By Sarabeth Parido
Shearing is a big undertaking! For wool producers–shearing day is one of the most important days of the year. Growing a quality fleece is a year long process. Whether you have 2 sheep or 200, if you are wanting to get the most value for your wool, it is important to make this day (or days) as easy as possible for all involved and this takes planning. Here’s some of our top tips in making your shearing day a success:
Round up your sheep prior to the shearer arriving. Many shearers will charge extra if they are responsible for rounding up your animals for you. Your sheep will respond to you best anyway; they may only see their shearer once a year and will not respond to them like they will come to their shepherd. Handling the round up is just extra work on the shearer before a very labor intensive task.
Sheep must be dry to shear. It is very important that you put your sheep under roof if possible before shearing to avoid being in the elements and reduce the moisture in your fleeces prior to shearing. Shearing equipment does not operate well on wet fleece, most shearers will have to cancel your appointment if they arrive and your sheep are wet. Many shearers are scheduled months ahead of time and rescheduling may not be optimal for either you or your shearer.
Sheep should be kept off water and food for 12 hours prior to shearing to avoid full or gassy rumens. This is uncomfortable for the sheep and can lead to stress or even death. Sheep should be sheared as early in the spring as possible. If possible, they should be crutched or sheared prior to lambing. This allows for the lambs to more easily feed and keeps them more sanitary.
Sheep should be sheared on a clean, dry surface. Plywood, old rugs, canvas, or concrete floors are all suitable shearing surfaces. The shearing floor should be swept after each sheep. The belly wool, top knot, and other tags should be skirted away or packaged separately from the fleece wool. Some niche buyers like the neck wool specifically for color variations and texture, it will likely need more processing, but this wool can be specifically marketed.
Have all your tools close at hand. Keep your bags for collecting fleece, any vaccines or dewormers that you may want or need to administer while the shearer has the sheep contained, tags, hoof trimmers and record book close by. You will get into a rhythm with your shearer as the day progresses, it helps to have everything organized and at hand. It’s also good to have snacks for yourself and your shearer, a broom for sweeping the shearing surface between animals, first aid kit, etc- readily available and within reach.
Don’t skip skirting. High quality fleeces for both commodity and niche markets or to be sent to the mill should be skirted before sending off. If you are storing your wool to use yourself, you will also still want to skirt it before storing it to avoid bugs, other undesirable pests, mold, or mildew setting in and ruining your hard earned fleece. Skirting is when the undesirable parts of the fleece are removed: tags, stained wool, sweat locks, second cuttings, heavily contaminated areas and large vegetable matter pieces are separated from the fleece and thrown aside. A simple skirting table can be made from a 4 x 6 foot wooden frame suspended on saw horses, overlayed with chicken wire or metal mesh or screen, as long as the holes are large enough for the dirt, contaminants and second cuts to fall through. If a skirting specific table is unavailable to you, simple skirting can be done on any large flat area.
We get by with a little help from our friends. Setting up help for your shearing day so that you can skirt as you go will make all the difference. Though you can save skirting each fleece for another day, with an assistant or two on shearing day, you can skirt each fleece as it comes off the sheep saving you time and making storing your fleece better. Having help available to you can be as simple as having someone sweep the shearing area clean between animals while you and/or your shearer get the next animal. If you expect to do annual vaccines or hoof trimming during this time, be sure to check with your shearer and have help on hand to make this as low stress for your animals as possible.
Pack your bags well. Fleece should be placed loose in bags. If you want to group by color, multiple fleeces can go in one bag as long as there is room. If wool is packaged in plastic trash bags, the bags should be left open to allow moisture out. Fleeces should not be closed up right away to avoid molding and mildew to set in as the fleece “sweats”. Let it breathe.
Most wool sheep need to be sheared at least once a year. Some long wool breeds need twice a year harvesting of their wool. Although some breeds are known for their high value fleeces, all wool is valuable and can be an added profit to producers. Treat shearing day as a priority and you will see a better return for the investment you’ve spent all year working towards!
Sarabeth Parido, is the Director of the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and The Kentucky Fiber Trail. She raises her own small flock of sheep in Clark County, Kentucky along with her husband and four sons.