I look forward to shearing day every year! (except for the year the sheep got into the cockle burs) We shear in March every year right before the lambs are due to arrive. Sheep shearing is exciting for several reasons but my favorite is getting my hands on the wool and getting a chance to find out how our breeding and nutrition program has improved the fleeces. The fleeces are excellent this year, I am super excited to get the wool processed.
We hire a sheep shearer to come to our farm and shear our sheep for us. We haven’t learned how to shear our own yet and are not sure that we want to. I have tried to encourage my kids to learn, to no avail. In fact one of my boys had a friend come and help out this year and when he left that night he said he hadn’t seen it done before, but now he knew this was something he didn’t want to pursue as a career choice. Sheep shearing isn’t easy, keeping the animals calm while turning them about so as not to hurt them while clipping off their wool is a skill that takes a lot of practice. It is also important to clip the wool close to the body and make only one smooth cut. Coming back and making a second cut where you missed the first time leaves little tiny bits of wool in the fleece that we hand-spinners and needle-felters don’t want.
The older ewes don’t seem to mind shearing one bit, they actually look pleased to have a hair cut and be free from about 6 inches of wool. The younger ewe lambs are a bit nervous because this is their first time, but the shearer is extra gentle and they get through it just fine.
We had a beautiful day for shearing for a change, it was 64 degrees and sunny. We normally are not this lucky and are quite frozen by the time we are through. We shear the sheep in March so that it will be done before lambing time. One year we were unable to get them sheared before we began lambing and it made things more difficult. The baby lambs couldn’t find the udder to nurse because there was too much wool in the way. It also helps to have them shorn before lambing so that they will come into the barn and out of the cold with their newborn lambs.
Since the shearer likes to keep moving at a steady pace we always have to have sheep ready to go and we need to have the fleece he just sheared off removed from the area so that he can start the next sheep.
We pick up the fleece and bring it to the skirting table and lay the entire fleece out flat. The skirting table is made to have holes for the hay and any second cuts to fall through. We then remove all the edges that have been soiled or matted. The wool around the neck can become matted and have a lot of hay in it, if this is the case we discard it. We also take this time to check the overall quality of the fleece so that we know how we will want to use it. We need to do this quickly so we are ready for the next fleece. When we are finished we roll it up and put it in a bag.
My daughter was in charge of taking a sample of each fleece and putting it in a bag with their name so we could do some more thorough checking of the wool quality later when we have more time. We also weigh each fleece to keep track of who is producing the most in quantity and quality.
We had enough help this year so that I was able to check the sheep to see who was developing an udder in preparation for lambing. It is always a good feeling to see that they are actually pregnant as you are not able to tell very easily when they have all their wool in the way. I had some disappointments but overall we should have a nice crop of lambs.
This was our first year shearing our new Wensleydales and was amazed at the quality of their wool. I am excited to get some washed up to use.
We sheared until after dark this year and were quite happy we had thought to add some extra lighting in the barn. We were thankful it was such a beautiful day but were extremely tired by the time we were finished, probably not as tired as the shearer though. We sheared 66 sheep this year and now we have an entire shed filled with wool waiting for processing. Thankfully we have a local woollen mill only an hour away that does all that work for us. When it is all finished we will have beautiful wool roving for spinning into yarn or felting.
We have had some colder days since shearing, but the sheep have a nice warm barn bedded with straw for them to snuggle up in on the colder days.