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Chris the sheep gets shorn, potentially smashing world record for heaviest fleece -

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ELEANOR HALL: It was a lengthy and delicate operation, but a massively woolly sheep found near Canberra has now been safely shorn.

The sheep's health was in danger because it was carrying years' worth of wool.

It took the skills of a national shearing champion who appears to have set a new record for the biggest fleece ever shorn.

Sarah Sedghi reports.

SARAH SEDGHI: Has an animal's haircut ever been so closely watched by the nation?

Yesterday the discovery of an incredibly woolly sheep near Canberra prompted the RSPCA to ask for help from shearers.

It's unlikely the sheep has ever been shorn and the huge mass of wool it was carrying was a danger to its health.

Tammy Van Denge is the chief executive of the ACT branch of the RSPCA.

TAMMY VAN DENGE: Well, this is obviously not the normal job. We did a call out; we were first just trying to find someone to do it quickly meaning that they could do it locally. Most of the locals that contacted us but didn't have their tools with them.

So the best we could do was this morning anyway and then when we happened to have world class shearer available, it just made sense.

We wanted to protect the animal; we wanted to make it as little stress as possible so that he didn't die from shock in the process.

He obviously hasn't been handled for a very long time and yesterday he was just hiding in the corner the whole time.

So it was obvious that that, if we weren't careful with this case, we could have lost him.

SARAH SEDGHI: When national shearing champion, Ian Elkins, offered his help, the RSPCA knew they had the right person for the job.

Ian Elkins has shorn many sheep before, but he couldn't help feeling a bit nervous.

IAN ELKIN: I've shorn merino rams down at the Royal Easter Show and some of them weigh up to the, the fleeces weigh up to 17 to 19 kilos, but yeah, today I was sort of particularly nervous about doing the job for the welfare of the sheep, but everything turned out really, really well.

SARAH SEDGHI: The shearing of the sheep known as Chris began this morning and went for more than 40 minutes.

Tammy Van Denge says Chris is doing well.

TAMMY VAN DENGE: He looks wonderful. He can actually stand up much faster; he's able to walk around. He's even looking for a cuddle right now.

SARAH SEDGHI: In fact, Ian Elkins says Chris was carrying nearly his body weight worth of wool.

IAN ELKIN: It was carrying around 40-odd kilos of fleece and I'd say it sort of the sheep would now would only be about 40 kilos I'd say; 44 kilos it was, so it is quite amazing it was carrying the same amount of body weight as it was in fleece and, particularly when it rains, you know, I think wool holds something like 80 per cent of its weight.

SARAH SEDGHI: It's not known who Chris the sheep belongs to.

If he isn't reunited with his owner, there are already people putting up their hand up to take him in.

TAMMY VAN DENGE: We'll do what we normally do with stray animals and that's we'll hold it for seven days as we do, and he's to undergo vet observation for the next couple of days anyway and I understand we already have someone willing to adopt him.

SARAH SEDGHI: Currently a New Zealand sheep holds the record for heaviest fleece.

While it's not yet official, Ian Elkins thinks Chris may have just set a new record.

IAN ELKIN: We don't have much success on the rugby field beating the Kiwis, so I think we've got a win today, sort of thing, unofficially in the wool pack we weighed it and it was 42 and a half kilos so not sure exactly what the wool pack would weigh, somewhere about two, two and a half kilos so yeah, we've certainly smashed the New Zealand record which is about 27 kilos.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's national shearing champion, Ian Elkins, ending that report from Sarah Sedghi and the ABC's rural reporter, Michael Cavanagh.