“Out on the board the old shearer stands Grasping his shears in his long bony hands
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied “joe”
Glory if he gets her, won’t he make the ringer go”
For a few weeks now I’ve been waiting for the right day to have the shearer come to free the sheep from their winter woollens. Much like waiting for the sap to run from the maples, and the pond to clear of ice, scheduling shearing day is completely out of my hands. Mother Nature is in control, but she sends me subtile hints that it is time.
By late February, the sheep rub and scratch on any surface available. The Romney’s and Border Leicester fleeces are a long 4-5 inches all around by now, and if you part the fleece you can see where the “old” fleece stopped growing and the new is starting to begin.
This is the sign I look for at about mid February. Letting the fleece grow much beyond this separation will cause a weak spot in the fiber, know as wool break. This is extremely undesirable in a good wool clip. Nutrition plays a key role as well. What you put in is what you get out. Our sheep receive good quality hay as well as whole grains, pelleted grains, and a mineral mix available to them, free choice, at all times.
Our down breeds, Correidale, Southdowns, and Columbias tend to look a little ragged by February. Their fleeces are shorter, finer, and in some sheep, denser than the longwools. Wool break is a concern with their fleeces as well. Each sheep is different from breed to breed, and each fleece is different from sheep to sheep.
After each fleece comes off I shake them, pull off any wool tags and dirt, then bag them for a more scrutinising cleaning then next day. Turning my attention to the sheep on the shearing floor, I look at its body condition, trim and check hooves for any sign of scald or rot, and vaccinate for Tetnus. The then “naked” sheep then joins the flock of it’s fellow shorn friends and the business of finding out who is who begins. A little head-butting, lots of sniffing, and then my favorite part, the bouncing and celebrating of their quick weight-loss begins.
At the end of the day the snow began to come down as a decent pace. We moved into the barn, but so did the sheep, and space was lacking. Two sheep were left ad will be shorn another day. The fleeces are snug in the basement, and I will begin a through cleaning of them on the next sunny day.
Shearing is an art form. Belly wool comes off first, then up the neck, off with the cap, back down one side and up the other. A good shearer ( like mine) can take the fleece off in one piece, leaving little to no second cuts, essentially “peeling” the fleece from the animal as a whole.
“You take off the belly-wool clean out the crutch
Go up the neck for the rules they are such
You clean round the horns first shoulder go down
One blow up the back and you then turn around
Click, click, that’s how the shears go
Click, click, so awfully quick
You pull out a sheep he’ll give a kick
And still hear your shears going click, click, click”
My fleeces are divided by breed and wool-type. Their final destination is two types of yarn, each blended with another of our fibers ( Angora or Mohair ) in two different weights.
Thank you Jeff for being so kind and easy-going. It makes for a relaxed, stress free shearing day for me … and my beloved sheep.