Shearing sheep Kerr family continues shearing tradition after 25 years
Published on April 11, 2020
In the early 1990s, sheep shearer George Kerr was employed by Dale Aagard in Worland, who was contracted to shear nearly 85 percent of the sheep in Wyoming.
“At that time, the plant didn’t have a name, just the 10-man shearing plant,” says George. “I worked on the plant from 1991-1992, the last season it traveled was 1995.”
George notes the plant employed 33 shearers and had five different plants. The shearers were divided between a 10 man, a seven man, a six man and a three-man plant.
“The 10-man plant was decommissioned and replaced with an additional seven-man plant in conjunction with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association,” says George. “This plant was designed to better class the fleece and be an all-around better plant for the care and processing of the wool.”
“Another major reason the plant ceased to exist was because sheep numbers began to drop following the removal of the wool subsidy program,” he explained. “There were just fewer sheep available to be shorn, and a 10-man plant was too much at that time.”
Back in business
After finding the 10-man plant his father had sheared so many sheep in, Isiah Kerr was able to get the plant back into commission and shear nearly 12,000 sheep in its first year back in 25 years.
“I saw the plant just sitting in a field and I offered to buy it off the owner,” explains Isiah. “The owner told me if I could come get it, I could just have it. The plant needed some new axles and a handful of other repairs and then we were able to use it again.”
The Kerrs recently began contract shearing for the Harold Miller and Sons Feedlot in Worland, which is owned by Andrew Miller. The 10-man plant will be used specifically for the feedlot job.
Miller notes he got in contact with the Kerrs after George followed him home after noticing his one-of-a-kind LAMB license plate.
“I got in contact with George after he followed me home one day,” Miller jokes. “The Kerrs have been shearing for us ever since.”
“Our deal with the Kerrs is they will shear all the sheep in the feedlot before they start traveling and working on ewes,” Miller explained. “The 10-man plant hasn’t been licensed in 25 years, and this year they were able to get over 9,000 sheep done with a nine-man crew.”
Much like the Kerrs, the sheep business also runs deep in the Miller family. Andrew notes his father began feeding lambs in the 1950s with a couple hundred head and two five-gallon buckets. Everyone at the feedlot today is a part of the family.
“I don’t have enough good things to say about the Kerrs and how they treat our animals,” says Miller. “A lot of crews have a bad reputation for being rough but they aren’t. I told them how we operate and they have exceeded expectations.”
“There just aren’t many shearers left in America these days,” Isiah explains. “We offer a shearer development program in conjunction with local woolgrowers associations.”
Isiah notes the American Sheep Shearer Development Partnership
starts with beginner shearers working alongside the Kerrs for one season. Once they can shear up to 100 head per day, they are able to travel to Australia and New Zealand to further hone their craft.
“After they go shear overseas, students will come shear with us for one more season before they are off on their own,” he notes. “My wife and I went to Australia in 2017 and it was a great experience. This trip overseas allows these shearers to shear for an entire year instead of just the six-month season here.”
“We hope to continue with the shearing program as long as we can,” he says. “There will always be sheep to shear and wool to be processed.”
“Training domestic shearers is really important because it’s a dying industry and there is money to be made for those who are willing to put the effort in,” says Isiah. “This is a job that has the potential to pay as much as oilfield wages without having to go to the oilfield.”
He continues, “This job is great for those who enjoy traveling and seeing the world. This is a skill no one can take away and can be picked back up if someone were to be in a bind and need money.”
“I try to encourage young kids who are interested to pursue shearing in the fullest,” he says. “The startup cost is minimal in comparison to other professions and once they learn, they could work on any crew in America and make good money.”
Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.