Sheep shearing tradition lives on in Malo Ruvci

Shearing of the sheep is in full swing in the hamlet of Malo Ruvci near Prilep, whose very name means Little Wool in Macedonian. Vanco Micevski, our 67 year old host, explains how the herding trade is now torn between the tradition and new technologies.

"I've been a shepherd since I was a kid. While my children were small, i would go to Prilep, where my family lived. Now, I reside full time in Malo Ruvci and I'm dedicated to the herd", says Micevski, who keeps 356 sheep, which is a major source of income for his family. He explains that shepherds used to approach the shearing as a sort of competition, to show off their skills. Lately, with the advent of electric shears, it has become more of a mechanical operation, but small Macedonian places like Malo Ruvci are still far from being fully modernize.

"This job requires special skills, as in many other areas of herding. But, with the electric machines, the art has been neglected and it is a more intense work process. Previously, you had to have been a skilled shearer before they'd let you work on a larger flock. Now, just about anybody can come and pick up the job", says Micevski.

Herders pay 50 denars (little under 1 EUR) per sheep when they hire shearers. A professional can earn about 2.500 denars a day. But, it takes a lot of hard work which takes its toll at the hands and the back. Despite all the technological advances added to th process, Micevski tells us that there are many traditions that have stayed on from the older times.

"For example, after the work is done we always wash our hands and the shears in a copper cauldron. You then spray the water at the sheep as they are taken to graze. This brings them good luck", he says.

And yet, the shearing at times looks almost as if you are in a beauty salon. A British made electric shear called Rambo worth about 750 EUR, and another, a cheaper Chinese version worth 250 EUR, make short work of the wool. Shearers joke that they are taking the animals to the barber's chair and discuss preferred hairstyles. With two electric machines, this is the most advanced farm around, says Vanco's son Zoran.

"For me personally, it is better to go this way. Both the shearing and the milking are easier when they are done with machines. We still maintain the tradition, we still use hand shears, which gives the day its special magic", says Zoran, who often travels the 15 kilometers from Prilep to Malo Ruvci along the dirt road. "The sheep are relieved after the work is done, but we are beat. And then it takes a few days to get rid of the smell", adds Zarko Todorovski - Bagerot, who comes to help out.
On top of the wool, the family also lives from the milk and the cheese they make, in which they again blend tradition and modern technology. The wool is sold for 18 denars per kilogram and some of it is used in house, for socks or shirts, which keep you warm in winter and cool over summer. Herder Gjorgji Velkov from Kavadarci says that they've even had people come to the farms looking for cure, asking to sleep over or using wool sheep secretions as medicine.

Once the work is done, sheep, who until then stood placidly, skip lightly away from the shearing station, clearly relieved at the summer heat. The discussion about the future of the trade continued, as did the jokes about the mountainous hair saloon.

Svetlana Darudova


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