May 11, 2011
Sheep Shearing at my Farm
As you may know, I keep a pair of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and being spring, it was time to shear those beauties. Shearing sheep and other fleece-bearing animals, such as llamas, alpacas, and fiber goats, requires great skill and considerable strength. For your animal’s safety and for the best fleece yield, it’s important to have this done by someone with the proper expertise, so we called Erin Pirro of Pirro Farm, LLC. Sheep shearing is quite an amazing process. You may think that after trimming, the wool just falls off in clumps. However, because wool fibers are covered with tiny scales that cling to one another, the fleece actually stays together in one piece after shearing. This property is what also allows wool to be spun into yarn so easily. Once the fleece is shorn, it must then be skirted, a process of picking through and removing undesirable bits of wool, hay, and other debris. Next, the fleece is washed and then goes through another process called carding, turning it into a fluffy, manageable fiber that can then be spun into yarn.
1 Erin and her husband, John arrived to shear my sheep. Behind me is Lily, my housekeeper and Betsy, my stable manager opening the gate.
2 The little sheep looked rather concerned.
3 Erin laid down a clean 4' x 8' sheet of plywood upon which the shearing is done. The plywood helps to keep ground debris away from the fleece.
4 Isolating the sheep in a small pen makes it easier to catch them. Chasing will only agitate, making it more difficult to shear.
5 Looking for a way out
6 After grabbing the ram, he was put in a seated position on the plywood.
7 Erin starts by shearing the belly.
8 After shearing, the incidental belly fleece is discarded because it is tangled with debris and is quite compacted.
9 After the belly, Erin worked around the rump to the upper body.
10 And then around the neck
11 Of course, I wanted to try this skill.
12 I was amazed how the soft, buttery fleece just cascaded off in one continuous piece.
13 When I reached the backbone, Erin took over.
14 Then she flipped the ram over and continued shearing the other side.
15 Meanwhile, the ewe looked on with great wonder.
16 The sweet little ram with his newly exposed body
17 When Erin completed the shearing of the ram, John took the occasion to trim the cloven hooves with sheers, a job that needs to be done every 4 to 6 weeks.
18 That's quite a difference!
19 The ram's fleece was laid out in one piece on the plywood.
20 Then it was rolled up with the shorn side facing out.
21 And then rolled even further, forming a neat bundle.
22 Next, it was the ewe's turn.
23 The shears in action - These are extremely sharp and it takes great skill and strength to hold down the sheep and shear at the same time.
24 When you shear a sheep, you leave an eighth of an inch of wool on the animal. This might not sound like much, but it's the thickness of the average wool blanket.
25 It's important that the sheep are sheared before summer's heat sets in for the comfort of the animal and for the shearer.
26 A strong back is required!
27 The ram watched intently.
28 Baaa!!! What's going on?
29 Where's my coat?
30 The ewe emerging from her heavy fleece
31 The fleece is so thick and shiny with lanolin and you can actually feel it on your hands during shearing.
32 Trimming the ewe's hooves
33 Another one complete!
34 The little lambs seem so energetic and much happier now with shorter wool.