Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tuesday Dose of Cute: Sheep Shearing Day 2010

First victim!

Lots more below. . .




Next victim! This is the little lamb who used to be called Spot (until we started calling this guy Spot), and who I think we're going to name Fiona. But it's not too late to vote for your favorite 'F' name for her here! Fiona it is! You can see more of her here.


She was very brave during her first woolcut.


And she looks so different now!


I love the black sheep (read about shearing them here, see more black sheep photos here).


It's my baby Cary!


Action shot - a shepherd's crook is indispensible.


Shearing Inspector, aka Franny, my 2009 Katahdin bottle baby (scroll down to see her face here)


Wool Inspector


It's Spot's spot!



Turns out, little light brown Freida is really a beautiful brownish grey.


Snugglebunny's expressions are priceless (and her Actions are pretty hysterical, too).


He makes it look so easy.




Da Big Guy went second to last—and had a whole lot of wool on him.


Done!


And it's a whole new ewe!

Preparations for Sheep Shearing Saturday began on Friday, when we moved the non-pregnant sheep—who have been living across the driveway from the barn in about an acre and a half-size pen—into the barn with the pregnant ewes (yes, the fabulous, incredible, very-high-ceilinged, no hardhat required, new barn—which I still haven't shared construction photos of, but will someday soon I promise). That way we could lock them in the barn for the night and they would all stay dry, because even just a heavy dew on the wool means you can't shear them.

On Saturday morning we penned the sheep and their faithful stock dog, Lucky Buddy Bear, into one side of the barn to await their turn at shearing (you can see some of them waiting
here.) One by one, they were caught up by my hunky farmguy Joe and maneuvered over to the shearer.

At that point, the sheep were all together in one group; the divider panels were only there to help move them along and keep them from smashing up against each other quite as much, especially since some of them are very pregnant.

After each sheep was sheared, they were urged toward a pen behind the barn where fresh hay awaited, but a number of the sheep chose to circle back around the shearer and me as I was gathering up the wool so they could hang out with their unshorn buddies.

Usually we would sort them back into groups at this time (the pregnant ewes get more food than the rest of the flock), but since we decided we wanted to work all the sheep first (trimming hooves and giving each of them a natural wormer and all-around health tonic 'drench' of garlic juice and organic raw apple cider vinegar), the pregnant ewes (along with a few really old sheep who need some extra TLC) were given a green chalk mark on their backs so we can easily see who to sort out after working them. (We also drink 1 Tablespoon of organic raw apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water each day for our own overall health. Drink it through a straw to save your tooth enamel!)

We used to shear our sheep in late spring after lambing season was over, but we've found that it works out better for everyone if we do it before lambing season—especially since late spring shearing always seemed to happen during a massive heat wave. You can read more about why we now shear early here.

And while it's definitely still winter in southern Missouri, the sheep will be fine. The first three or four days after they're sheared are the most critical, and it's important to keep them warm and dry (freezing rain is the worst). The weather has been fairly mild the past few days, but we've been locking them in the barn at night just to be safe. Our shearer also used a different cutting comb than he does during warmer months, so more wool was left on the sheep.

The only drawback to shearing so much earlier is that juggling everybody's schedules along with the winter weather can often be quite tricky. I think this is the first time in four years that we actually sheared the sheep on the first day we planned to do it. You can read more about shearing rescheduling here.

We sheared a total of 39 sheep this year (at a cost of $6 per sheep), some of which were the crossbred Suffolk and Katahdin hair sheep we're experimenting with in an effort to reduce internal parasite problems, specifically the 'barber pole' stomach worms that thrive in our three wet and warm seasons. So far the plan is working beautifully.

The purebred Katahdins in our flock, who are naturally parasite resistant, don't need to be sheared; their hair comes off on its own. You can see how that works here, and you'll find more photos of our Katahdin hair sheep here.

We also didn't shear the three oldest sheep because the stress of losing their wool this time of year is too great. We learned this the hard way last winter. Big Chip and Skinny Chip (my two big pet wethers who were the first lambs born during my very first lambing season, and who still love to hug) and Martha, the last of the 'old flock,' are fourteen, which is old. Since most people get rid of sheep long before that (if they haven't already died), there isn't a lot of information available on the care of geriatric woolies.

Many of you ask what we do with all the wool. My original plan when I acquired my starter flock shortly after moving to the country 15 years ago was to raise colored wool sheep and become a hand spinner (and better knitter). But things don't always go as planned. Instead, we raise meat sheep. Yes, some of our lambs do end up on the dinner table—after they've had the very best, all natural, stress free lives possible. You can read a little more about how I feel about raising animals for meat, which I am so glad I do, here.

So we raise meat sheep, not 'wool' sheep, and the fleeces that come off our sheep when they're sheared aren't the kind desired by hand spinners. Our sheep are mostly Suffolks (with the black faces and legs), and that breed is known for having wool that is coarse and short, which aren't desirable qualities for spinning.

