Wovember Words: Roo and cru

When we talk about Harvesting Wool here on WOVEMBER, we usually mean shearing sheep for their wool with shears. However in some cases wool can be extracted from the back of a sheep by a process known as “rooing”. This is where old growth (wool) on the sheep’s back is carefully removed by hand, without shears. You can only roo primitive breeds of sheep in which the innate ability to lose its fleece has not been bred out of the sheep. A video from YouTube shows you what the process of rooing a sheep looks like, and the postcard below shows sheep being roo’d on Shetland. An account of sheep rooing is given in Joan Grigsby’s fantastic 1930s tome, ‘An Island Rooing’. The cru to which the text refers is a sheep pen.

After dinner we returned to the cru, and this time Lowra and Kirstie accompanied us, for if the calling of the sheep is primarily the men’s job it is the women who put in long, finger-blistering hours at the rooing.

Fenced into a corner by the hill dyke were our captives of the morning, jostling each other from side to side, wandering round in vague circles, and bleating in bewildered confusion. Some, who had already shed half of their fleece upon the hillside, had the appearance of half-dressed elderly spinsters suddenly disturbed from their beds before they had had the time to assemble the day’s social defences.

It was not long before Kirstie was in the cru, anxious to see which of her sheep had been brought in by the drive. In and out among the bewildered creatures she went, recognising her own by the cut in its ears, and if that were not enough, seizing the creature’s head, and gazing long and fixedly into its face until she was quite certain of its identity, and could give it a name. “Here’s Peggy Ann, Gideon, we maun get her out of here at once, she’s shed half her coat already, poor crittur,” and seizing the old “yow” in her arms she carried it out bodily and deposited it on the hillside outside the cru, while Gideon made it fast to a stake with a tether. In a few minutes Lowra came out with another sturggling “yow” in her arms and we set to work, with both hands pulling off the old fleece, while the “yows” lay side by side, their three legs tied together. One side trimmed, and over she goes, and soon the whole fleece is transferred into the waiting sack. Finally the old “yow”, who but a few minutes before had all the appearance of a stolid, respectable matron, scampers skittishly back to the hill with a foolish bleat and a kick of her heels. “And dat,” said Gideon slowly, “is what ye maun call ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’.”

This postcard shows men and women rooing sheep together on Shetland

This postcard shows men and women rooing sheep together on Shetland

– ‘An Island Rooing’ by Joan Grigsby, published by Hearth Cranton Ltd., London, 1933

This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

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