Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shearing the Sheep

Last Saturday's shearing was a great success. Let me walk you through it...

Drive in here, and park your car wherever you can find room. Don't mind the mud. This is a farm, after all, and in the winter it's either mud or ice and snow. Don't mind our dog, either. She's just happy to see you!

Walk in and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. The (rare) sunshine outside makes the barn seem a bit dark. You'll get used to it. Here is a pen of our Polypay sheep, waiting for their annual haircut. Along the far wall is a built in ramp chute leading up to the shearing stand. We use this chute for shearing, vaccinating, hoof trimming and just generally sorting sheep. It's a lot easier on them (and us) than running after them, pouncing on them, wrestling them down and dragging them to where you want them to go.

They wait in line, advancing forward until they reach the front of the line. The shearer pulls down the door, pulls them out and onto their rear ends and goes to work. He puts them up on their bottoms (and then on their sides) holding them in just such a way so they don't fight. Fighting the shearer while he's working with an electric shears is not a good idea.

Each sheep takes 3-4 minutes to shear. The shearer works fast, as he's got 110 sheep to shear today. The older sheep do not say anything--they must know what's happening. The first-timers, however, baaaaaaa quite a bit.

The wool comes off mostly in one piece. One of us picks up the fleece and tosses it, clean side down, on the wire skirting table. Hopefully, someone else sweeps off the shearing stand quickly, before the next sheep's turn. A couple of us work together at "skirting" the fleece--taking out the section by the sheep's neck that is full of hay, pulling off any dreadlocks that have formed over the year, and removing any extremely dirty wool. In the photo above, I am the one in the back, talking with her hands. Typical.

After the shearing, the sheep hops up and runs down an alleyway to find her friends and her lunch. Off to the left are the feeders, and the lambing jugs and bonding pens are along the right. I always tell the folks who are uncertain about whether shearing is kind or cruel--watch the sheep. Does she seem traumatized? No. She gets right up and trots off.

As I've said before, we shear right before lambing for the sake of the lamb, and for wool quality. Lambs will suck on anything hanging down, looking for the food source. If what they find is dirty wool tags, they will continue to suck on the dirty wool and they may starve to death.

Lambing and lactation are hard on a ewe, as is sickness. Any stress like this causes the ewe's body to concentrate on vital things. Wool quality suffers, and the wool will be weak at the growth point where the stress occurred. When we shear right before lambing/lactation, the weak point happens at the tip of next year's growth. A little bit of wool breakage at the tip still provides a long staple. Wool breakage in the middle of the clip makes the wool very inferior and basically unsalable.


  1. How long does it take for the wool to grow back in?

  2. Wool, like hair, begins growing back immediately. We shear once a year, so what we take off (3 - 6") is a year's worth of growth.

  3. Awesome! Looks like you have a "well oiled machine" there.

  4. Really enjoyed this post,wish I lived closer!


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