Add to that the fact that our sheep regularly tromp through the woods and brambles and do not wear little cloth coats to keep their coats clean, and let's just say that basically their wool is a mess. That said, a few adventurous souls have actually spun some of it (after spending either countless hours cleaning it or lots of dollars paying to have somebody else do it), and I was thrilled to once touch a sweater made from 'my' wool.

I acquired my original flock of sheep in 1995, and I used to pay $2 a sheep to have them sheared. At that time there was a market for wool, and the shearer would act as a middleman. He tightly packed the fleeces into giant burlap sacks which he took when he left.

When he was finished shearing sheep for the season, he would sell all the sacks at one time to a big wool buyer. He knew ahead of time how much they would pay, so he paid me for my wool when he sheared, deducting a few cents per pound as his cut. The wool payment more than covered the cost of shearing.

He paid me about 37 cents a pound, and even the icky 'tags,' all the leftover really dirty pieces of wool, earned me 10 cents a pound. A few years later, the bottom fell out of the U.S. wool market, and he said the wool buyers were only paying something like 3 cents a pound for the good wool, which simply wasn't worth all the work for him to handle it anymore. Shearing suddenly became another cost, rather than a profit.

At this time, we don't have any wool for sale. And while the half-Katahdin fleeces need to be sheared off the sheep, I'm not sure if that 'wool' would even be spinnable.

We do, however, put some of the wool to good use around the farm. It makes excellent permanent mulch, and very cozy pet beds. And I have some of the nicest brown fleeces (that I love so much) set aside, just in case I ever have the time and inclination to do something wonderful and crafty with them.

The actual shearing time this year was just over two and a half hours, which really wasn't long at all (I've had it take over 7 hours to shear far fewer sheep when it was just me and a different sheep shearer working in the heat), but it's always an exhausting process nonetheless.

Okay, I hope I've answered all your questions, and that you've enjoyed this little sheep shearing adventure. Farmgirl Fare—it's all of the farm fun and none of the work!


Want to see more sheep shearing photos?
1/31/07: This Year's New Sheep Shearing Plan
2/3/07: Sheep Shearing Delays
2/7/07: Cary Coming at You!
2/11/07: Cary's First Woolcut
2/18/07: Scenes from Sheep Shearing Day 2007
2/19/07: Back in Black—I Love Black Sheep!
3/12/08: Cary Babies?

© FarmgirlFare.com, the photo filled foodie farm blog where it's always so nice to have the sheep shearing done—and I don't seem to have posted any photos of Sheep Shearing Day 2009. Huh. I do know we definitely did it!

33 comments:

  1. Really interesting post, thanks for all the info and photos. I love the last photo, the sheep look like they're wearing ribbed vests and the expression on Snugglebunny's face is priceless - I want to come and give her a big hug.

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  2. Thank you for the detailed explanation and the great photos. I have seen shearing at wool festivals and the sheep really do look so cute after shearing. Now, I know more about the actual process. That must have been a tremendous amount of work!

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  3. What blessedly beautiful creatures! I don't suppose they really enjoy being sheared though.

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  4. They are so cute! Thanks for sharing the pictures.

    Are you looking for sheep names for this spring yet? I think you should just make two lists of names starting with this year's letter (one for males and one for females) and just go down the list as the sheep are born. I'm sure that if you ask for name suggestions on the blog that you'll get plenty of ideas.

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  5. Wow...these pictures did a great job of telling the shearing story. And funny you commented on Sunnybunny's expression because I had just thought to myself what a look she had. Like she was indignant about you taking her picture while she's nekkid - ha.

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  6. oh, sorry - SNUGGLEBUNNY - not Sunnybunny. I better take cover - I bet she's giving ME a look now.

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  7. Wow, Joe's back must be screaming right now!

    It was cool to see Spot's spot and it was cool to see Cary.

    Does a sheep NEED to be sheared periodically?

    Still loving the blog.

    JG in Saratoga

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  8. Thanks for the explaination - it was really interesting to read. I love to see photos of your animals - I like the black sheep too.

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  9. even thou you don't shear for wool spinning, i still get a charge when i see the sheep getting sheared! it gets my creative spinning mind whirling. I just love sheep. Love you photos!

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  10. This is so exciting! But I want to know if they are scared. I don't know why I want to know that.

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  11. Just a thought - while the wool may not be the best for spinning, it would be wonderful for stuffing! There are many of us who make vintage reproduction and Waldorf type dolls who use wool as stuffing, and I also use it to stuff the pincushions that I make. Thanks for the great pics and wonderful descriptions of the process!

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  12. Great post. I love how you explain things especially since I'm a city girl and only get to see sheep at the zoo. (how sad) The photos as usual are fantastic. Thanks again.

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  13. Our shearer is coming in a couple of weeks. This is the first time we've had a professional do it. I am SO GLAD I never have to hold another sheep for shearing again. That work is for the birds, man.

