Shearing Sheep Made Easy

Book excerpt includes illustrations on trimming fleece using shearing blades.

| November/December 2013

Shearing sheep is a major job on the homestead, and it has to be done every year on most breeds. If you’re not interested in wool production and don’t want to have to shear, look into the hair breeds. But read on for a how-to primer on the chore of shearing sheep.

You can shear your sheep manually with good old hand shears or with electric (or mechanically driven) clippers. Either way, shearing is a skill that takes practice to perfect and requires good endurance. Professional shearers make it look easy, and some can shear a sheep in less than two minutes, but they’ve had lots of practice.

County extension offices in your area may offer lessons on a yearly basis at a nominal fee, or you may elect to enlist the help of a professional. However, if you find yourself unable to leave the task in the hands of a professional, or simply want to learn, it can be done on your own.

Preparing to shear

Sheep should be gathered up to 12 hours before you plan to shear and put in a handling facility that minimizes stress on you and them. The pen that holds them should be clean and dry. If the sheep are wet, don’t shear them. With a larger flock, it pays to break them down into groups that have similar fleeces: for example, by breed, staple length, age, and so on.

Shearing sheep can be tough on your back. It’s a good idea to do some stretching exercises before you start. You may also want to wear a back-support belt, available at your local pharmacy. Some shearers use a sling that helps suspend their torso above the sheep.

How to shear

The real trick in shearing isn’t learning the pattern of the shearing strokes, which lessens the time involved in removing the wool, but rather immobilizing sheep by the various holds that give them no leverage to struggle. A helpless sheep is a quiet sheep. Rendering sheep helpless cannot be done by force alone, for forcible holding makes them struggle more. Try to stay relaxed while you work.

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