How to Shear
excerpted from Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep
by Paula Simmons & Carol Ekarius
used with permission
The real trick in shearing isn’t learning the pattern of the shearing strokes, which lessens the time involved in removing the wool, but in 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.
Note both the holds on the sheep, often by use of the shearer’s foot or knee, and the pattern of shearing in the illustrations.
Even though shearing cuts heal quickly, use an antibacterial spray to help prevent infections, which may spread to the lymph glands or result in fly-strike. Commercial shearers don’t normally do this, but if you’re there to help, you can pay attention to these cuts.
Shearing in 20 Steps
- Shearing is something you learn with practice; over time you’ll develop techniques that work well for you, but these suggestions should help you get started.
- Shear as early as the weather permits so shearing nicks will heal before fly season. Ewes can be sheared (gently) before lambing; this makes it easier to help the ewe if necessary and removes dirty wool tags that the lamb might suck on.
- Never shear when the wool is wet or damp. Damp wool is very hard to dry for sacking and storing. It is also combustible and can mildew.
- Pen the sheep in the afternoon prior to shearing so they will not be full of feed when sheared. A covered holding pen with a slatted floor is ideal.
- Shear on a clean tarp, shaken out after each sheep, or on a wood floor that can be swept off. A 4×4-foot (1.2×1.2 m) piece of plywood works well.
- Shear fleece in one piece, but don’t trim the wool from the legs or the hooves onto the fleece.
- Remove dung tags, and do not tie them in with the fleece.
- Avoid making second cuts – that is, going twice over the same place to tidy up on overlapping your strokes.
- Roll fleece properly, and tie with paper twine if you’re selling to a wool dealer or in a wool pool.
- Skirting the fleece (removing a strip about 3 inches [7.6 cm] wide from the edges of the shorn fleece) is proper, especially if you’re selling to spinners. A slatted skirting table makes this easy and enables any second cuts to drop off if the fleece is thrown onto the table with the sheared side down.
- Be sure you shear black sheep and white sheep separately, sweeping off the floor between each. Do not combine white fleece with dark fleece.
- For spinning wool, expect top dollar for quality (clean fleeces without manure tags, skirtings, or vegetation).
- For lower-quality fleeces, charge lower prices and explain the reason for the price to the customer. These fleeces may be quite adequate for quilt batting, rug yarn, or felting.