Mackenzie Campbell first picked up shears when he was about 12. That’s when he learned the family trade of shearing sheep from his dad and grandfather.
He’s been competing with his cousins for bragging rights for years. Towards the end of a long day of shearing, the boys might see who could shear the most or shear the quickest.
“On any given day, any one of us could win,” he said.
Campbell’s practice at home paid off when he hit the national stage. He won the National Sheep Shearing Contest Feb. 3, at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Campbell, 18, of Palmyra, Ohio, was one of 12 shearers competing in the beginner division. He won shearing titles at the Ohio State Fair and Michigan State Fair before, but this was his first time competing nationally.
“To think that my grandpa started doing it just to learn to do his own sheep back then. Then people started calling him to do theirs,” Campbell said. Now, he has a national title to his name.
“It’s pretty sweet.”
Campbell said he went into the competition with a simple goal of making it into the next round. The top six moved on from preliminaries to the semi-finals. Then the top three moved into the finals.
Since Mackenzie had won two state contests, they knew he was good, said Chuck Campbell, Mackenzie’s father. But they weren’t sure how good compared with shearers from out west who may have more experience.
“Some of those guys could’ve been on crews for three years shearing thousands of sheep a year,” he said. “I was concerned we might be biting off more than we could chew. So, I figured we’d make a family vacation of it and see how we did.”
Speed is important. A perfect time is 90 seconds to shear a sheep. Points are deducted for every 20 seconds over that time, Chuck Campbell said. But what matters more is the skill with which the shearer works.
Judges also evaluate the handling of the sheep, if there are any cuts on the sheep’s body, condition of the fleece and the appearance of the shorn sheep. Judges observe the shearers in action and check their handiwork after they shut off their shears. Beginners shear two animals in each heat.
Mackenzie had the top score in each round, and won the final round with a 12-point lead over second place.
As competitive as the contest is, it’s also about camaraderie and moving the industry forward.
“One guy up there was telling me how he opened up the belly. I got home and had to shear some of my sheep, so I tried that and it was definitely quicker,” Mackenzie Campbell said. “Everyone is there to watch the younger people get better and help other people.”
Mackenzie Campbell is a senior at Southeast Local School District. He plans to attend college after graduating in June and continue shearing on the side with his family. Chuck Campbell said they shear for between 150-200 people a year.
“There are people we’ve shorn for for 50 years,” he said.
Mackenzie said sometimes they go to five or six different farms in a weekend to shear. He’s always taken pride in being a third generation shearer, but now that he’s older, he likes the extra cash, too.
“And getting to see how different people set their farms up, how they run their farm,” he said. “I’ve brought some of those things back to my own flock,” he said.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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