This will be long, but there are lots of pictures. Just warning you... Monday we finally started shearing. Shearing revolves around weather and getting the shearing crew to show up. After several attempts we finally managed to combine a partly cloudy day with the arrival of the crew...make that half the crew. This post will go through the shearing process for you, in case you haven't had the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
First we gather everything the night before and hold them off water and feed. This makes it easier on the shearers and the sheep. You always want to hold sheep off water when you're hauling them, and ideally when you're working them. I can't remember why, but allowing sheep to drink before a long haul will result in several of them dying during the trip. Here they are in the corral, awaiting their turn.
A smaller group is moved into another pen, then into a smaller pen and up the ramp into the shearing trailer (a picture of the trailer is coming up). Those 3 on the left are bait. Sheep like to go places in a bunch and seeing those 3 gets them into the pen easier. When shearing, the ewe's either run up the ramp and it's easy or you have to physically manhandle each and every one at this point. This year they ran right up, but we were prepared with lots of help because it really wears people out pushing, dragging and shoving several hundred 260 lb ewes up a ramp.
Up they go. This is my brother. At the top they enter the shearing trailer.
This is the shearing trailer. Important things: The alley on the right is where the sheep are, the gap below the alley and above the floor is where the fleeces go after they are off the sheep. The doors (bright spots) on the left are were the sheep exit the trailer. They don't always exit there, but that's the idea. In the upper left part of the photo are the motors used to run the clippers. Each shearer has a station positioned betweenof one of the slide-down doors on the alley and an exit door that also includes their own clippers.
Doors in the alley drop down like so, and shearers pull out a ewe.
And shear her. This is much harder than they make it look.
the fleece is shoved under the alley to this side of the trailer, where the wool crew takes over. They grab the fleeces and lay them out on the bench. Then they pick out any pieces of wool that have a lot of mud or manure on them and put those parts in a separate bag. The wool from the bellies goes in another bag. The rest of the fleece is gathered up and put in the wool bagger, which is on the far left in the photo.
This my mom and aunt going through fleeces to get the mud and manure soiled pieces, called tags, out.
Here's how the wool side of the trailer looks. A tarp is laid down in case any wool or fleeces are dropped. The white bag right next to the shearing trailer is what the wool is bagged in. The baler can squish just over 40 fleeces weighing approximately 12 lbs each into one bag. On the far end of the photo you can see another bag standing open. That is where the tags are put. Another bag is beside it and that's where the belly wool from each sheep goes. These lower quality parts of the fleece are separated to reduce sorting and increase the wool value down the line. Wool is marketed on a quality basis, so taking the time to remove lower quality parts makes sense from an economics standpoint.
The semi is parked there to block the wind, which wasn't bad that day but has been blowing up to 45 mph off an on for a couple weeks.
As the fleece is cleaned and bagged, the freshly shorn sheep is going out a door on the other side of the trailer. See the blurry silver ring in the top right corner of the picture? That's the shut-off for the motor that runs the clippers. Each station has one and when they're shearing it hangs down within easy reach. When a sheep gets away or kicks the shearer he can grab that ring and shut off his shearers before they unintentially shear something besides wool.
Here she comes.
From there they enter an alley to be worked. This is my job.
Here are my supplies. An insecticide pour-on is given to kill any lice, ticks or grubs the sheep may have on them and to repel flies. They are branded with paint. Each producer picks a different color and that's usually the easiest way to determine who sheep belong to if they get mixed up. Too much paint and it won't wash out of the wool the following year after shearing and that can create a price reduction in your wool. Too little paint and it doesn't last the entire year and you can't tell whose sheep they are as easily. The little book and pen is to keep a tally. We split our ewes into three bunches, so when we get to the number desired for each bunch we turn them out and start the tally over. It also double checks the shearer's tally.
Here's my dad branding. Our brand is the double bar. You can hot iron brand sheep, but they don't tolerate it very well and ours doesn't show up. One reason to hot iron brand them is it proves ownership if they are stolen, and people like to steal sheep. Most hot iron brands go on the face somewhere. Almost all paint brands go on the back, like ours.
After all that they are counted and turned out. As a ranch that range lambs (lambs out in pastures) we want to shear right before we start lambing. This is because if ewes have all their wool, they are insulated from cold and wet weather (think about wearing a wool coat), and won't protect their babies. Without their wool they lamb in a more protected place and don't subject their babies to cold, windy hilltops. Shearing in the spring also gives ewes several months to grow new wool before cold, winter temperatures return, and provides them a lot of other health benefits.
Wool is sold based on how long the fleece is (staple length) and how fine it is. We have Rambouillet sheep, which are known as wool sheep. That means they have a very high quality fleece. Their wool will be used for things like clothing and upholstery. Some years we make a nice profit on our wool and other years it doesn't even pay to have the sheep shorn.