Everything you need to know about sheep shearing
Sheep shearing is simply shaving off the hair off a sheep. Sheep shearing is a key aspect of sheep farming since most sheep species need a shave at least once a year. While most breeds of sheep grow wool throughout the year, fleece weights vary by genetics, breed, and shearing interval. Shearing does not hurt a sheep. In fact, sheep need to get their overgrown hair in the spring so that they don’t get overheated during the hot summer days. However, there are certain rules every sheep farmer has to adhere to when shearing to avoid causing any harm to the sheep. For one, shearing should be done by a professional sheep shearer quickly and efficiently to avoid causing injury to your sheep or the shearer. A skilled sheep shearer removes the fleece in one piece and usually in under two minutes. The current world record stands at 37.9 seconds and was set by an Irishman Ivan Scott in 2016.
The main tools used for sheep shearing are scissors, hand blades, and electric shavers. Most shearers prefer doing it the old fashioned way; using a blade or scissors. Many sheep tend to be restless when being shaved with an electric blade. Also, blade shorn sheep have more wool than machine shornsheep. However, an electric shear can be a great tool since it is faster and more efficient.
While many farmers shear their own sheep, many prefer hiring professional sheep shearers to handle the job. However, it is getting harder to find professional sheep shearers in the modern age as millenials have abandoned sheep farming and other forms of farming in general.
Large flocks of sheep will need a shearing crew which handles everything from shearing to sorting and processing the wool.
PREPARATION FOR SHEEP SHEARING
Sheep are sheared prior to lambing, before the summer, and as soon as the wool becomes too much in places that are ever hot. Sheep that are shorn during the winter require good nutrition and a warm and comfortable housing safe from harsh external elements. You should never shave off the sheep’s wool if it will end up harming it; which is why this is best left in the safe hands of a trained professional.
You should start looking for a skilled sheep shearer long before you need the service and book an appointment early. Spring gets busy since lots of sheep farmers require sheep shearing services. Remember, the earlier you book, the sooner you get the services.
You can also learn sheep shearing from professionals or in shearing schools. Agricultural bodies in most countries offer training on sheep shearing.
Keep a close eye on the weather conditions the week prior to the shearing. The sheep need to be completely dry for shearing for the best results. If it is rainy, the sheep should be kept in a housing that is sheltered from the rain at all times. The reason why this is important is that wool has a high water absorption capacity and can hold up to 10 times its weight.
The night before shearing, place the sheep inside a small pen such that they are easy to catch. The sheep tend to be very elusive at first as they think you want to harm them. Prepare a good sheep shearing spot and ensure it is dry, well-lit, level, and with just the right spacing requirements.
You need to place something below to collect the wool especially if it is white wool. If you are using an electric shear, make sure you are close to the power source and that there are no exposed wires that can hurt the animals.
On the shearing day, do not feed the sheep until after they are shorn. Think of it this way; most of us don’t like engaging in intense physical activity on a full stomach. The sheep are no different! The sheep will survive a few hours without food. However, you need to provide clean water.
After fleecing, sort the fleece based on quality and color. The best fleece is usually from white sheep with thick wool. Place the wool in containers to breathe before sending them to the mill.
HOW TO IMPROVE WOOL QUALITY
There are many techniques you can try to improve the wool clip quality. The best way is by separating the wool with different colors. Colored fibers can undermine the quality and value of white wool. Other colors should also not mix since it will be hard to separate the colors at the mill.
The wool should also be kept away from contaminants such as poly feed sacks, poly tarps, and hay balling twine. Vegetable matter such as seeds, chaff, straw, and burrs are also contaminants.
Sheep farmers should also avoid branding the sheep using paint. Only approved solutions that can be scourged off should be used or other branding methods.
IMPORTANCE OF SHEEP SHEARING
The following are some of the benefits of sheep shearing;
1. Sheep shearing is necessary during the lambing season for most sheep breeds. Sheared sheep will take up much less space in the barn and also as they feed. It is easier for the young lambs to feed off sheared ewes. The baby sheep also require a clean environment free of disease, parasites and contaminants especially when their immune system is still weak. Sheared fleeces are cleaner.
2. Shearing keeps the sheep cleaner and more comfortable. A long fleece will most definitely get dirty and have all sorts of things sticking to it. Parasites can also hide easily in a long fleece. Sheep shearing helps get rid of overgrown wool which also eases mobility of the sheep.
3. Sheep shearing helps keep sheep cool during hot weather. Extreme heat can cause stress in sheep.
4. Shearing helps get rid of stained or contaminated wool to give way to a new, healthy fleece.
5. Shearing can be a source of income particularly for farmers who keep sheep breeds that are best for producing high quality wool.
While some people argue that sheep shearing is a form of animal cruelty, this is clearly true as when done right and by a professional, sheep shearing only has advantages to your sheep. It helps keep sheep clean, comfortable, healthy, and happy which is what every sheep farmer wants. However, it is important to remember that not all breeds of sheep require shearing so it is always best to consult a professional before you proceed.
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