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  14. I'm sure the sheep aren't thrilled about being sheared, but they look SO much more comfortable now. I can just imagine they can rub against a fence post and REALLY scratch that itch better now.

    One suggestion for the wool - if it felts at all, dogs seem to LOVE felted wool balls as toys. I make them with castille soap and I'm not sure if its the smell of olive oil or sheep, but our dogs (and cats) are always so fascinated by them. They don't have to be pretty for the dogs to love them and they felt really quickly in the washer & dryer (yeah, I cheat).

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  15. Pretty neat! I've never seen sheep shearing before and the pics explain a lot. Like "Anonymous" I wonder why sheep need to be sheared if you don't intend to spin the wool-because of the heat in the summer? What happens to unshorn sheep?! And this just shows you how much I (don't) know about sheep, but what did sheep used to do with all that wool before people started shearing them?!

    Thank you for sharing!

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  16. Thanks so much for posting this, all the pics are so great. Have you ever seen any Tunis sheep? It's the breed I'd love to own and raise someday...naturally hardy and good mothers, good for wool and meat, and beautiful red coats.

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  17. i used to be traumatized on shearing day on my grandpa's farm--there's something about seeing a blue tongue lolling out of a poor sheep's mouth that disconcerts me. :)

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  18. So cute. They look like mummies!

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  19. really interesting, I can almost smell my shearing day memories from my childhood and youth on my parents sheep farm, also primarily meat and my mother didn't spin either, but we brought it to a spinning mill and got it back, so my mother have knitted several sweaters to me and I had a fur coat made of skin from 4 lambs!

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  20. What a great post!!! You certainly answered all my non-farmgirl questions and the pictures were great. How about using the wool to stuff dogbeds???? I'll bet they would be snapped up in a day on this website (and my dogs Murphy and Trixie would be hot bidders!)

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  21. Great post and pictures. I always learn something reading your blog.

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  22. Thanks for your very informative post. Yesterday as we traveled to Versailles Missouri, we notice sheep that had been sheared. I thought perhaps it was earlt. But you've told me the story!
    So now I know.

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  23. Hi,

    I enjoyed your blog post and all your photos of your shearing day. Our sheep also live a more outdoors life so I can appreciate the fact that the wool is less than pristine!

    We have also used our wool for mulch and feel it would be great for pet beds, I just haven't squeezed in the time to actually make them into pet beds. Someday.

    I am also intrigued by your crossbred program (Suffolk to Katahdin) for parasite resistance. Good for you, I hope it works out well.

    Arlette

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  24. Oh, I remember those days growing up on the farm! We always did it later in the spring and I was kind of surprised with doing it this time of year but, it definitely makes sense and glad you kept them warm! We had one black lamb we turned into a pet. A few times, we had to feed milk to some using a large Pepsi Cola bottle with a large black nipple on it. Those were the best of times and I thank you for the memories!

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  25. Loved your post - great pics and descriptions. Have you ever had lambs who reject their moms after shearing? My aunt used to have 3 black sheep and waited a couple of years before she got them sheared. One had given birth and the month old lamb wouldn't go to her mom after mom was sheared - the lamb went over and lay down on "mom", which was the pile of wool that had just come off. After all, it smelled like mom, so it must be mom, right?

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  26. I'm always a fan of your photos and stories, but this time I really loved how you included so much detail about what you do and why (and also learning the hard way...).
    Hope to some day have some 4-footed farm animals, and am definitely interested in info and experiences! Where/how do you sell your sheep for meat? Direct to a wholesaler?

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  27. Hey Susan....we also raise Kathadin, love the bred. Our ewes are expecting first week in April. Can hardly wait for all the new babies, so much fun. Just received some news from hubby, we have a premi about 3 lbs, it's sad because the "lamb" that had the baby is only 10 months old herself. She was apparently expecting when we bought her in August.....hopefully our little one will make it.
    Anyway...love reading your blog, feels like we have a lot in common.
    BevK

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  28. Never learned so much about shearing sheep! I think my little doggies look a little like your black sheep (after the sheep's been sheared) :)

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  29. Hi Everybody,
    It's great to hear that so many of you enjoyed this post. I can see I didn't answer quite all your questions, though (and you've asked some good ones!), so I'll try to put up another post in a the next few days answering the rest of them.

    Thank you all for taking the time to write - I really appreciate the feedback, as it helps let me know what things you most enjoy seeing and reading about on this site. :)

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  30. I always wondered what went into shearing sheep. Very informative--and interesting too. Love the pictures.

    Jodi (also a Missourian)
    Midwest Nature Lover Blog

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  31. Eek! Naked sheep!

    Shearing is a skill I have not, yet, mastered. I failed miserably even with a dead (post slaughter) sheep I tried practicing on. It is a great skill and there are too few left who know it.

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  32. Sheep are the one live stock that I didn't have on my farm. It looks fun and challenging all at once! They look very well taken care of!

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