the Auza family. I will be posting the activities of Saturday over the next few days as there are lots of pictures and a few videos that capture the activity that occurs during the sheep shearing. I read on a Facebook page that sheep shearing is actually “spa day” for the sheep! In a way, I guess that is true as they get to shed their long wool coat for the hotter temperatures of the next few months before they are moved to greener pastures and cooler temperatures in the northern part of the state. By then they will have grown some of the wool back on.
The first two videos are as the sheep being brought to the shearing station which for a few days is located where a majority of the ewes having been grazing and caring for their young.
After the ewes and their babies are corralled, the workers begin to corral them into a tighter funnel.
The video tells you everything. The babies want their mommas!
Tomorrow I will post a video on the shearing from a man who has been in the business some twenty years.
In the The Tribune, Holbrook, October 21, 2020, under “One Hundred Years Ago” there was an short article about the sheep industry. I have included the article below.
This is the time of year that many sheep outfits move their sheep to the Salt River area. Obviously in 1920, there would have been many sheep outfits in the state, thus the number of sheep moving. Holbrook shipped many sheep in and out of the area as many outfits were headquartered in and around Holbrook.
Today, the sheep are moved by truck. The three outfits in our state haven’t gone south yet as it is still to warm for the ewes that are pregnant. It will probably be another week before they are moved to pastures in central Arizona. I’ll post pictures later of them being shipped.
Northern Arizona’s newspapers had a fair number of references to sheep men during the months of June, July, and August 1920. References were found in the Holbrook (Arizona) News and the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff). Both newspapers were consulted, for many times they both have the same story, but the Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) would have more information than the other newspaper. For instance, the Holbrook (Arizona) News gave a brief overview of the happenings at the July joint conference of the Cattle Growers’ Association and the Wool Growers’ Association, but the Flagstaff newspaper had covered the meeting in greater detail. Of course, the meeting was held in Flagstaff.
The Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) in one article said that wool prices for the summer were down and gave the price at $0.44 per pound. I searched agricultural statistics for 1920 and found the following information. Wool prices were down from January prices of $0.50 per pound to April prices at $0.44 per pound or a 12% decrease. A further drop occurred in July with a 57% drop to $0.28 per pound. The October price for wool continued the decrease, but at a much smaller decline to $0.26 per pound or just 7%.
Prices had decreased substantially during the middle part of 1920 which forced the Navajo people back to making their own blankets. The August 20 Holbrook (Arizona) News reported that until recently the Navajos had enjoyed high enough prices for their wool that they could allow blankets to be made by eastern manufacturers. The paper stated, “But now the bottom has dropped out of the wool market and the wool of the Navajos is moving slowly, if at all, at ten cents a pound.” One can assume from this statement, that Navajo wool sold at a lower rate than wool from the other sheep found within the state.
A trader at Tuba City, John Kerley, had bought about 150,000 pounds of wool from the Navajo and he was not anticipating making a profit, but was expecting to lose about $10,000. That is about $128,197.00 in today’s money!
It is interesting how the Holbrook (Arizona) News listed information about sheepmen. They were listed as prominent “sheepmen” or just “sheepmen” with such information that they were in Holbrook for a day or a couple of days conducting business. Holbrook would have been the largest community in the area being on the railroad and had stores (H.H. Scorse, for example, written about earlier) to buy supplies for their herders and themselves. Several of the men had other information that I have included. This information was from several different weeks of the newspaper.
From Heber: George Wilbur (he had come up from Phoenix with his family and they would be guests until they went to their home in Heber), John Nelson and E. B. Newman (Newman was taking a band of sheep to the Kansas City Market)
From Silver Creek: George C. Morse (came into town, the article stated, to check out the political scene as elections were just months away), Percy Morse (brother to George) came to town with his wife. Another article found under the heading “Holbrook News Notes” commented that George was a woolgrower of Navajo County and was serving on jury duty. Since he was a freeholder in both Navajo and Apache counties, he could conceivably serve on jury duty in both counties. He told the newspaper, “feed and water are plentiful in the mountains and the sheep are doing fine.” At least for July 9th period, we have a clue as to the overall health of the range and in turn the sheep.
From St. Johns: W.A. Saunders (just stated he was a woolgrower and would be in town a couple of days).
H.H. Scorse (written about previously), John Nelson, and E. B. Newman were also listed in the Coconino Sun for July 1920 as having attended the joint meeting of the Arizona Wool Growers’ Association and Cattle Growers’ Association. I will have more information about the joint meeting in a future blog as a few facts need to be verified.
The Coconino Sun (Flagstaff) for July 30 reported the death of a 25-year old sheepherder that worked for Colin Campbell. The herder, Antonio Valencio, was struct by lightning while watching a flock of sheep 23 miles southwest of Seligman. Just goes to show that sheep herding can be a dangerous occupation.
A week later the paper reported that George L. Pratt was in Flagstaff from his ranch southwest of Winslow. He had shipped several carloads of lambs to the Kansas City market. This is the second mention of shipment of lambs.
This gives us a glimpse into some of the wool growers and the health of the sheep industry during the summer of 1920.
George Wilbur was a sheep man in the early days of the industry in Arizona. He built these buildings sometime in the early 1880s. They were marked on a 1885 Forest Service map, thus the buildings are younger than 1885. No sheep in the pictures, but I will post more information about George Wilbur soon.
The Joe Manterola Sheep Company gave me the two pictures of his sheep crossing a flooded Verde River in the early 2000s; I think I was told 2005. The other picture is his sheep crossing the river when it was not at flood stage. This picture was given to me by George Groseta. Quite the contrast!
The last picture has been my observations of the sheep crossing the river as you can view in previous posts and in media. It was dangerous for both sheep, donkeys, guard dogs and herding dogs plus the herders to cross the river at flood stage. Notice that the donkey’s ears are just above the sheep’s head in the first picture. Mr. Manterola told me that the sheep were going every which way and they were fighting to get the flock across the river where the trail was for the northward movement toward Flagstaff-Williams area. While I would like to see sheep, donkeys, dogs and herder crossing during flood stage, I would be so worried for any of the animals or men. Flood waters are nothing to joke about and can easily sweep all down the river away from protection or worse, death. This would have been the last crossing the outfit would make before arriving at their summer grazing destination.
An update to an earlier article “Where do I live” – A friend sent me some information about H. H. Scorse after he read the forementioned blog. He told me that there are still Scorse in the Holbrook area. Obviously Scorse had lived a while in the Holbrook area as the H. H. Scorse Mercantile building was built in 1890. He leased the building in 1896 to Julius Wetzler for the Wetzler Brothers mercantile store. They ran their business for four years then in 1900 it was operated as the Henry H. Scorse mercantile. There are several older buildings in Holbrook with the Arizona Rancho built in 1881 and the Navajo County Sheriff office building was built in 1882. The former building was used by the Hashknife Cattle Company. These are the two oldest buildings I have found at press time; there may be older ones.
Scorse built a second building in 1922 as it was a trading post in the 1960s according to my source anad is owned by Paul Ortega today. I’m glad these old buildings have been preserved. I can’t wait to see them myself. Pictures of Scorse’s buildings: