We typically shear every year in March/April before the ewes lamb. This year the weather didn't cooperate and we ended up shearing most of the ewes after they lambed.
We spend a lot of time skirting, washing, and processing the wool.
If you follow our Facebook or Instagram Farm page, then you know I talk about wool a lot! I also have had many conversations concerning shearing. From someone who has raised sheep for 23 years, these are my thoughts....
Sometimes I am surprised by some of the "rumors' that fly around about farming. Actually, not as surprised as I use to me. Thank you internet (haha)
One of the biggest misconceptions I find, is about sheep shearing. I have read articles that talk about the horrors of shearing sheep. I have seen pictures of lambs. cut up and bleeding (you don't shear 2 month old lambs, fyi) Last I checked, all of my sheep survive the shearing experience. Actually they handle it better than my toddlers did during their first hair cut!
I have heard that sheep are abused while being shorn, even experiencing bodily injury/death. An experienced shearer knows how to handle a sheep, and most of the time the sheep handle it pretty well. The lambs and yearling ewes are a little more high strung about it, but the shearer does not harm them. Occasionally a ewe will get a cut from the clippers, which is dealt with at the time of shearing, and it heals very quickly.
A good reason to hire an experienced sheep shearer. They do make the experience easier on everyone!
( I think I have received more injuries during shearing days, than the sheep )
I have heard about the unnecessary stress that sheep are put through by shearing because a sheep will only grow the amount of wool it needs. False! I keep sheep, we have missed shearing times, the wool gets VERY long, matted, dirty, and collects manure tags. Unshorn sheep not only look unkept, but they also will lose body conditon, and it is not a good situation for them at all. Sheep are domesticated and have been for a very, very, long time. Shearing is necessary if you want to raise healthy sheep. ( unless you raise hair sheep)
I have heard claims that sheep would shed their wool, naturally before summer. If only! I have never had a sheep shed its wool. If they did we wouldn't have to hire a shearer every year. There are some sheep that do shed their wool, but most do not.
Our sheep will grow fleeces that weigh between 7-11 pounds annually. After shearing, our sheep bounce around like lambs. I personally think they appreciate that wool cut!
If you visit a farm on shearing day, you will see the sheep are handled with care, and the shearing experience takes but a few minutes.( We have had groups come out on shearing day, I assure you, there were no children watching on in horror as the sheep got their annual clipping.)
Any smart farmer will not want harm to come to his/her animals. Why would they? They are an investment! It only makes sense to take care of that investment. If I had a shearer that abused my animals, or left them seriously injured, I would be looking for a new shearer. Large farms are not much different than small farms, they just have more sheep, once you get to a certain number of animals does not mean you quit caring about them. Sheep are expensive, a stressed animal that needs medical care, is not a good scenario.
We pay for these sheep, they are not cheap. Most of our ewes live their lives out here, we take good care of them. In return, they give us beautiful wool fleeces and lambs. Wool is a renewable product, that has so many wonderful qualities (biodegradable, breathable, durable, fire retardant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties).
Win, Win! That is how I see it. If you have questions about animal husbandry, ask a farmer, that is what I do. I think wool is an amazing fiber, in case you couldn't tell. I am grateful to play a small part in sharing wool and wool products with others.
We are heading into our 24th year of lambing on the farm. Most of our ewes are lambing in April, but we have a few ewes that could lamb at any time. It is the perfect time to go through and check on our lambing supplies, and make sure we have what we need on hand.
Our must haves-some items are not needed for every circumstance, but they are included.
Umbilical Spray- We have upgraded from using a teat dipper, to dip the navels and went to a spray several years ago. Quick and not as messy.
Lamb Sling-This is used when the ewe has her lambs on pasture and we want to move the lamb and mother to another location. It cradles the lamb and you can carry the lamb at your side. The ewe will be able to keep track of her lamb and follow along. If there are two, we just carry the other one.
Towels- Towels come in handy when the weather is chilly and we want to help dry the lamb off so it doesn't lose too much body heat.
Nutri-Drench- A liquid supplement that can be used for weak newborns.
Selenium and Vitamin E Gel- A supplement.
Scale-Not necessary, but it is nice to be able to weigh the lambs at birth.
Syringe and Tube- You use this to tube feed a lamb that is weak and has no sucking reflex (which they do not have if they are too cold or weak) You place the tube, down the esophagus of the lamb, the tube is long enough to reach the lambs stomach. You attach the syringe and feed the lamb their mothers colostrum. This is a life saving skill and should be learned if you raise sheep or goats.
Elastrator and bands- These are used to dock lambs tails which is done at about a week old. It is also used to castrate Ram Lambs when they are a little older.
Syringes and Needles- We give a vaccine called CD/T when we dock the lambs tails. We use it to protect against Tetanus.
Nipples- We only need these when we have a bottle lamb and we usually only have one of those if the lamb is rejected by their mother. That doesn't happen too often,(thankfully) but we do, occasionally, have a bummer lamb, so we keep nipples on hand.
Disposable O.B Gloves and Gel- We use these when we have to assist in a birth.
We are all set for lambing 2021!
I like to spin wool into yarn, I also like to knit. Most of the time I don't spin with an end project in mind, I spin to spin. This is one time where I was spinning for a specific yarn/project. It didn't go as planned, but I was able to still use the yarn for something else.
This post was written about 4 years ago, I have improved with my spinning and knitting since then. But I learned a lot from this project. I still have the slipper socks, the Tunis wool held up well. They have been machine washed, and on occasion, accidentally thrown into the dryer. They didn't shrink down to kids size, like most wool would have, which is one reason why Tunis is a great option for knit projects.
Ply magazine's Spring edition, was all about down wool breeds. We were contacted by them last year, and was asked if we would be interested in sending them some of our Tunis roving, dyed. I was really excited for the issue to come out, I knew our wool was being used in a sock project. I really have never gotten the hang of spinning with Tunis, I prefer the longwools. The issue came out, and the socks that were made with the wool, were amazing :) The article about spinning Tunis wool, was very thorough, and helpful.
I started my own project using Tunis wool. I knew that I was probably not going to be able to do a three ply sock weight yarn, but I was hoping for worsted weight. Ha! I ended up with Super Bulky, it is obvious I still have some skills to learn, when it comes to spinning.
I dyed the wool after it was made into yarn, spinning white wool, can be a little boring, but I prefer to dye yarn over roving. I used Cushings, Perfection Dyes-Apricot
Even though it was not the yarn I was hoping for, I decided to find a project, where it could be used. I found a pattern from the Lion Brand Yarn Company, Super Bulky slipper socks.
I have only ever made two pairs of socks, and that was with commercial yarn, and a video tutorial that walked me through step by step of the pattern. I did manage to work my way through this pattern, and ended up with some slipper socks. Yes, there are some mistakes, and they are not quite the same size, but they are super squishy (Tunis yarn characteristic), comfortable and I LOVE the color.
So, even as imperfect as they are, this girl will be wearing them!
It was a fun sheep to socks project, even if they are not the sock project I had planned, when spinning.
Yarn: Tunis 3-Ply, Super Bulky.
Color: Apricot (Cushings Perfection Dye)
Pattern: Lion Brand Slipper Socks, Knit