Shear Madness

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, June 2010 – January 2012]

The time has finally come for shearing the sheep. Come on over with me to the corrals and let’s see what our shearing operation looks like this year. Bring your muck boots and good humor!

Shearing is a big thing in our little town. It’s a real community activity. When the shearers come through town all of the people who have smaller flocks of sheep gather at the “Hansen Brothers” corrals for shearing day. We’re lucky – so very lucky – to be able to use the Hansen’s corrals for lambing as well as for shearing, and they are just down the “block” from us on the canal road, so it’s really close. Normally, you would be lucky to see one pickup at the corrals – two or three, maybe, at lambing time (and then you know that they are either Hansens or us), but they’re lined up along the road on shearing day!

So, the first thing that we do when we arrive for shearing, after meeting the shearers, is to get the flocks organized and into the chute. It’s somewhat chaotic, and definitely a group effort. The sheep are so funny to see – they are all fluffy and at this point they barely fit through the gates.

Then, after they all get into the “entry” chute, they are guided up to the entry of the shearing trailer. This “guiding” usually entails some poking and prodding, and the sheep tend to give some pretty funny expressions (see the very first photo!). Af,ter a certain point, however, the sheep get all resigned and just go in.

So, now the woolies are in the trailer getting sheared. It all happens so fast! These shearers were really quick this year. It’s incredible to me how many sheep they can get done in a day. We have around 35 ewes this year – we scaled back last year, but I’m hoping we can keep the ewe lambs and get back up to around 60 ewes for next year. Anyway. Back to the shearing trailer. Here’s what it looks like from the side that the sheep exit from, and what a newly sheared sheep coming out looks like.

So, now we have sheared sheep, but what happens to the wool? It gets taken by hand out of the trailer on the other side and placed on a big tarp.

From there, the wool is separated very carefully – NO black wool in with the white wool!!!!! White wool fetches the highest prices, and if you “contaminate” a wool bag with colored wool, it’s a big problem to sell. From there, we sell our white wool, and we keep the colored wool for me to spin and knit with. I got to label my own big bag this year:

And, of course, I have to put in a photo of my farmboys on shearing day. It is so much fun to see them being part of the “production!”

YAY! We how have comfortable sheep – AND lambing is scheduled to begin any moment. It’s always nice to have the sheep sheared pre-lambing rather than post. It makes it SO much easier for the little lambs to find milk!

So, farmgirl sisters, stay tuned for the next episode – LAMBS GALORE!!! I can’t wait to share it with you. It’s my very favorite time of the year with sheep. The lambs are Soooooo sweet!

So, tell me, what’s happening around YOUR place?

NEWS FLASH: We have a few new lambs already. Here’s a photo of things to come!:

  1. Joan Kapanke says:

    What a wonderful "event"! I live in the mountains of NC and we have a small "farm" with 25 chickens and 2 horses. We also tend lots of gardens for flowers, veggies and herbs. I sell my extra eggs to a few neighbors, and 4 dozen a week go to a small catering company for which I work 3 days a week. Having spent my middle life in the city in Florida, I love our retirement in the country. Enjoy reading your blogs every month, and wish I had the time, land & energy to really get into farming!

  2. Therese says:

    The first picture is delightful. They can be such characters! I love the smell of fresh washed wool. Your story and pictures make me want to do some felting! Thank you for sharing

  3. Cathy K says:

    Wow, you sure shear your sheep early! We don`t do ours until June here in the Salt Lake Valley, and that is well past lambing season (which is just about over here). Still waiting for my friend`s Tunis sheep to lamb, any day now. We had lots of twins this year, no triplets like last year. Now you must tell the readers about banding the tails and about Little Boy Blue, the nursery rhyme “leaving their tails behind them” (originally) vs. “wagging” or “bringing their tails behind them (modern version). Hugs, Cathy K in Murray, UT

