How to Throw a Fleece

Rural Australia

I recently had the opportunity to work in a woolshed as a woolhandler (more fondly known as 'rousabout'). Knowing how to throw a fleece is vital. I'm still learning. Sometimes they land nicely, sometimes not. 

Right is Sandy Batterham mid-throw. He has good height and it looks to be coming down nicely.

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Working at the shearer's pace

Graeme hard at work

The shearer sets the pace and it can be pretty frenetic, especially if you are supporting a gun shearer. They move fast. As soon as the fleece is free of the sheep, you have to pull it up, throw it and then turn back to clear away the locks (fluffs of wool left after the fleece has been pulled up) ... all done while the shearer is grabbing the next sheep and dragging it in ready to start shearing again. The shearer gets paid by the sheep so he doesn't want an incompetent woolhandler slowing him up! It's pressure.

Sometimes I'm so excited when I throw a good fleece, I forget to turn and clear away the locks . It's not the end of the world but preferable for the shearer to have a clean board each time.

The way you pull-up the fleece is critical. You have to hook your thumb and hand around the legs and gather up the fleece in layers, catching the shoulders in your hand last. When you throw, you let go of the shoulders first it, give the right height and force, letting go the legs last. If you get it right the fleece will fall evenly over the table.

Here's a great example of Mariah-Rose Simmons. It lands quite nicely.​

How NOT to throw a fleece

This is an example of an "overshoot". If you throw the fleece too hard it overshoots the table. This isn't good. It means the woolhandlers have to waste time getting it on the table properly before they can start to take off the skirt. The skirt is the edge of the fleece that is usually very dirty and contains lots of burrs and grass seed.

Throwing a fleece well, speeds up the woolhandlers' ability to skirt, separate the neck, legs and back (as directed by the woolclasser). ​A shoddy throw slows down productivity.

When the shed's in full swing sometimes fleeces can be lined up waiting. Then the pressure is really on. 

I hope I get a chance to get more practice soon.

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