Friday, 17 June 2011

Shearing Time

I had an aim...
The aim was to get all of the sheep sheared before the wedding...
But May was horrendous. Cold and wet and no one around here dared shear early. However, this week it has warmed up again and I decided to jump in and get those lovely fleeces off.
I make no secret about it, I am no great professional shearer. I hand shear my own animals every year and every year I get a little bit better (after initially seeming a little bit worse having had no experience since the previous season).

I like to roo the sheep where possible. Shetlands are an ancient breed and many of them will still naturally shed their fleeces: this is called rooing and their fleeces can often just be plucked off. People bred out this tendency to shed wool to stop this valuable fiber being lost in the fields and hedgerows. However, it takes ages and often seems rather uncomfortable for the animal if the fleece is still too well attached to just lift off. Even though I'm slow, hand shearing is still quicker.
Because the Shetland fleeces are valuable and are privately sold to hand spinners and felters, I try to be careful about the way I shear them. The fleece grows a certain amount each year, the length of this growth is called the "staple".
At the end of each growing season, there is usually a natural weak point in the fleece where it would break off. This weak point is called the "rise".
Here on Rosie's fleece, the rise can be seen clearly as a line where the fibres are thinner. I try to shear along this line in order to preserve the full natural staple length of the fleece.
Machine clipping is far more practical when there are many sheep to be sheared but it does scalp the sheep rather and goes under the rise so removing some of the next year's growth and leaving the tips of the wool fibres blunt ended. When wool that has been cut beneath the rise is carded, little lengths break off at that natural weak point and there can be rather a lot of wastage. The blunt ended fibres can end up looking slightly felted and may not form the natural points that are characteristic of Shetland fleeces and help them to shed water.

Shearing is a bit of an art. You get better at it as you become more confident that you know the shape of the sheep and are not going to snip anything but wool!

My shears are quite big and extremely sharp. Blunt shears are more likely to cause nicks because they do not cut the fleece cleanly and can slip. By keeping the blade parallel to the sheep's body you get a neat even job and are unlikely to injure the animal. The weight of the fleece falling away from the body opens up the next line of fleece to cut.
When shearing you must never pull the fleece up yourself even though at times it is tempting, because it causes wrinkles in the skin which then almost inevitably get nicked or sliced. Pulling the skin taught flat across the body (as you would when waxing your legs!) can be useful when doing the belly though.
For the most part I really enjoy shearing, but it is really physical work. Because Chris's headaches mean that he can't do a lot of bending down (it brings on an attack and causes him to go blind in one eye... not very helpful for shearing!) I'm pretty much on my own, although he is useful at handing stuff over and helping to catch the next animal.
Some of the girls were lovely to shear, but when I came to do my 8 shearling tups it was a different matter. They have been turned out on a nature reserve for months and virtually untouched. They are BIG, well muscled from climbing over walls and escaping, curly horned and very woolly. Although a few rooed, most were a nightmare to shear because it is their lamb fleece (very long and thick) and having had no trauma (such as raising a lamb) most had no natural break in their fleeces.
I was very sore and bruised after doing five of them!
It is now just a few days before my wedding and it is raining. No shearing today. The first guests will be arriving tomorrow and there is no way I'll get any more done now.
However, I've pretty much done it. All 14 girls done, five of the boys and Tolly. Just three boys left and they won't take any harm for another week. Tomorrow afternoon I will get the girls and lambs treated with blow fly preventative and moved to their new nature reserve pasture.
They look a little bald, but I'm sure Rosie and pals are happy with their new styles really!


FeltersJourney said...

Jenny, best wishes for the weekend - I hope the weather behaves for you!

I love this post! Ive just put a link to it from my blog (hope you dont mind). You sheep are gorgeous, the photos lovely... and I loved reading about how you shear. So much interesting information in there.

Rosies fleece looks lovely.


Laura said...

Bravo for blade shearing. I have done it a few times, mainly after my electric clippers broke, and found it very relaxing. For me, it didn't take a whole lot longer that with the power clippers. I found it harder to do sheep with more lanolin in their fleece (romeldales) than those with out (romneys, border leicesters).

May your wedding day dawn bright and clear, and may you have a wonderful time!!

Michelle said...

I admire you for your beautiful shearing jobs with those wicked-looking hand shears! I use spring-loaded Fiscars scissors when I have to do one by hand; they work well and don't scare me.

I hope your wedding is a wonderful celebration for all!

flyhoof said...

I really enjoyed reading about your sheep and you've done a very neat job with your hand shears! Fantastic to read about someone who takes care to preserve the fibres as carefully as you do too.

Hope all goes well for your wedding!