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Sheep found saddled with 41 pounds of wool is shorn for adoring public

‘He immediately became a changed animal,’ farmer Gavin Loxton said after the runaway sheep was shorn

Shrekapo grew 41 pounds of wool after four years on the lam in New Zealand. (George Empson)

Gavin Loxton has more than 5,000 sheep at the high-country farm he runs in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, so he said it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t notice when one of his lambs was missing about four years ago.

But he definitely noticed when the sheep was found.

After several years on the run, the wayward male Merino was discovered on April 14 hiding in an outcropping of rocks on Mount Edward — which has an elevation 6,765 feet — with almost double his weight in wool.

Shrekapo, as he was nicknamed by residents of the Lake Tekapo township, had so much wool that his fleece had grown over his eyes and left him “wool blind,” said Loxton. Loxton is owner of the Sawdon Station farm and vacation cottages on New Zealand’s South Island.

“If he had fallen over, he’d have rolled straight down,” Loxton said.

After a date with an expert shearer and hand blade, though, Shrekapo — named after a sheep called Shrek that famously escaped shearing for six years — is now much lighter on his feet.

On April 18, one of New Zealand’s champion shearers, Tony Dobbs, cut 41 pounds of wool off the bulky sheep before a crowd of hundreds of Shrekapo fans.

About 300 people turned out to watch the shearing, said Loxton, 50, adding that in his estimation, the discovery of Shrekapo is one of the best events to happen in Lake Tekapo in years.

“Like many towns, we’ve had a shortage of good news stories for a while,” he said. “Shrekapo’s independent streak has given us all something to celebrate.”

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The sheep was discovered by accident when one of Loxton’s employees, Emily Goodman, 16, saw Shrekapo run in front of her while she was in the high country, he said.

“Emily couldn’t round him up, so she went back up there with my son Joel and our sheepdog, Ziggy, to try and get him in the truck,” said Loxton. “He couldn’t move very fast with all that wool, and he wasn’t at all happy to be captured and brought down the hill.”

Loxton knew the sheep belonged to his flock because his ear had been tagged when he was a lamb.

Loxton thinks Shrekapo had spent at least three winters eating grass in the wild, judging by the length of his overgrown wool.

“Clearly he decided to evade capture all these years,” he said. “There are no predators like bears or lynx here, and he had plenty of grass to eat. And of course, he was growing a beautiful fleece of wool to keep him warm.”

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Domestic sheep are bred to grow large amounts of wool and need to be shorn at least once a year, said Loxton. Conversely, most sheep in the wild are genetically equipped to survive in rugged terrain and do not depend on humans, as they shed their coats naturally.

Runaway sheep have made headlines for growing extreme wool coats before, he noted.

Earlier this year, an Australian sheep named Alex was found with an 88-pound fleece, and in 2021, Baarack the sheep was rescued with 75 pounds of wool. Shrekapo’s namesake, Shrek, was found hiding in a cave in 2004 with 60 pounds of surplus wool — enough to make 20 large men’s suits.

“So it does happen from time to time,” said Loxton. “But this is the first time I’ve personally seen it.”

Shrekapo got so much interest in town, he thought maybe the shearing should be a public event.

After talking to a few people at the Blue Lake Eatery and Bar in Lake Tekapo, Loxton decided a “shear-in” would bring the community together in a good way, especially since coronavirus pandemic restrictions had just been lifted in the township.

A friend, Angie Taylor, 67, who originally gave him the idea of a public shearing, organized a contest to guess the weight of the sheep’s wool, with prizes of Merino wool sweaters.

“Shrekapo was such an unusual hermit living on the alpine mountains surrounding Lake Tekapo for four years, and I thought this would be a good idea for entertainment at our local market,” she said.

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Tony Dobbs was then recruited to remove Shrekapo’s weighty fleece, and it was game on.

“These jobs are usually once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” said Dobbs, 60, noting that he had shorn only one other excessively woolly sheep named Big Ben about eight years ago.

Dobbs had won 19 New Zealand national shearing championships, where sheep handlers are judged for their speed in removing fleeces neatly without leaving nicks and cuts. He said he was up to the challenge of taking on Shrekapo.

“Due to the many years of wool on his back, I knew it would be a difficult task,” he said. “This is where having a second person to help, plus my 30-plus years of experience came into play. I felt he was in safe hands.”

Loxton said Dobbs made a joke about blade shearing being the second-oldest occupation in the world, then went to work.

“He had to be really careful, because it’s hard to shear a sheep with really thick wool,” Loxton said, adding that Dobbs’s neighbor held up the fleece as he cut it away.

Shrekapo didn’t squirm or scramble to get away, he said.

“Sheep get quite docile when they’re being shorn,” he said. “As soon as their feet leave the ground, they’re very still and quiet. Shrekapo seemed relieved to have the weight of the wool coming off his back.”

It took Dobbs about 30 minutes to finish the job, then the crowd cheered as Shrekapo stood on his feet and displayed his newly svelte form, he said.

“He immediately became a changed animal,” said Loxton. “I suppose it’s kind of like a spaceman experiencing weightlessness for the first time. He was a bit wobbly on his feet for a while.”

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Now that Shrekapo is back at the farm, Loxton said he intends to keep him there.

“He’s a wanderer, so I don’t think we’ll be putting him back in the high country anytime soon,” he said. “Besides, a few people have taken an attachment to him. We like having him around on the farm.”

Loxton said he eventually plans to have Shrekapo’s 14-inch-wool coat made into some cozy blankets. He said they’ll be a reminder of the time his lamb went on the lam and became famous.

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