Australian hikers spotted an extraordinarily overgrown merino sheep on Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital, Canberra.
The next day, a champion sheep shearer, with veterinary help, sheared the sheep, now called “Chris,” and set a new world record for the amount of wool produced.
The shearer cut slightly less than 90 pounds of wool from the poor sheep, who had wandered away from his flock about six years earlier and gone feral in the bush. Chris yielded up three times the wool of the former champ, but he was probably just happy to be rid of the accumulated wool that had begun to threaten his health.
“We set the sheep on its back and because it had so much fleece underneath, it was very comfortable,” Elkins said. “It took me 42 minutes to shear the sheep, which is a long time because it normally takes me three minutes.”
Members of Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took the sheep into their care. It needed a sedative during the shearing because the process was so lengthy—and because the sheep was not used to sinewy shepherds going at it with buzzing clippers.
The fleece was pulling so hard and heavy on Chris’s skin that Elkins had to take particular care just to avoid cutting the sheep’s flesh.
Sheep are usually shorn annually and the average yield is about 10 pounds. Chris had gone six times that long without being shorn. Sheep can die from being left in that state, most commonly due to a horrible condition called “flystrike,” also known as myiasis.
Illustration by Max Fleishman