- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Stuart Matthews grew up on a North Carolina farm, growing tobacco and hogs.

When he was 12, he decided he wanted to do something else, so he started raising and shearing sheep.

For 25 years, he worked as a professional sheep shearer. His profession has taken him to Idaho, Oregon, Australia, Scotland and England.

“It’s not for everyone; you got to enjoy sheep and enjoy the travel,” said Matthews, 53, who now lives in Ararat, North Carolina, on his family farm, raising sheep and shearing on a part-time basis.

“I guess you can say I’ve come full circle.”

Matthews said he now shears sheep from farms as far north as Rochester, New York, to as far south as Birmingham.

Recently, he was in the Shoals area shearing at some local sheep farms.

“We have about 10 farms within a 50-miles radius of the Shoals that raise sheep,” said Charlie Meek, a Lauderdale County farmer and executive director of the Northwest Alabama Resource, Conservation and Development Council. “I had been doing some shearing for a couple of years, traveling about 4,000 miles a year, but I hurt my back and couldn’t shear anymore. There’s just not many shearers, and I found Stuart.”

Meek said Matthews shears about 10,000 sheep a year.

“He is one of the very few traveling shearers in the Southeast,” Meek said. “Sheep shearing is a dying art, there is just not a lot of shearers around anymore.”

Meek said there are shearing schools where the profession is taught, “but 25 percent of those don’t make it through the school.”

According to the Sheep Breeders Directory, there is one shearer in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky.

“You don’t see any in Alabama, Tennessee or Mississippi,” Meek said. “You just can’t pick up a phone and call (a shearer), and when I was hurt I had to get out and find one, and I was lucky to find Stuart.”

Meek said Matthews visits the north Alabama sheep herds once a year.

“There are about 100 head that he shears,” Meek said.

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