My hand shears
It has been a cool, but dry week in our part of Ohio, and I have been seeing some of my Shetlands scratching themselves on the fences, so that can mean one thing - #sheepshearing2020 has begun! If you’ve never seen a sheep-shearing, head to the internet, and you will find oh-so-many videos. Some that I watched the other night were the “2017 World Blade Shearing Final”, “Fernhill Farm Blade Shearing Competition,” “Sheep Shearing on Dartmoor, Edwardian Farm.” If you have some free time, check them out to see some professionals put their skills to the test.
I have a love/hate relationship with shearing. I love having the fleeces to use for my own spinning/weaving/knitting, and to sell to other fiber artists, but I dislike the actual process. I should say my back dislikes the process! Another video I watched (“Sheep Shearing w/ Hand Shears — I am not a robot”) is almost exactly how I shear — with the sheep upright instead of New Zealand-style shearing (the method used in the first three videos). I take it one step further and have the sheep on a sheep stand instead of on the ground. The stand has a small car jack attached, so I can move the sheep up and down as needed. It doesn’t completely eliminate the need to bend and twist to get all the wool off, but it does help! My back is glad I don’t have to shear New Zealand style — shearers who work that way have all my respect and admiration. I’ve sheared that way before, and just about couldn’t walk afterward — it felt like I was permanently folded in half!
The whole process of shearing, hoof trimming, and tetanus booster takes maybe 20 minutes for each sheep. You may be thinking, wow, the people in those competition videos can shear a sheep in less than 5 minutes...how does it take you 20? Good question! The best answer is that they are experienced professionals at the top of their abilities, and they shear many sheep per day during shearing season. I am none of those things — not experienced, not professional, and I don’t shear dozens of sheep a day! The only commonality is that we are all using hand shears instead of electric clippers (and I even use electric clippers when needed).
Because my flock is only 11 at this point (one ewe just had 2 lambs the other day, and 3 more ewes are left to lamb this year), I take my time and only shear one or two a day. Even with using a stand, by the time I’ve sheared, trimmed hooves, and given them their tetanus booster, I’m spent. A couple of aspirin before I begin, a nice session of restorative yoga afterwards, and I’m done with “heavy lifting” work for the day! The evening will be spent with hot tea and a book on the couch, and some more stretching. Then I’ll do it all again the next day.
Faline before shearing - taken summer 2019
Sheep (at least my Shetlands) are funny little creatures — they will fight me when I catch them and bring them to the shearing stand, fight when I put their head in the chin rest, then stand (more or less) still for the shearing process. I have a few that will get fussy, but it must feel good to have that 3-5” of wool removed because they settle down once they realize this isn’t going to hurt.
Shearing isn’t easy work, but it gives me some “one on one” time with each animal that I may not get when they are out on pasture with the flock. It’s a good time to check the overall health of the sheep by looking at their fleece. Each fleece is different depending on the age and gender of the animal. Soft, coarse, crimpy, wavy, more or less lanolin, long or short wool — so many ways a fleece can turn out. I’ve already finished shearing 4 sheep, and Faline, one of the yearlings I did today, has some super-soft fleece that is about 4-5” long. I’m looking forward to spinning it - it feels amazing.
Faline's sheared fleece - such a beautiful color!
I love to watch the flock after one of them has been shorn — they all cluster around that one, sniffing from front to back, making sure it’s the same sheep they knew before. Once they’re satisfied that this is not a new sheep, but their friend, everyone goes back to grazing. And I understand — that sheep looks remarkably different missing 4-6” of wool!
Faline after shearing - a big difference in looks!
Once all the fleeces are in, the next phase begins. I will pull off the unusable bits (which are usually around the neck, the belly, and the rear end) and start the cleaning process. Then comes the spinning into yarn, and finally knitting or weaving something beautiful!
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