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Died in the wool
It’s the Pitts
By Lee Pitts

In my life I have worked as a roustabout in the oilfields, cowboyed on a ranch, stacked hay, and picked lemons, oranges, and avocados. None of those jobs were as hard as being a barber to a bunch of sheep.

Ah, but the financial rewards of shearing sheep made it all worthwhile! I only got $1.25 per head if the sheep was a bald-face ewe or a lamb but I got to keep the wool! If the sheep had a woolly face, or was a mature ram, I charged 25 cents extra for the additional work involved. And if anyone wanted to keep the wool I added on a dollar per head. By keeping the wool from the three years that I shaved sheep I was able to time the wool market and sell at exactly the lowest point in the last 50 years.

And yet I still had people complain about my extravagant prices. A lamb named Pooey showed up one day at a fairgrounds where I was shearing for small flock owners. Pooey was accompanied by his 4-H owner, a boy who wanted to be there even less than Pooey, and his domineering mother from the hoity-toity part of town. She was as out of place at a sheep shearing as a cow buyer in church. I learned that Pooey had been a 4-H fair project gone terribly wrong.

Due to a lack of care and feeding on the part of the young man, Pooey had been a nutritional underachiever and had failed to make weight. And because the urbane family could never eat anything they’d raised, Pooey was now part of the family. Much to the consternation of the young boy who probably never wanted the lamb to begin with and now had to feed and care for Pooey until one of them died of old age.

Pooey’s adopted mother watched me as I sheared and every time I’d nick a sheep she carried on as if I was an ax murderer. These were harmless cuts that are inevitable when shearing sheep but whenever there was the smallest sign of blood Pooey’s mother began shrieking. It was okay; mind you, if the blood was my own.

At times like this, I’d employ a little psychology I learned from a veterinarian. He told me that whenever he was unable to diagnose an illness he’d always give the animal an injection anyway. Usually just a shot of vitamins. This made the animal’s owner feel better, although it didn’t do much for the injured party. Then if the animal got well the vet got credit for making it better and if the animal died, well, he’d done everything he could to save it. So every time I nicked a sheep I’d brush on my secret mixture of pine tar. This usually calmed the owner right down.

When it was Pooey’s turn, the mother argued with me for 15 minutes about my extravagant prices. She was especially irate that I charged a buck and a quarter plus I wanted to keep the wool too. As if she was going to spin yarn and knit a sweater.

The minute I flipped Pooey gingerly on his rump I knew that something was wrong. Pooey’s legs were inoperable, his eyes glazed over and he was as lifeless as a teenager in chemistry class. Pooey had either just experienced a cardiac event, had committed suicide or was exhausted from watching me work.

Whatever the reason poor Pooey was now taking “the big nap”, as they say.

As I pulled the wool over poor Pooey’s eyes, the mom realized that the lamb was deader than a can of corned beef. “You killed Pooey,” she wailed.

“I’m very sorry,” I said. “I’ve never had this happen before.” I tried to explain that sheep spend their lives looking for creative ways to die but the damsel in distress would hear none of it. I was feeling terrible when the young son approached with a glow on his face as if he’d just been let out of jail. He seemed to be delighted that his lamb was now deceased.

“Here’s two dollars,” he said with a wink. “Keep the change.” It was the first and only time in my life I’d been tipped for shearing a sheep, albeit a dead one. “And you can keep the wool too,” said the young boy as he skipped merrily away.

This farm news was published in the June 14, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.