On the farm there are many different occasions to look forward to. Some come around more frequently than others, but shearing day is only once a year on our farm. This past year we had our shearer, Gwen, come on March 7th. She comes in the morning with her Icelandic sheep dog and her special clippers to shear our sheep. As an experienced shearer it takes her less than 10 minutes to shear one of our ewes.
The morning before shearing the sheep all get locked in the barn for three main reasons: 1) We don’t want the sheep to get wet. A damp or wet fleece makes it difficult for the clippers to cut the wool and can make the wool mold after its put into bags for storage. 2) We want the sheep to have empty stomachs. It is best for sheep to be shorn on empty stomachs since they’ll be on their backs and bent into uncomfortable positions for the shearer to clip all the wool. and 3) when the sheep are packed tight their collective body heat will help to warm up the lanolin that is in their wool so the clippers have an easier time cutting through it.
The day before shearing we take advantage of the flock being confined and clip their feet and go over their body condition. This way if we have any concerns we can make a note and get a closer look the next day after they’re shorn.
The next morning the shearer shows up around 9:30 and we get right to work. Nick is in the pen and he catches the sheep to bring out to Gwen.
Gwen shears the sheep, she starts by shearing their leg hair first. This hair is swept away and put in the trash bin. It’s too short to use for anything so we dump it in the woods for the wild critters to use as bedding. Next she starts on the neck and goes own the belly of the sheep, as if shes unzipping a large winter jacket. Slowly she works her way around the sheep until the whole fleece is laying like a blanket on the ground. The ewe is then put right side up on her feet and she exits the barn to go munch on the hay bale.
I’ll pick up the fleece as one piece and lay it out on the skirting table. The skirting table is a 6×6 foot table with mesh. Myself and a friend, Naomi, skirt the fleeces while her husband, Sean, sweeps the floor in preparation for the next sheep to be shorn.
Skirting a fleece is an important step before storage. Skirting is the act of removing feces, lanolin deposits and Vegetable Matter, commonly referred to as VM. Some shepherds put coats on their sheep to help keep the fleeces extra clean. The coats keep dirt, seed heads and other debris from collecting in the sheeps fleece. Once the fleece is skirted we wrap it up in a large sheet and put it off to this side to begin working on the next one. This year we sheared 23 sheep. Each fleece is individually packaged and I sell raw fleece through the month of June. In July any remaining fleeces will be sent to the fiber mill in Harmony Maine to be turned into yarn or roving.
Shearing is one of my favorite times of year because you really get to see the sheep. Its wonderful to see fat, white naked sheep walking around knowing that they’re going to spend an entire year growing out their fleece. The ewes also look very relieved to be 6-7pounds lighter and go around itching on anything they can find.
Next year we look forward to opening the farm up on shearing day for visitors to see the action and ask questions.