Did you know?
Most Karoo shearing farms still use traditional hand shears and wool presses.
Zwelile Hans is a world champion living in the quiet eastern Free State village of Zastron, in the shadow of the Maluti Mountains.
He isn’t a big-name cricketer, an Olympian or a Springbok rugby player. Zwelile Hans shears sheep better than most people on Earth. The 'Man with the Golden Blades' has been named best individual shearer in the annual World Sheep-Shearing Championships no less than four times in the past decade.
It's well worth experiencing a farm stay in the Karoo during shearing season. The massive old shed feels like a country cathedral as you step inside. Natural light from special skylights in the roof falls onto the working area to guide the shearers and wool classers in their endeavours.
The sound level inside the shed – a constant bawling of sheep or angora goats – rises above the workers’ voices. Occasionally, an outraged ram will bleat shrilly as he loses his winter coat to the catwalks and high-end fashion stores of Europe. To the untrained ear, he sounds just like a child throwing a tantrum.
A fresh woolly beast is led into the shed every five minutes or so. The shearer clamps its body firmly between his legs and begins to work his magic with an old-school traditional set of blades, from the hindquarters to the head.
A firm pat on the rear end sends the sheep or goat down the chute to join his shorn companions. The throwing of the fleece – a rather grand gesture involving a skilled flick of the wrist – commences. The wool graders gather around the lanolin-slicked table and pick at the fleece, inspecting the length, strength and fineness of the fibre.
More and more Karoo farms are opening up to tourists, and one of the special features of a farm stay in the heartland of South Africa is time spent with the wool workers – and the animals – back in the old shearing shed.