Come with me on a fun journey of our sheep shearing day!
Finally, folks, the time has come. I am ready to share and show the sheep shearing. Okay, now say that ten times, really fast! Not ba-a-a-a-a-a-d! (Sorry, I just HAD to do that!)
To some of you, this is old hat. Go ahead and skip it all, if you wish. For the rest of you, I know how intriguing this was the first time I experienced it, and all the questions I had..it’s all pretty cool to a greenhorn…and I would say we still classify as greenhorns in the sheep industry! I found it fascinating to see first-hand what happens LONG before you pull on those wool socks, or your favorite wool sweater. I hope you will find it interesting too, and maybe even learn something you didn’t know before today!
Whether a producer is in the sheep business to produce quality wool, or just pounds of lambs for market, sheep still must be sheared once a year. Usually this is done about three weeks prior to lambing. Some people lamb “in the wool”, which means with the long wool still on the ewes when they have their lambs. If this is the case, they will clip it clean around the udder area and also around the rear end of the sheep just to make things easier when lambing. A small lamb can easily be looking for a teat and get sucking away on a chunk of long wool and, well, since that won’t do much for his stomach, it’s a bad picture.
Most folks around here shear before lambing, so none of this is an issue. Plus, you can fit a lot more sheep in a building in the case of inclement weather during lambing, when they are minus their fluff! They really do get noticeably smaller.
The sheep’s wool cannot be wet when shearing, so the night before, we put them all in the shed to keep from getting all frosty by shearing time. Early in the morning, the shearing wagon and its crew appear. This is one of the neatest and most efficient outfits you will ever see. The whole set-up is pulled behind a big pickup, and when the shearing is done, it all is put back and the rig exits our corrals—we have nothing to clean up, and nothing to show for its having been here…except for a lot of naked sheep and a bucket or two of dirty wool all over the ground. It’s very cool!
Here’s the shearing trailer.
The little ramps you see, are normally flipped up against the side of the shearing wagon when traveling. Those little ramps are where the sheep come sliding, or tumbling, out after they have been robbed of their woolly coats. The plywood doors you see there, slide up out of the way when the shearer is done with a sheep, and he shoves the sheep out of the door before grabbing a new one. On the front of the trailer is where they carry the skirting table (I’ll explain this later) when not in use. Behind this trailer they hitch the wool baler which, you guessed it, makes bales of wool. Anyway, when this is all hooked together, it’s a cool little train, traveling about the countryside, stealing wool coats from helpless sheep all spring long. Quite the racket!
Here’s the baler that gets pulled behind the shearing wagon.
This is a very useful and interesting piece of equipment. Our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew how easy we had it now to get the fleeces into a bale! A wool sack is loaded in the baler with the bottom of it on the end of the baler toward the left. You can see the top of the bag folded over the opening, ready to begin being filled. This machine has a huge tamper that squishes the wool tightly into the bale. When the bale is full and really tight, huge staples are used to close the bag and a door is opened on the bottom end of the bag and the wool sack pops out. It is under a LOT of pressure, so the big yellow sign on the rear end of the baler that says, “STAND CLEAR!” is not joking. If you value your body parts, obey it!
This is what the inside of the shearing wagon looks like when not really in use–they are just setting up their stuff. Some shearers use a harness to save on their back, and that’s what you see hanging there–one appears to actually be made of a regular cinch! The chute on the right side of the picture is where the sheep are standing awaiting their turn to be stripped naked. I see a pair of moccasins on the floor–sheep shearers always wear leather moccasins or some other funny looking elf shoes when they shear. The grease (lanolin, folks!) builds up on the bottom of these, and on the wooden floor of the wagon, so these help them grip. You will see how they use their feet a lot in holding and maneuvering the sheep, so I imagine this makes it easier to do. There might be other reasons they wear them too, but these are ones I know.
Since they bring the whole crew, our job is to keep sheep coming, and be sure that little alley in the trailer is always full of sheep. So, let’s look in that direction for a moment.
Here’s some waiting woolies, in all their fluffy glory!
The shearing crew also brings a chute that connects to the trailer that the sheep have to go up to get into the trailer. Here’s what it looks like.
And, here’s what it sounds like….clatter, clatter the whole time! I find it to be a happy little sound….like “Up on the housetop, reindeer pause…..”
I know. My film-making skills leave much room for improvement.
So we fill the back pens with sheep and keep ’em coming! Eldest Son works at this portion of the chutes, keeping the fluffy ones going toward the barbershop.
Hubby is in his glory…he loves this sheep thing. Well, he loves livestock of all kinds, but today is Sheep Day!
A happy grin happening there! Eldest Son appears a bit pleased too, don’t you think?
I don’t suppose the sheep are wearing happy grins, but, like sheep, they accept their lot in life for this day. Ooo! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of just plunging your bare hands into that fluffy stuff….and this picture makes me want to do precisely that! You too? Aha!
Here you can see how it is set up–the wool stuff is happening to the right, the shearers are busily shearing inside the trailer, sheep are popping out the left side, and down the little ramps (remember?) and they keep clattering up the chute. The wool bag you see in the frame to the right of the chute is for bellies. Bellies are just that–the belly wool off the sheep. The bellies are often very dirty and not very good wool anyway, so they are kept separate from all the rest of the fleeces. The piece of wool that is clipped from the top of every sheep’s head goes in that wool bag too, for the same reasons. We’ll talk some more about less than desirable wool when we get to the skirting table…
So, let’s show this process in pics a bit– the sheep goes in that trailer, and then is pulled from the alleyway and onto the shearing floor like this.
