Wayne and Maria McDonald run their family farm outside of Cartwright, a village in Southwestern Manitoba.
Every spring, their flock of about 1,100 sheep are sheared to remove the woolly winter coats that are no longer needed in the warmer weather ahead. This year, it took the McDonald’s two shearers and two other workers four days to complete the annual shearing ritual.
Although sheep are the biggest part of the farm operation, the McDonalds also have an online meat business selling grass-fed beef and pork and free-range chicken. “We sell lamb, but just so we have a wider variety to choose from,” said Ms. McDonald. Most of the sheep are sold to meat markets in Ontario, where the prices are better.
Unlike some family farmers today, neither Wayne nor Maria have had to take an off-farm job to supplement revenue for the family. “We feel that we’re doing pretty well,” said Ms. McDonald, “The sheep are a big part of that.”
The couple have two children, Emma, 9 and Ethan, 5, who have helped out a lot on the farm this year. School is now home-based because of COVID-19 and lots of lessons can be learned in the barn at shearing time, including the importance of having a healthy work ethic and respect for workers and animals.
This season, the McDonalds hired shearers Cliff Metheral of Nokomis, Sask. and Stacey Rosvold from Garland Man. to help complete the task.
Ms. Rosvold has been shearing about 7,000 sheep a season, along with hundreds of alpacas and llamas, for the last seven years. She also raises her own flock of 180 ewes, a few cows, horses and raises and trains Border collies. It’s her second year shearing at the McDonald farm.
In his mid 60’s, veteran shearer Clifford Metheral has been shearing sheep for 50 years —20 of those on the McDonald farm. He’s recently cut back from shearing 20,000 animals a year to just 10,000.
When asked about his future as a shearer Mr. Metheral admits he’s getting “slowly out of it. He says he’s tired of sheep that are “the size of cows.” But he’s staying with customers who “look after me good.” The McDonalds are some of those customers.
Now he’s ready to ease out of the business and spend more time home with his wife, Kathleen. “It’s time,” he says.