Adam Roehm, a 22-year-old Saline resident, learned to shear sheep from his grandpa, Larry Roehm on the family farm on Schill Road.
“I sheared my first full sheep just before my 14th birthday,” Roehm said Saturday, after giving a public demonstration on the sheep the Drake Farm has given to the Rentschler Farm Museum for year.
Today, Roehm, who graduated from Saline High School in 2015, is probably Washtenaw County’s busiest sheep shearers, shearing 8,000 to 9,000 sheep a year.
“There used to be 50 sheep shearers in Washtenaw County. Now I’m one of two guys who does it year-round,” Roehm said.
There are many reasons to shear sheep. Sheep can become overheated in the summer. A sheared sheep is a lot less likely to be victim of flystrike or suffer from other louses. And shearing can help keep stained and contaminated wool separated from new fleece.
The Drake farm sheep at the Rentschler Farm are Suffolk and Hampshire. Two of the sheep recently gave birth to lambs.
“For this breed of sheep, the shearing is done before they have lambs. You want to shear the ewes before they lamb, so they can easily find their mother's milk,” Roehm said. “When you shear the ewe, the lamb can snuggle up to the mom and get heat off the mom. If the ewe is not sheared, it's wool keeps the mom insulated. So a sheared sheep keeps the baby warmer.”
Shearing sheep isn’t for everyone.
For one, it’s a physically demanding job. Roehm wrestles the sheep into a position on its back, so that it can’t push itself off and escape.
“You have to be physically fit,” Roehm said. “If you're not conditioned for it, you're going to hurt at the end of the day. I'm conditioned for it.”
At the Rentschler Farm Saturday, Roehm didn’t break a sweat shearing seven sheep.
Experience is also a plus.
“You have to anticipate their next move before they make it. You're running with high tech equipment that's sharp, and it has to be sharp to do a good job. If it's not sharp, it's actually more dangerous for the animal,” Roehm said. “You have to understand the sheep's body condition. You have to kind of see the sheep before the wool comes off of it, to know what that job is going to entail while shearing that sheep.”
Roehm works full-time for Wolverine Packing, a livestock company in Detroit. He arrives each day at 4 a.m. When he’s back home in Saline in the late afternoon, he goes to work shearing sheep. He saves the big jobs - with a lot of sheep - for the weekends. He estimated that he shears 220 days a year.
“The best paying part of this industry is shearing market lambs and feeder lambs. They’re smaller and easier to sheer. You can do a lot more in one day,” Roehm said. “The small jobs, with individual farmers, you spend more time because those sheep spend the whole year on farm, so the farmer takes some pride in how they look. So the the shearer takes more pride in how they look.”
It’s likely that most local sheep owners know of Roehm. But for those who don’t, they can call or text Roehm at 734-231-0982.