This sheep is not terrified even if it appears like she might be. It’s just that her eyeball isn’t flipping over as quickly as her body did! This is a true action photo, folks!
Then she gets sheared, like so. You can see here how the harnesses work. The cord hanging to the left, is the cord to the clippers, and it has an elbow about at the floor–this makes for it being super maneuverable when shearing. When they’re done with one sheep, they just lay the clipper on the floor, pull a cord that shuts the clipper off and also triggers a counter (how they/we know how many sheep they sheared), grab the handle to pull the little door up and then shove the sheep out, where she does her Disney ride down the ramp. It’s all done in a beautiful fluid motion, from grabbing the sheep to pulling the cord and nudging the sheep out, almost like a dance–you will see this in the video coming up.
And, like so. One thing I found very interesting when we first did this—see that sheep way up front in the alleyway in the photo below? Well, the first sheep in, gets haltered and tied up there in the front to “bait” the others to “come on in!” and she has to stand there until the end. She’s the very last one sheared! Talk about injustice! But, sheep can’t talk, so no one really listens to their opinions on things…..
The number of shearers with the crew vary—there were three here today. One was helping bale some wool at the moment, hence only two on these pics. Actually, his temporary absence gave me opportunity to get in there and get some shots without getting in the way of progress.
The towels hanging there serve a purpose too–they mop up sweat, dripping off of shearers. And, sweat they do! In rivers! This is hard work, folks! This is not a joke, which is probably why there is always a shortage of shearers and why so many of them come from other countries like New Zealand and Ireland because I guess they have nothing else more important than learning to shear sheep over in those places. And, I totally just made that all up, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? (I didn’t make up the part about the towels, just the other stuff….)
Take notice of the fleeces lined up below the sheep there on the right. The shearer moves the fleece over there after each sheep, where it will be grabbed from the outside through that handy-dandy opening, by the people skirting and baling the fleeces. Here’s a close-up of what I’m talking about. Fluffy fleeces, inside-out. Nice!!
Before we leave the innards of the shearing trailer, let’s watch this video of some shearing. I will apologize in advance for the lighting in this video—I can control a lot of things, but not the sun. So, you’ll just have to bear with the glowing sheep. Yes, she is a Heavenly sheep! Must be! And, please notice the smooth movements of a shearer as he goes through the flowing process of shearing a sheep. I could watch a good shearer all day long…I think it’s just beautiful.
WARNING: This video is FIVE MINUTES long, so if you need to get your coffee heated up, or grab a sandwich, now’s the time to do it.
Wasn’t that fun? If I missed explaining something, or if you have questions, just ask them in the comments section below. Leave comments there too, please. Now, back to the other stuff….
At this point, while the shearing is going on inside the trailer, on the outside of the trailer, it looks something like this… sheep popping out of the trailer, stark naked!
And, even seemingly in shock! She’ll never be whiter than right there, folks!
Over on the opposite side of the trailer, the processing of the fleeces is going on. Each fleece is gathered up from the trailer…
….and flung, dirty side up (the outside of the sheep), onto the skirting table. The skirting table has slats where crud from the wool can fall on down to the ground, and it also rotates so the people skirting the fleece don’t have to move to do so. Skirting basically means removing the large or obvious pieces of yuck from the fleece—this would include vegetable matter (a nice term for poop, pretty much, but in terms of testing wool, this also includes grass, hay, seeds and, well plant stuff that’s not wool), wet parts or if some got blood on it from the inevitable nicks that will happen during shearing. You want nice, clean fleeces only to go into your bales of wool. “Clean” is relative here, people…clean in terms of raw wool, okay? Not in terms of your freshly washed wool sweater!
Now you can see another wool bag in a frame to the left of the girl with the headband. This is where “tags” go. Tags are the dirty, but still usable, pieces of wool that are removed from the fleeces during skirting. At the wool warehouse, where we take our wool, the tags and bellies of many different producers are all re-bagged together in larger bales. I’m told that this lesser grade of wool is used usually for wool socks and things like that, as opposed to clothing, which is where you’d use the higher graded wool. After each fleece is skirted, it is added to the baler until that bale is full and another needs to be started.
You can see the fluffy fleeces just about ready to be tamped and pressured into the bale. This is done several times in the making of a bale, to make the bale tight, solid and square. Each bale weighs 400-450 pounds and contains about 45-50 fleeces. A sheep’s fleece weighs 8- 10 pounds. Here’s what a finished bale looks like.
And, we mustn’t forget Tess, who is busily running to and fro, working her heart out at much ado about nothing. She really has nothing to do, but you can’t tell her that! She gets so tired from doing nothing so hard, without any help!
After they’re sheared, they look like this. A blinding bunch of pitiful white creatures, looking nothing like their fluffy sheepiness this morning!
Do you know what sheep do after they are robbed of their warm wool coats? They suddenly realize that they are now starving, and they must regrow that wool coat in exactly 12 months, so they EAT! They eat a A LOT! And, that will be the food for another upcoming post… it really can be quite funny.
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