Sheep care - Shearing

Shears

Shearing

In the Southern Hemisphere - some people shear once a year, some, like me, shear twice a year.

  • Reasons for shearing include prevention of fly strike (can be fatal)
  • Pre-lambing - ensuring mother sheep will seek weather protection when they have their lambs
  • Trying to keep the full weight of a years fleece from causing the sheep to become cast - which can be fatal.

We have found that the mid-May and End November suit our purposes best (6 monthly intervals). Reasoning: End November - pre-fly strike time/May to get the heavy wool off before wet winter - but before the bad weather really hits.

I usually time any inoculations for post-shearing, as getting a needle through a fleece can be a real challenge!

Shearing Costs

  • Ask around for (a) a good shearer (b) get an idea of costs
  • Prices vary greatly - it tends to be a lot more expensive for small flocks but if you can combine with a few neighbours, it may work out cheaper
  • Some shearers will charge a set up fee plus a per head fee, some will simply do a per head fee
  • Some shearers will charge a different rate if they take the wool away versus if you decide to sell the wool yourself.

I always take the wool in myself, as (a) I enjoy the whole sheep farmer thing and (b) for us, it works out to be a more cost effective deal - personal choice of course.

Pre-shearing:

  • Make sure the shearer knows if you don't have power - a dry/clean area - yards - any idea how to catch your sheep - Shearers will often bring dogs, portable sheep handling gear/yards and generators if asked - IF in doubt ask the shearer what he needs
  • Try to keep the flock off grass for at least 8 hours prior to shearing to allow them to 'empty out'. They will be less wriggly and uncomfortable if you do this - better for them and the shearer
  • If kept confined try to ensure they have enough room so that the fleeces do not become soiled by close contact with feces
  • Put the flock undercover the night before if you to keep them dry - shearers will often refuse to shear a wet flock (more infected cuts for both sides) and your wool will also be rejected by wool buyers if it is wet.

Shearing Day

Assuming you have your own yards - and are able to get the sheep into the yards (or have made arrangements with the shearer to do everything)

Ensure everything is ready and there will be no hanging around, shearers often shear several hundred sheep at different yards per day.

Ensure you have:

  • A good, clean, dry, non-slip surface for the shearer to shear on

Suggestions:

  1. If you have to shear on slippery concrete - get a large piece of garage carpeting to provide a non-slip standing and shearing area (Ebay/free sales are great sources of cheap garage carpeting cut-offs) - ensure it's large enough to cover the concrete area. You don't have to fix it down, the weight and nature of it, seems to hold it in place, and it is easily cleaned and rolled up to be store
  2. Use a large sheet of ply for the shearer to actually shear on
  • If possible allow the shearer to shear undercover
  • A holding area to contain the sheep waiting to be shorn - and a separate area those that have been shorn, if necessary for them to be guided back to fields. Obviously the shearer does not want a bunch of sheep milling around knocking his shearing gear over and getting in the way when he's shearing - nor does he expect to have to catch and drag them a long distance to his shearing equipment!
  • A Solid post or something the shearer can bolt his shearing equipment to

and a functional:

  • Power point
  • Outdoor-capable/rugged power extension cable to reach the shearing area - if it's your first time, make it a long one - in case the shearer picks an unexpected place!
  • Safety power cut off plug
  • Light if necessary
  • First Aid kit (human and ovine)

Things to expect of your shearer:

  • Rough handling of sheep is not necessary - any shearer who gets angry and takes it out on the sheep - should be sent on his way (at the very least!)
  • The odd cut can be expected – I try to spray them immediately with purple (anti-biotic) spray for the avoidance of problems – expect the shearer to think you are slightly mad if you do this but I also jokingly offer to spray any cuts the shearer might get at the outset
  • The sheep should be shorn in a even manner and not look like a bunch of punk rockers when they emerge.
  • REMEMBER to tell the shearer if you have any boys - entires (rams) or castrated (wethers) - he will then avoid the necessary areas! A good shearer should be able to spot a ram, but castrated boys may cover their identity with wool!
  • The shearers should split the wool between the dark and light wool (suffolks with dark wool tend to have less valuable fleeces than other white breeds) and also between the dags (dirty wool), belly (softest wool) and the rest.

After Shearing

  • Ensure access to good shelter (from sun in summer/wind/rain in winter) for up to 8 weeks after shearing - until they have enough cover to prevent burning and cold.
  • Sheep have increased feed-requirements after shearing (up to 6 weeks) - try to build up extra feed in advance for all those hungry mouths
  • VALUE a good shearer - offer tea, biscuits (and cake) - and a place to wash/clean towel afterwards.

Wohoo money for wool!

  • Store the fleeces in a dry cool area prior to taking them to the wool buyers
  • Do not mix up the wool that the shearers separated - you should get more money for your belly wool - don't try hiding your dark wool beneath the white wool - wool buyers are not easily fooled in this respect!
  • Expect the wool price to vary over time - sometimes you will cover your shearing costs - and the price of a few sheep treats - sometimes, just break even.

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