Growing our Generation: Cunningham Sheep Shearing

Sam Cunningham of Muskingum County is editor of the Sept. 11, 2017 Growing our Generation enewsletter, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals. Cunningham Sheep Shearing also shared a day in the life of the business as part of Ohio Farm Bureau’s Takeover Tuesday on Instagram. 

After more than a decade of sheep shearing as a “hobby,” my wife, Renae, and I formed Cunningham Sheep Shearing which became my full-time work in December 2016. Currently, I shear in all of Ohio, western Pennsylvania and part of West Virginia. 

Why do I like shearing?  I like that it’s a challenge, that it takes grit. The competition of contest shearing is exciting. And, shearing sheep is an art that is becoming rare.

I started shearing in high school because my friend lived on a sheep farm and they needed help. They taught me the ropes, gave me lots of practice, and shearing for local producers became a side job for 14 years. Over time I reduced the number of customers I was willing to take because of the time away from my wife and kids. In 2015 I had fewer than 10 customers. But after a job change we decided in early 2016 to see if I could pick up some shearing customers on weekends, and the weekends became fully scheduled.

woolWe started dreaming of the possibilities of full-time shearing (at least seasonally). After much prayer I resigned from my full-time job in December 2016. We decided it was worth the risk to attempt a full-time shearing business, and if the jobs stopped coming in, then I would go get another job. We didn’t want to look back and say we never tried. And we are thankful we tried. The business picked up in late winter, peaked in the spring, and remained steady through mid-summer. Late summer has been slow but customers are now starting to schedule fall shearing.

We are still learning the ropes of self-employment. Our customers have been kind and generous.  We did not know what to expect at the beginning of this year, but we thankful to have started Cunningham Sheep Shearing.

Targeted grazing

I enjoy reading about grazing techniques. One type of grazing I’ve been researching more about is targeted grazing.

For this type of management the livestock producer and the land manager work in tandem. Land owners and managers may have goals that livestock producers can help meet. Some examples include managing herbaceous broadleaf weeds, or suppressing invasive annual grasses or weedy brush. Orchard and vineyard owners may need to manage ground cover and new bud growth for plant health and productivity.  Targeted grazing can be utilized to mitigate fire risk. Simply put, targeted grazing can be integrated into diverse farm settings.

My natural interest is sheep, and sheep naturally eat weeds, first. They have been used to manage weeds including spotted knapweed and thistles through this grazing technique.

Wool: Some of the benefits

Sustainable: annually shorn and replenished

Resilient: wool fibers can be bent more than 20,000 times before breaking

Durable: can last for over 100 years

Naturally odor resistant

Safe: hard to ignite and won’t melt

Learn more: American Wool Council


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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.