by Jeremy Lurgio
As the eighth red-headed slut slid down my throat, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I was merely trying to keep up with my new friends, a group of traveling sheepshearers from New Zealand. But they kept buying round after round at the Sawmill Saloon in Darby, Mont.
"Shearing’s a hobby," Hamish "Sam" Bramley joked in his lilting accent. "I drink for a job." He was good at his job.
The gregarious shearers earn good wages and have a sailor’s fondness for a night on the town, but their reality is one of day after day of backbreaking work, grueling hours and thousands of miles spent traveling empty highways in the West.
Matt Smith and his nomadic Kiwi crew from Shear Pleasure — consisting of six shearers and three wool handlers — travel to large sheep ranches around Montana and the Rocky Mountain West, shearing heaps of sheep each week. On a good clip they can trim 1,100 sheep a day.
Underneath the brawn and booze is a band of disciplined Kiwis with a talent for shearing and a desire to see the world.
"I think traveling while you’re working is one of the best ways to see a country, you know," said Smith. "Not only are you earning good money, but you’re actually meeting the people of the country, getting to know the farmers, the people that have nothing to do with the tourist industry. This way you get to see the real side."
Last spring, the nine-person team from Brent Flowers’ Shear Pleasure shearing company made the rounds through Montana. Photographer Jeremy Lurgio documented them at work and at play. Here, slightly out of season, HCN brings you Lurgio’s images of sheep and shearers as a special holiday treat.© High Country News