Born in 1994, Shrek was a simple sheep living on the Bendigo Station, near Tarras, New Zealand; but at heart, he was a rebel. He wasn’t going to let the man dictate how long his fleece would be but rather than trying to fight it he went on the lam(b). Hiding out in caves and keeping a low profile, he managed to escape shearing for six years. All good things, however, must come to an end and in 2006 he was found and caught by a musterer named Ann Scanlan.
Now, whilst some breeds of sheep shed their wool naturally each year, the miracle of merino fleece is that it will just continue to grow… and grow… and grow. That low profile Shrek had been trying to maintain wasn’t so easy with a 15 inch (38cm) long fleece that made him look like some form of prehistoric, fluffy creature.
When Scanlan presented the sheep to John Perriam, the owner of the sheep station, she was shocked that he wanted to publicise the find. Surely having “missed” a sheep for so long was a shameful secret? There was something about the big fuzzy bundle that spoke to Perriam though and as it turned out the whole of New Zealand.
Shrek became an instant celebrity, famed both at home and abroad.
Thirteen days after he was finally captured, Shrek was shorn. The shearing was shown live on TV New Zealand and performed, with scissors to ensure he had enough of a coat for the upcoming winter, by a former world champion shearer. Having entered looking, in Perriam’s words, “like some kind of Biblical creature” twenty minutes later he left with skinny legs, lean body and a clean cut coat. He was also presented with a special jacket, made from merino wool (naturally), to make sure he didn’t get too cold.
Shrek’s story doesn’t end there though. A month after the initial shearing he was introduced to New Zealand’s then Prime Minister Helen Clark and he went on to a life as a celebrity; making public appearances, travelling by plane and even undergoing a second shearing on an iceberg floating off the coast of Dunedin in New Zealand.
Shrek was still a sheep of the people though. He may have raised over $100 million for the export industry but his massive fleece helped those in need too. An auction of the 59lb (27kg) pile of wool (enough to make 20 large men’s suits) raised money for a children’s medical charity, while books about Shrek’s life are helping to fund the local school in Tarras.
Shrek died in 2011 at the age of 16, making him quite possibly one of the oldest sheep ever as well as the one with the largest fleece. He remains a New Zealand national icon and as long as people dare to roam free and live a woolly life he will be remembered.