My favorite part of shearing day is the joy of a newly sheared sheep. The look on their faces as they step off the shearing floor is so priceless. Imagine being 15 to 20 pounds lighter in an instant. They seem to forget how to walk then take off bouncing and hopping like lambs to join their friends at the ‘salad bar’ for breakfast.
There are many viewpoints about whether sheep should be sheared- is it humane? We believe there are many reasons to shear sheep besides being able to work with their beautiful fleeces. Sheared sheep are less prone to health problems such as fly strike, wool blindness and other equally distressing issues that a sheep should not have to endure. Imagine not washing or combing your own hair for over a year- that alone makes me glad they get that haircut!
Our sheep’s shearing day comfort is our utmost concern and there are many things that contribute to the calmness of shearing day.
Since sheep do like to be sneaky little stinkers, having the sheep locked up in the barn the night before is crucial. Otherwise you can be assured of day at the races with too much time convincing them to go inside. That is not great for keeping any of the sheeps’ people from pulling their own hair out. (Wouldn’t it be nice though if we COULD shave and lose a quick 15 pounds or so?)
The sheep spend the night inside and while we do offer them water, they are not fed hay or grain that night. Shearing is not very comfortable if they have a big meal before hand. As soon as they have a haircut, they happily head out for a breakfast salad.
The most important part of shearing day is an excellent shearer who is kind to our sheep and takes his time. He shows up early in the morning clippers in hand, ready for another big day. The shearing floor (several sheets of thick plywood that is not too slick) is set up just outside the sheep’s gate in the barn. One sheep at a time is carefully handed out to the shearer and the next sheep waits inside.
The actual shearing is over quickly. The sheep is gently set on its hinder, cradled by the shearer and the clippers start to hum. Our sheep are used to shearing so are very calm, allowing shearing to be completed in less than 5 minutes. A young sheep may not be so happy to be sheared. They tend to struggle but a good shearer takes the extra time to create a good experience for the sheep.
The sheep is then handed to my hubby. He holds the sheep while I administer vaccines, wormer and check feet and horns to be sure they are trimmed properly.
Another big job on shearing day is scooping up fleeces. The wonderful piles of wooly fluff are picked up after discarding very dirty wool, belly and neck wool. The fleece is marked with the sheeps’ name and stored in an unclosed bag, allowing the fleece to ‘breathe’ until it is sorted completely.
Our day begins very early and is wrapped up early evening. We take a break around noon for a good lunch. We only see our shearer in the spring so we have lots to catch up on. His travels are fascinating and we learn a lot about sheep from him.
This is shearing day at our farm. Just as there are many sheep farms, there are just as many ways to handle a shearing day. What works for one farm may not work for another, but the basics are the same.
Now our sheep are ready for another summer spent happily grazing their days away – until next year when we gather them up and shear their beautiful fleeces all over again.
Jim & Sandy Ryan operate Homested Wool & Gift Farm located in Wisconsin.
Their slogan: “Animal friendly wool?? You bet!”. You can find their wool, yarn and other items on Etsy.