Sheep Shearing: AgVentures in Whiteside County

By Sarah Ford

For Shaw Media

It was a family reunion at the Geerts sheep farm on Covell Road in rural Morrison on Saturday, July 17, with family members coming together for some sheep-shearing, education, and offering an up-close viewing to visitors looking to learn about local farm life.

The tour at Geerts Family Farm was part of Whiteside County Farm Bureau summer AgVenture series, which showcases local farms in pop-up events coordinated by Diane Baker with Whiteside County Agriculture in the Classroom.

Mike and Marna Geerts have been raising sheep for 38 years, having moved to their current rural farmstead in 1989. When he wanted livestock after a few years, she said anything but cows or hogs, since she grew up on a dairy farm. They settled on sheep and have been maintaining flocks ever since, bringing to market wool, meats, and lambs for other farmers. They have 14 acres for hay growth, a bevy of barn cats, over 50 registered Columbia ewes and studs, and over 80 Southdown sheep.

Jeremey Geerts, who lives down the road from his parents and is the Sheep Superintendent for Whiteside and Carroll County Fairs, and daughter Manda Davis, a Speech Language Pathologist, came to the farm on Saturday to demonstrate the sheep-shearing process, which took place in a former dairy barn that is also converted into a lambing room in the spring.

The sheep are placed on a trimming stand and shorn with the trimmers, with the remaining wool on the legs and head brushed out. It takes about an hour per sheep, with one chain around the head ensuring cooperation. A large Columbia ewe, an American breed known for fleece and meat, and a Southdown, a breed native to England, were on the shearing stand during the tour. A few sheep will be shown at upcoming county and state fairs, with Manda’s 10-year-old daughter Morgan Davis even getting some practice in setting the sheep up as she would at a show.

The Geerts typically have their whole flock sheared in October, with the shearer coming in from Vermont for the prized fleece, which he takes back to the state to sell. By shearing just before winter, it keeps the moisture down in the barn which lessens the threat of illness, especially for the young lambs.

Marna also talked about the benefits of wool during the tour. It’s an excellent material for socks, since it’s an insulator and takes moisture away. Even in the summer, wool socks will absorb the sweat and keep the feet dry, with Jeremey attesting to that. The fleece is used in mats used to clean up oil spills, and in airplane seats since it doesn’t flame up. The military uses it in uniforms because it keeps moisture down. Felt tip markers have wool in the tips, and tennis balls and baseballs incorporate the material.

A rub of the freshly shorn wool is soft to the touch but also a bit greasy, which is the lanolin that can be used for personal and health care items, and some commercial applications. She demonstrated the crimp of the wool, with a tinier crimp for the finest fleece. Another interesting fact about sheep is their blood is used in rattlesnake antidote, after it was discovered that they’re immune to the toxic bite.

The family opened up their farm to the AgVenture pop-up since they’ve hosted and taught ag camps in the area for many years. They just returned from Springfield, IL and the All American Jr. Sheep Show, with over 3,000 sheep from nearly 700 exhibitors across the country.

Four more “behind the scenes” AgVenture farm tours are in the works at alpaca, potato, and melon farms and the Sterling Farmers’ Market. Teachers, stakeholders, and families with older students interested in agriculture can email to be put on the event notification list.ory coming