Making Shearing Day Stress-Free
Do you have a small flock of sheep on your farm? Most breeds of sheep, excluding those that shed (such as Dorper sheep) will need to be shorn at least once a year. Other woolly residents of your farm such as alpacas also need an annual haircut. Shearing is necessary to avoid matted wool, heat stress and flystrike. So even if you do not plan on taking up spinning, plan for an annual shearing day!
Outsource or DIY your small farm shearing?
While larger farms running sheep can book professional shearing teams to come in and take care of this task for them, it can be cost prohibitive and logistically difficult to outsource shearing for a small number of sheep. If you have a small flock, your best course of action may be to do it yourself.
Make no mistake, shearing is hard work and in order to make the day run on course, you need to be prepared. Here are our tips to make your shearing day run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
5 shearing day tips
1. Plan ahead
First of all, book this job on the calendar in advance. Most farmers recommend shearing in spring, before the hot weather sets in and before lambing. Book in a date for when you will have helping hands around. You may be able to partner up with some neighbouring small farmers to help each other out.
Note that shearing should be done on dry sheep, so try to choose a traditionally dry period in your area and be prepared to be a little flexible if the weather turns inclement. If rain is forecast, keep your animals under shelter the night before if possible.
Part of your planning should also be to consider where you will do the shearing. You’ll need access to power for your electric shears, and a clear, flat space with enough room to move, near where the sheep will be gathered. If you are shearing outside on the ground, you can put down a large piece of plywood to create a clean ‘floor’. Try to have your shearing area in the shade or under shelter, for the sake of both the humans and sheep. Have water and refreshments on hand for your shearing team as it is very physical work.
If you are sorting your wool as you go, you will need a large table to be able to inspect it. If not, have some on hand to store the wool from each sheep, or wrap each fleece in an old bed sheet ready to inspect later.
2. Gear up
This is one of those jobs where your gear can make a substantial difference. Ensure your shearing equipment is in good working order.
Electric rather than manual shears really are a must. They have three main parts a handpiece, comb and cutting blades. Look for shears with a higher number of teeth on the comb, as these tend to cut closer to the skin. You may find it most cost effective to buy a kit that includes all the components you will need.
If you already have some equipment, it’s important to ensure that the cutters are still sharp before you begin shearing. Like knives, dull cutters can cause injuries and will also make the job of shearing more laborious. The cutters should be clean and disinfected for the best bio-security practices.
New cutters can be purchased separately from your handpiece. Bear in mind that different types of cutters are suits to fine and coarse wool, so you may want to seek advice on what the best option is for your breed of sheep.
As you are shearing, check that your cutters are not becoming overheated or clogged up with lanolin. You may need to change blades throughout the day so make sure you have some spare.
3. Prepare your sheep
In the days before shearing, prepare the sheep by crutching /dagging them removing all the soiled wool from around the anus and tail. This will ensure your fleeces are as clean as possible.
Get your sheep ready for shearing day by keeping them all in a central location such as a holding pen. Make sure they have access to fresh water but no food. Your sheep should fast from the day before shearing so they don’t produce as much waste in the holding pen, making the job less mucky. Fasting the sheep also ensures their tummies aren’t full when you are trying to shear them, which can be very uncomfortable for the sheep when turned on their backs.
4. Understand the technique
Like any other skill, being a good shearer takes technique and practice. If you haven’t had any exposure to shearing, some ways to learn are:
- learn from a more experienced neighbour by assisting on their shearing day
- take a short course at your local agricultural college
- watching videos on YouTube or purchasing instructional DVDs
Ideally, a sheep’s fleece should be shorn off in one piece if you want the wool to hold the highest value. Long ‘blows’ (single cuts with the shears) are the best technique but take practice. You should avoid having to go over areas of wool twice, as the second cut of short wool can’t be spun.
5. Follow up
After shearing is a great time to check your sheep for any health issues. Shearing can be stressful for sheep, so keep an eye on them in the following days to ensure they are not showing signs of stress. If the weather takes an extreme turn, remember your sheep don’t have their usual protection (fleece will take at least 6 weeks to reach a protective state) so provide shelter as they need it.
For the shearers, aftercare is also important! Shearing is hard physical work, so don’t forget to stretch those muscles afterwards to avoid hobbling around in pain.
Click go the shears
Keeping these tips in mind can help you prepare for a more efficient and successful shearing day on your small farm. If you need any help to prepare for shearing day, don’t forget our friendly team are on hand to give you any advice you need.