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Shearing a living from wool.

Joseph Kiptarus firmly clutches a Merino sheep with his left hand and directs the animal into a small wooden structure.He then holds a pair of shears and meticulously shaves the animal's fur.

Kiptarus, a member of Chemosong Young Farmers in Kerer village, on the border of Pokot and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties, has been in the business of shearing sheep for the past two decades."I shear 45 to 60 sheep in a day.

It takes me about five minutes to shear an animal, which gives two to five kilos of wool," he offers, adding he charges S0 per sheep.As he does the work, he says there is usually someone on standby with healing oil, which is applied on the animal in case the machine hurts it.

Once he finishes the work, he releases the animal back to the fields through an underground tunnel that is part of the building that hosts their office, holding area, a shearing section and a store.Sheep rearing is a major economic activity in the expansive undulating region that lies over 3,000 metres above the sea level.

Temperatures in the area normally fall to as low as 50C.The group that was started in 1988 has about 160 members, who rear on average 50 sheep each and shear the animals once every year.

"During the rest of the time, we ensure we feed them well for us to get the 3kg to 5kg wool from each," says John Chelanga, the group's secretary.The group bulks the wool and sells to Stanage Services Limited, a firm based in Nakuru Town which buys, cleans then exports the wool.

Chelanga says a sheep must have attained at least 30kg for the wool to be harvested."If you harvest wool from a younger sheep, you will not get the best quality.

The cold weather helps the animal develop the wool," he says.CAUSE IRRITATIONAccording to him, wool from the various sheep breed is classified based on the length and the quality of the product.

Besides Merino, they also rear the Corriedale breed.Among the classifications there is C1, which means the wool is sheared from a Corriedale sheep.

Similarly, M1 is sheared from Merino sheep and M9 from a merino's lamb while X1 is the wool that is of lowest quality, harvested from the head or under the belly."We sell a kilo of M1 for Sh265 while C1 goes for Sh260. But the price can hit Sh700 per kilo if the wool is cleaned before it is sold but we don't have a facility to do the cleaning," Chelanga notes.

C1 is used to make woollen suits, according to Chelanga while M1 and X1 is used to make clothes, mats, blankets or duvets. The wool is graded based on the strength, quality and length.

James Kimaget, the group's chairman, says besides selling wool, they are able to generate extra income by selling sheep, which costs between S,000 and Sh10,000 depending on the season.They also milk the animals getting between one and two litres from each.

The milk is consumed at home for lack of market though it is high butterfat content, like that of goats.Monica Yator, an animal scientist at University of Eldoret, says that sheep lose their fur due to parasites such as mites and ticks.

"The parasites cause irritation forcing the animal to scratch itself against the wall losing the wool. It is important to dip the animals regularly.

Spraying is discouraged because the chemicals may not reach the parasites," says the expert.She adds that deficiency of minerals such as selenium, zinc and copper (that gives the wool the colour) can also result to loss of wool.

"The sheep house must be raised, have good aeration and the floor perforated to allow the droppings to pass through to the ground. Farmers also need to ensure it is clean to prevent diseases and pest," she says, adding that one must also deworm sheep regularly.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Jul 5, 2019
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