Wool Gathering in the Modern Era

No, this is not an attempt to pull the wool over your eyes, or to get you to invest in 4-H stock (or even livestock). I’m talking about how biotechnology is going to revolutionize our lives in ways we haven’t even begun to think of.

By now everyone will have heard that scientists have successfully cloned – that is, made an exact duplicate or twin – of a sheep named Dolly. I’m not sure exactly how this works, except to say it involves lots of sheep and complicated mathematics, and that unsuccessful attempts resulted in Shepherd’s Pi. (Which, I’m told, goes well with Mendel’s peas.)

The latest in paddock progress, however, is less well-known: scientists have created self-shearing sheep.

According to a recent Reuter’s report, a product is being brought to market this year that will use bio-technology to transform the centuries-old practice of sheep-shearing. Called Bioclip, the process involves injecting sheep with a naturally occurring protein which causes their wool to simply drop out about a week later.

Since I’m a hard-working investigative reporter who strives to bring you accurate news and views, I hastened to the Bioclip test site for an interview. This was difficult to obtain, as the suddenly bare test subjects had taken to hiding behind rocks, well, sheepishly. I did, however, manage to record this conversation (translations courtesy of the Phi Beta Lambda society):

SHEEP1: Baaa! Baa! [Argh! You're buck nekked!]

SHEEP2: Baa. Baa-baa! [Ewe are confused. I am a ram, not a buck.]

SHEEP3: Baa! Baa! [We have all been fleeced!]

SHEEP1: Baa-aah. [Hey baby, nice chops you got there.]

SHEEP2: BAA! Whack! [You keep your kabobs to yourself, bub.]

Now before all you bleating-heart animal activists start a “Save the Sheep” campaign, you should know this actually will be a good thing for the critters. Since old-time shearers work at a speed of about four SPM (sheep per minute), shearing means picking up a sheep, spinning it 360 degrees and running the clippers over it. Without the imminent threat of a major case of razor burn, stress-free sheep will be able to relax and focus on grazing – making sheep farms resemble nudist salad bars.

This is not to say that self-shearing sheep will be problem-free. With our wooly friends dropping their britches at random, we may see increased cases of mutton dressing up to look like lamb. Wolf populations could skyrocket because of the sudden availability of sheep’s clothing. Poor Wile E. Coyote, already confounded by Sam the Sheepdog, will waste countless hours pouncing on what amount to underdeveloped wool blankets.

Speaking of sheepdogs, scientists have been unable to determine if they will be affected by exposure to Bioclip. It could mean that over a career, a sheepdog might have to resort to Rogaine to deal with doggy pattern baldness, otherwise known as mange.

If that’s the case, it might balance out the sudden drop in cosmetics manufacturing. Many products, as any savvy-shopper will tell you, have lanolin added to them. Since lanolin is basically, well, sheep sweat, and since sheep will be naturally air-conditioned from now on, we’ll have to find a substitute product. Either that or we’ll have to develop exercise videos like “Rippling Racks,” or “Barns of Steel” to get them sweatin’ to the oldies.

Sheep shot? Sorry.

Finally, self-shearing sheep will mean the sudden unemployment of hundreds of sheep shearers. As Australia is the world’s largest producer of raw wool, this means unemployment offices will be inundated with people saying things like “G’day mate! ‘Ow’s it goin’ then, oirright?” We could retrain these folks in say, cutlery and flatware sales, because Australians seem to have a natural affinity for this type of work. (“That’s not a knife. This is a knife.”) Alternatively, we could train them to shear other wool-bearing creatures, like camels, and goats. Not rabbits, though, as that would be too much of a hare-raising experience.

And with that, I’ll put this piece out to pasture.

(You may visit Chandra Clarke's website at www.ChandraKClarke.com.)

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