Sheep-Shearing TikTok is essentially the most soothing place on the web
Katie McRose, founder of Right Choice Shearing, a company that shears traveling animals, recalls the first time she posted a TikTok video showing her work. It was March of that year, and the 26-year-old was confident that the clip – a goofy, short skit in which she carefully “sheared” a Play Doh sheep – would quickly go viral. Instead, it only garnered a few thousand views with a handful of nice but not exactly enthusiastic comments.
“Nobody thought it was funny. Nobody liked my video,” recalls McRose when he spoke to Mashable on the phone in early November. “What was fine – I didn’t care.”
She didn’t care, however, when one of the next videos she released, a cute clip of moving a sturdy alpaca in a wheelbarrow to get his haircut, received 100,000 views. And it was really important to her when, just a few days later, a TikTok uploaded by her wife Darian from McRose while clipping another alpaca to the beat of Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut in the Ocean” received a million views. A few weeks later, when videos of McRose working on animals while he was discussing their individual situation (e.g., “This is Tony, and it looks like he saw some shit. Maybe a haircut will help?”) She was encountered something big.
“We couldn’t believe it,” says the Texas-based clipper, who travels to farms across the Midwest with her wife to work. “They were just absolutely thrilled.”
Today, just eight months after the first underperforming TikTok, Right Choice Shearing has tons of new customers and 2.2 million followers, many of whom are so devoted to the account that they regularly “like” new content before the clips even load.
When people tell me they like my videos, it’s usually because there was some kind of stress in their life and this video brought them zen.
On an average video, the hundreds of comments are a mixture of awe (“This must be hard, but you make it look so easy!”), Curiosity (“How long did it take you to learn this?”), And most of all Gratitude. “I never knew how much I needed this content” is a common saying, as does “Wow, that relaxed me so much.” For many viewers, watching sheep shearing videos seems like a hot bath or yoga: calming, calming and extremely satisfying.
“When people tell me they like my videos, it’s usually because there was some kind of stress in their life and that video brought them zen,” says McRose.
She often receives messages from parents telling her they are viewing their TikToks with their kids as their nightly routine, or from people undergoing medical treatment who share that the Right Choice Shearing videos have helped them to deal with their fear. Recently, a newborn grandmother stood up to tell McRose that she was in the hospital while she was having medical complications by watching her videos “for hours”.
“People say these videos help them through difficult times,” says Scherer. “It’s just very humiliating.”
The idea of viewing sheep shear videos as a form of stress relief may sound strange, but in fact there are a number of psychological reasons for the comfort people find in these clips. On the one hand there is the contrast of a graceful person who handles a large animal with seemingly graceful ease; As McRose puts it bluntly, “I’m not a big, burly guy, but I take these giant sheep and just dance with them.”
Physicality aside, there’s the undeniable thrill of watching a matted, filthy fleece fall to the ground to reveal the gorgeous, rich color of an animal underneath – often in just a few big blows.
“There is an instinctive biological response to personal hygiene,” explains Dr. Pamela Rutledge, media psychologist and faculty member at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. “You can actually have a dopamine response, not just to the satisfaction of watching, but just to the care.”
The monotony of shearing also increases the attractiveness of the content, says Dr. Rutledge, especially for viewers struggling with high levels of stress, ADHD, or anxiety. “One of the things that are very common is repetitive activities as a form of self-medication [for those conditions],” She explains.
With its routine movements and predictable consistency, shear videos can have a similar effect on viewers as ASMR content, which has been shown to reduce stress. “For anyone feeling anxious or out of control, it is very comforting to see something so discreet, caring and done so successfully,” says Dr. Rutledge.
The fact that some clippers appear to have a close bond with the animals they are working with, while completing a difficult task in just a few minutes and calmly narrating the process for viewers to enjoy, adds to this effect. For example, if McRose shares the animals’ backstories or their origins in sheep shearing, it provides “multiple access points for emotional engagement,” explains Dr. Rutledge, adding, “When you feel emotionally connected to her, the videos come out all the more satisfying because you experience them with a friend.”
And then there’s the before-and-after element of the shearing process, which, when sped up to fit into a three minute or less TikTok, adds an extra level of fun. “It’s the experiential equivalent of a soundbite,” says Dr. Rutledge. “You can have this full narrative arc in a very short amount of time … it really triggers one of those basic motivational theories that triggers you agency. For example, ‘We did something, wow!'”
One of the things that are very common is repetitive activities as a kind of self-medication.
Cameron Wilson, a Scotland-based sheep shearer behind popular TikTok and YouTube channels The Sheep Game, believes another part of the appeal is most viewers’ unfamiliarity with shearing animals. “Whenever I do scissors demonstrations on TikTok or YouTube videos, people are just amazed at the whole process,” says 31-year-old Wilson. “You’re seeing something you’ve never seen before – it almost answers a question you never wanted to ask.”
Like McRose, Wilson frequently travels to carry out his sheep shearing duties; This year alone he has shorn “over 19,000 sheep” across the UK, he says, many of which have been featured on his accounts. And while he receives many enthusiastic and satisfied comments on his videos, he also regularly asks questions from viewers questioning the need to shear or expressing concerns about animal welfare.
Wool sheep (as opposed to their brethren, hair sheep) require annual shearing because the wool is not shed naturally and if not sheared, it can lead to problems such as hyperthermia and temporary blindness. But the practice itself is not without risk. Scissors that work too fast or handle the animals too roughly can sometimes create nicks or cuts that are deep enough to need suturing, says Lauri Torgerson-White, director of research at Farm Sanctuary, a Los Angeles and New animal shelter York.
In addition, sheep raised specifically for their wool production are often killed at the end of their “useful” life cycle, she adds.
Both Wilson and McRose do not refute these unfortunate realities of the industry (“There are always bad apples,” says McRose soberly), but they do make an effort to educate viewers about their own methods in their content and patiently explain things, for example why they position the animals in certain positions and debunk allegations that the animals will be sedated or otherwise injured during the process. Over time, McRose says, she’s seen her classes catch on with viewers, with some others even posting in the comments about the benefits of shearing.
“That’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of, at least trying to bridge that gap between the public and the industry,” she says. “I feel like my videos achieved that.”
And what if they also help viewers to chill out after a stressful day or provide a quick dopamine rush? That’s all the better.
“I just thought that maybe people would like to see cute sheep,” says McRose with a laugh. “I never thought it would have so much impact on people’s lives.”