While growing up in Grantsville, Robert Pitt showed little interest in the sheep business. Robert’s father Craig has raised sheep his entire life and knows the ins and outs of the business. But his young son Robert did not find the activity too appealing.
“He wanted nothing to do with sheep,” Robert’s mother Dolene said.
For the past four years, however, Robert, 26, has cashed in on the sheep industry.
He is not in the process of developing his own giant herd of woolly creatures to be sold off to the highest bidder for meat, but is cashing in on sheep another way — he shears them.
“I make more money shearing sheep than I do at my fulltime job,” Robert said.
On April 22 Robert demonstrated his skills at Gillmor Livestock Company in a rural section of north Salt Lake City near the Salt Lake International Airport. In one day at the Gillmor ranch he ended up shearing 108 sheep. During the same time period his new part-ner Eric Vaughn, who is a novice at sheep shearing with only two-weeks experience, sheared 30. At $4 per sheep it was a $432 day for Robert, and a $120 for his buddy.
“My dad knows how to shear sheep, but I really didn’t learn how until four years ago when I worked with John Hannah in Price. That’s where I really learned how to shear sheep. Hannah runs about 1500 head,” Robert said. “The first time I sheared a sheep I was about 13 and it took about half an hour,” Robert said.
After four years of practice, Robert can shear sheep at a blistering pace.
He built his own two-man sheep-shearing shed which helps control the sheep.
“It is real tough to shear a sheep in an open field,” he said.
The animals are led up into the trailer from a narrow chute. Three or four sheep are trapped on one side of the trailer in a narrow shoot.
Two gates open up to where the two shearers are situated. When ready, the shearer opens the gate and begins to clip.
A sheep appears submissive once in Robert’s grasp.
“I get them on their butts and they can’t move. If they’re on their feet they want to run around,” Robert said. “The key is learning how to hold them so you don’t spend all your time fighting them. You start at the belly and finish off with the butt,” Robert said.
“I mostly just wrestle with them,” Vaughn said.
“These today are a little harder because they haven’t been sheared before,” Robert said at the Gillmor Ranch.
The word of Robert’s talent is getting around. People are calling him all the time to shear sheep. If there are only a few he will charge up to $6 per sheep. Robert estimates he sheared 2,500 sheep in March for various people.
“I’ve sheared over 5,000,” he said. “There’s not a lot of competition. There are some big shear groups that come in and will shear from 500 to 700 sheep at a time. I’ve worked with them, but they only pay me $1.85 per head although they get $4 per head.” he said.
Robert’s springs are hectic and the work is physical. “I sleep well at night,” he said.
The shearer lives in Erda and travels throughout Utah, Idaho and Nevada giving sheep their annual hair cuts. An annual hair cut is mandatory because if the wool becomes too long and tangled up, feces gets matted in there and the sheep can get a disease known as “fly blow.” “Ninety percent of my shearing is done during the early spring months,” Robert said.
Last Friday, the duo towed their trailer to Bluffdale where they sheared 60 sheep owned by three different people. “Yep, we’re skinin’ 60 more today,” Robert said. Next weekend the shearers are headed to Nevada.
There are expenses such as $900 for a set of clippers and motor to run the clippers. Robert uses a harness to keep him positioned while he shears sheep. Otherwise it would kill his back.
Wool falls to the bottom of the trailer and is pushed out one side of the trailer, while the freshly shorn sheep are released to freedom out the other side.
Some people count sheep to fall asleep. When Robert Pitt counts sheep he is tallying up his pay check.