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Sheep Count Her

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Emily Chamelin of Westminster is known in the region for her sheep-shearing skills. She went to New Zealand to join a sheep shearing crew before she competed in an international sheep-shearing competition.

When Emily Chamelin drives up to a farm, the local sheep run to the far side of their pasture.

Like little children fearing the barber, they know what is coming.

Chamelin is going to give them a haircut.

“When my car drives up, sheep know,” said Chamelin. “If they are not penned, they will try to avoid me.”

“Imagine having to straddle an animal that doesn’t want to be there and then do the impossible: cut its hair,” said Chamelin. “I loved Dr. Doolittle when I was growing up. I can tell you now, the love is not shared. The sheep are surely cussing at me.”

Despite her woolly clients’ apparent reluctance to cooperate, the sheep also sense Chamelin’s respect for them.

She understands their personalities, and admits that she is fascinated by their “group think.”  She loves the smell of their wool and lanolin.

“It’s incredible to walk into the barn and hear them moving around and calling to each other,” she added. “That’s a melody unto itself.”

For 11 years, the 2002 Westminster High School graduate has sheared sheep competitively in the Mid-Atlantic region, traveling a three-hour radius from Westminster to New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pa., and Richmond, Va. At 27, Chamelin estimates that she shears more than 3,000 sheep a year.

Shearing for a living is  “the most honest work you can do,” Chamelin explained. “You get paid to show up – about $75 – and pay is by the sheep, approximately $5 per head.”

“They say that shearing sheep all day is equivalent in effort and energy expended to running three marathons,” she said.

Recently, Chamelin recently ranked 14th among thousands of competitors at the World Blade Shearing Competition in New Zealand.    

Chamelin said she knew she had a knack for shearing when she sheared her way to first place at the National Blade Shearing Competition held during the 38th Annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on May 8, 2010, at the Howard County Fairgrounds.

She competed with five other champion shearers from Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Virginia., according to an article in The Delmarva Farmer, and one of her competitors was her mentor, Kevin Ford, of Massachusetts.

Ford, who taught Chamelin how to shear with blades, has been shearing sheep for 35 years.

“I took a two-day class at Maryland Co-op Extension,” said Chamelin. “But most of the true lessons I’ve learned are through observation of some of the best shearers like Kevin Ford.”

There are fewer than 20 shearers in Maryland, and most of them are men.

“I’m always impressed that she can wrestle a 140-pound ram,” said Ralene Mitchler, who owns a sheep farm with her husband, Randy, in Pennsylvania. “She just grabs them and flips them. She’s slender, but the sheep know who is in charge.”

Whether she is competing or shearing on the Carroll County farm where she lives with her parents, her 5-year-old daughter, Lydia, and a few sheep and dairy goats, Chamelin fires herself up by singing.

“Everyone can tell how I’m feeling by how loud I’m singing, especially if I’m working with a big flock,” she said. “I’ll start with a hum and then sing louder and louder. You can tell what’s going on in my head.”

Carroll County clients and friends who rooted for her while she competed in New Zealand suspected that she sang “We are the Champions” as she sheared her way toward the top-ten in the world competition.


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