The British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) is putting on extra blade shearing courses this summer, due to a surge in demand from smallholders and farmers wishing to learn the craft.

Learning traditional country skills and crafts is becoming increasingly fashionable, with beekeeping, for example, even being taken up by young couples in London.

It is hoped that the extra courses will help anyone who is keen to learn the rewarding, practical and environmentally friendly craft of shearing sheep with blades.

For people who own sheep, particularly smaller flocks, the most obvious advantage of learning to shear with blades is having the ability to shear their own flock in their own time – without being at the mercy of machine-shearing contractors, who can be notoriously hard to get hold of.

The start-up costs are minimal: it costs less than £30 for a pair of blade shears, compared to well over £1,000 for an electric machine and all the necessary paraphernalia that goes with it. Also, as there is no time-consuming setting-up involved, work can be done as-and-when it suits: many people with flocks of up to 30 sheep just do one sheep per day.

Blade shearing has a much smaller carbon footprint than shearing with machines, as a pair of blade shears uses a relatively tiny amount of steel and energy to produce, and of course they use no electricity.

John Till from Porthmadog is leading the courses in Wales, and can see more and more people choosing to learn the skill, especially smallholders.

“It’s an ideal solution” he says, “they do come on machine shearing courses, but it’s difficult isn’t it; to get enough practice and on top of that having to spend a thousand pounds on equipment and they still not know what they’re doing.; with hand shearing the only expense is about £20 on a set of blades.

“They can do one today and one tomorrow, shearing can be done wherever they like – in the paddock if they want.”

John, 59, has shorn in large commercial blade shearing gangs in New Zealand, where thousands of sheep are still shorn this way because it is possible to leave a little more wool on the sheep for protection from cold weather. He likes the camaraderie in blade shearing gangs and the fact that you can have a chat while you’re doing it.

He also competes in the many blade shearing competitions across the United Kingdom – another benefit for anyone thinking of taking up the craft seriously.

The courses are two days long and will run throughout May and June. They cost £150 + VAT and the only equipment needed is a pair of 6” blades and a sharpening stone.

Shearing demonstrations will be given by the BWMB at the Smallholder & Garden Festival at the Royal Welsh Showground on Saturday 19th May.

To find out more about courses in your area, please phone or email: Scotland and North of England: Donna Mackenzie: 01877 339 657 – Wales and the Midlands: Diana Lavers 01686 626 811 – South and East of England: Alison Gould: 01392 477 944 – or look on the website – for a full list of hand and machine shearing courses.