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Shear talent
Covington man treasures his sheep trimming background

Scott Fuss grew up on a dairy farm in Covington with rabbits, goats, cows and horses, but it was the sheep that he found most interesting, and that led him to a most unusual sideline career.

Fuss, 46, has been shearing sheep for more than 30 years. He began learning when he was 12 years old and started doing it commercially when he was only 15, shearing about 50 sheep a day. He is now one of the few people left in the state of Georgia that actually performs this kind of work.

"It's kind of a lost art," Fuss said. "There aren't that many people that know how to do it."

In cooler climates, sheep's fleece is usually heavier, but in Georgia, where climates tend to be warmer, many sheep don't have thick wool, Fuss said. One threat to the future of his sheep shearing is hair sheep, a type of sheep that don't grow wool at all and that are becoming popular in the South.

Still, Fuss hopes to keep the tradition of sheep shearing alive and would like to mentor any person interested in learning the skill.

"I've been trying to, but so far I haven't found any takers," Fuss said.

The Covington resident is father to a 4-year old-daughter, Hannah, and 2-year-old son, Caleb, who he jokes may have no choice whether about they want to learn.

"It's more of a labor of love than anything," Fuss said. "It's pretty rigorous work and not something you can learn overnight."

The secretary of the New Zealand Wool Board recently named Fuss a Master Shearer after he finished a demonstration on sheep shearing at the Atlanta History Center. He also performs demonstrations at the Yellow River Game Ranch and an animal farm in Monroe.

Denise Ellwanger, the owner of Country Critters Corral in Newborn, is one of Fuss's clients. She owns a variety of farm animals and she allows children, families and classes to visit the petting zoo during afternoons. Sometimes, she shears her own sheep, but she said that it takes too long.

"I do them usually," Ellwanger said, "but it takes about four hours a sheep, and then I discovered Scott."

Fuss can shear a sheep in 20 minutes and visits Ellwanger's farm each summer to give the sheep their warm weather haircuts. Fuss and Ellwanger met a few years ago at the Newborn United Methodist Church and have stayed in contact ever since.

"He's the only one that I can find in six years of doing this," Ellwanger said.

Sheep shearing isn't about the money, Fuss said.

"You look at a pasture and see a herd of sheep, and they're peaceful and interesting, and there was just something about them that attracted me," Fuss said.

Fuss, a graphic designer for Snapping Shoals EMC, considers himself an artist and views sheep shearing as an artistic process.

"It's kind of like a choreographed dance where you kind of have to lead the sheep and follow the pattern," Fuss said.

Brittany Binowski can be reached at news.intern@rockdalecitizen.com.