  4. Rosalie in NH says:

    Every Mothers’ Day weekend my small New Hampshire town hosts the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival. Folks from all over New England bring their sheep, goats, alpacas and rabbits–anything with a fleecy coat–to our State fairgrounds to display, compete, exchange ideas and make connections.
    Shearing demos are always well attended. All the newest equipment and techniques for animal care are presented. There are spinners, weavers and knitters working away through the whole weekend.
    My favorite is always the sheepherding competition, known here as the Dog Trials. There are generally about 20 to 30 dogs, mostly border collies, competing for ribbons, small cash prizes and the admiration of a hundred or so fans.
    Shepherds and dogs work together to gather and corral small flocks of very nervous sheep. With whistles, clicks and voice commands the shepherds communicate to the dogs which way to go, when to stop, creep, chase, block and crowd the stock. Some of the dogs need barely any direction at all. They know their jobs and how to get them done!
    One year, for fun, the shepherds’ association challenged the onlookers to corral 3 sheep without the dog. Three women volunteered. How hard could it be? If a dog can do this, surely 3 smart, strong women can succeed!
    Those gals right smartly managed to get 2 of the 3 sheep into the pen. The third was not so cooperative. They chased and bluffed that ewe all over the field. It appeared the lone sheep actually wanted to be with the others, but wanted to do it her own way. Meanwhile, naturally, the other 2 escaped and the fun started all over again. The contest continued for another 10 minutes or so and all but the sheep were exhausted. Two sheep were now back in the pen but the last was still on the loose.
    Not to be defeated, one solidly-built lady grabbed the final sheep around the middle, carried her to the pen and hoisted her over the stile. That sheep couldn’t have weighed less than 60 lbs. and squirmed and kicked all the way. The applause was explosive!
    Then the shepherd sent his oldest dog into the ring and Shep had those 3 woolies in the pen and secure in about 2 minutes and 10 seconds! And no heavy lifting!
    The Humane Society won’t let us hold Greased Pig Contests at the State Fair anymore. The Women Wooly Wrestlers may be the wave of the future!
    Many thanks for sharing the experience of Shearing Day. Happy Lambing!

  5. Kris says:

    Thanks so much for all the great pictures. I love sheep. I am getting my front pasture ready for some sheep. My friend has Suffolk ewes about ready to lamb. I will get some for meat. Then another friend has Shetland-Cheviot that I want for the wool. I hope to be getting some in the next few months. I can hardly wait.

    My heifer just had her 1st calf, a bull, a few days ago. That was very exciting. Glad it’s over and she had a nice healthy calf. I also have 2 does due in a few weeks. Also getting lots of chicken and turkey eggs now.

    And a few pigs getting ready to go to market middle of April.

    So busy days here at Outback Farm in North Georgia. I am loving all the new babies!

  6. Megan says:

    We are shearing right now too, but we have a tiny flock, so I get all the wool to spin! 🙂
    Happy lambing!

  7. irina pivtchev says:

    hi very interesting how your sheep get sheared! i as a kid did 300 + sheep at easter time i sheared by hand the old way! hard work but i was a dummy–my dadsfriend from canada showed my dad how to shear sheep he was a old russian man so me being curoious i thought i should do this too–well it turned out the russian taught me very well and i was stuck shearing all the sheep every year during easter break growing up! :]

  8. Jeanie Allen Davis says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. We have a friend who learned to shear her own sheep. But rather than sell the wool, she cards, washes and spins it. And, yes, she has the wool labeled as to which ships was the contributor. Also loved your photos.

  9. Joan says:

    Thanks for the shearing story – been a long time since last I was ‘there’. We are still having a bit of Winter so not much happening here on the mid-eastern plains of Colorado. Oh by the way I live in a ‘burb’ but my sons family lives on a 5 acreage just up the hill so I still get to enjoy his ‘farm’ – 4 horses, a flock of chickens, 2 dogs, 2 cats and 2 of the most of the most grandchildren. For me I do my ‘farm girling’ in my back yard with a windmill, watering tank (which I use for tomatoes) and dream that I’m on a ‘real farm’. Keep up the good work on those boys – ah God’s blessings are many.

  10. Lorrie says:

    thanks for sharing, I too am in the midst of lambing seaon here in Diamond Lake,WA. I just love my little hobby farm and coming from city life this is a BIG change for me, but will not ever go to that hustle and bustle anymore. I wish we had some shearing professionals in my area as shearing for my husband and I is an all day affair for the few I have to shear and I am sure that if anyone saw us they would be having a good laugh sure. We really enoy the country life and the hard work really is gratifiying. Take care and have fun.

  11. Izzy says:

    I have just begun breeding German Angoras for hand spnining and I would like to learn more. I have a new litter of kits, a buck and a doe. I am harvesting a humongous ammout of wool just from these two! I am interested in atending a shearing party. Will there be any near Minnesota in the near future? I have several friends who would also be very interested as well.

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