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Foley travels the world shearing sheep

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Jayson Foley grew up immersed in the family sheep shearing business and quickly learned the basics at a young age. 

“I’m surrounded by the sheep industry,” say Foley. “Both sides of my family are very involved in the industry and almost everyone runs a flock.”

At 16, Foley began to shear sheep on his own and won the National Western Stock Show shearing contest in the junior division. Being judged on his speed, skill in removing the wool and avoidance of second cuts, Foley came out on top. 

His skilled work helped pay his way through college. The recent CSU graduate is now working to solidify his name in the shearing world. 

World travels

Foley has traveled to parts of the world to shear animals in New Zealand, England, Scotland and Wales. Now that he has graduated from college, he is planning on traveling more. 

Foley does not just shear sheep either. He has worked with larger ungulates, such as alpacas and llamas, internationally. 

“They’re completely different,” chuckles Foley at the difference between shearing sheep and alpacas. “I have to pretty much tie the alpacas down where I just use my body with sheep.”

Besides enjoying the perks of traveling the world, Foley is also pursuing a career he is passionate about. 

“I enjoy it,” say Foley of shearing. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. Shearing is something you can always improve on, and there is always going to be a demand for it. Sheep are always going to be growing wool, and there are not that many shearers.”

Making the global cut

“I started doing the actual shearing when I was 12 or 13, but I started in the business when I was able to jump in the truck and go with my dad,” says Foley. “I think I was four or five when I started working with my family. It has been a neat experience.”

Foley’s father, Dave, was born is New Zealand where he learned the trade from his father. Dave came to the U.S. when he was 19, beginning his global travels. He later established Foley Shearing in Kaycee. 

The shearers frequently travel internationally to follow work and satisfy the demand for shearers. 

“There are not enough sheep in the U.S. to keep us busy for the full year,” Foley continues. “We usually shear in the U.S. from February to June and then the rest of the year is the off-season. Then, we travel to the other areas. The exchange rates also make it better to come back to the U.S., especially from England.” 

Foley, the youngest of the shearing crew, also frequently works with shearers who have come to the U.S. from New Zealand.

“There are only a few shearers in America,” Foley explains. “That is why they come over to the states.”

“I think the average age of shearers has gone up by 10 years in the past few years,” say Foley, who rarely sees someone his age while working.

Business stateside

Foley is currently stateside finishing the mainland shearing season but is making plans to return to New Zealand soon. He possesses dual citizenship in New Zealand and the U.S. 

Foley typically shears from February to June stateside with the main season running from March to May. 

“We try to shear the ewes before they lamb for cleanliness reasons,” explains Foley. “Otherwise the wool gets dirty and is worthless. We try to get all the wool removed before that happens.”

“We remove the wool from the sheep once a year. The belly wool is removed first and baled separately from the fleece,” says Foley, elaborating on the process. “We try to remove the fleece in one piece and do the best job possible. During the process of shearing, all the poorer quality wool is separated from the main fleece. This helps to add quality to the final product.”

Even the unpredictable Wyoming weather does not stop the shearing in the spring.

“Sheep actually handle the cold really well,” continues Foley, “and a lot of ranchers have shelters for them to escape to or big barns to keep them warm.”

Next generation shearer

“Being able to help the animals is what I enjoy most,” says Foley. “If you don’t remove the wool, they would be suffering before long. I get to meet a lot of different people, see the country and getting to travel is also a very enjoyable part of the job.”

The shearing business keeps Foley busy, often necessitating that he work weekends.

“The typical sheep shearer can shear 180 full grown sheep a day,” continues Foley. “This job is fun, but very challenging at times – especially being bent over all day.”

Foley is currently running his own shearing business working on smaller flocks while the family business handles the larger ones.

“A lot of my jobs are in the smaller flocks around Fort Collins and Casper,” adds Foley, who developed a customer base in his college towns. 

He is currently looking towards the future where he considers taking over the established family business when the time comes and will continue to travel the world. 

Kelsey Tramp is assistant editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at 

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