Shearing ewes is a BIG event on our farm. Each December local shearers, family and friends come to the farm to help us shear our ewes in preparation for lambing season. The help of others is a true blessing and a cherished farm tradition. Nothing shows your friends how much you care quite like putting them to work in a livestock barn in December! Thankfully, most of them keep coming back.
Despite the county we live in having a long history of sheep production, shearers are a little hard to come by. Thankfully we have a group nearby that has been around for decades. Over the years we have moved from six down to only two shearers but the experience they bring is both effective and captivating. The maneuvering of a 200 pound ewe sitting on her rump with her full fleece smoothly peeling off in one piece is mesmerizing. They shear quickly and safely, taking approximately two minutes per sheep. During the majority of their ‘hair cut’ the ewes are sitting on their rump. The ewes are generally content in this position, though it looks a little funny. It’s unusual for sheep to be cut by the clippers during the shearing process, if they are we treat the nick with approved topical medication (typically a 7% solution of iodine). In addition, the sheep’s lanolin, which is a naturally occurring oil in the wool, also works to heal any nicks or cuts.
Shearing is an important step in sheep production, well at least for breeds with wool instead of hair. Sheep cannot shed their wool, like a dog sheds it’s hair, and since it is always growing it must be shorn. This necessary cycle helps the sheep remain comfortable and healthy. While wool is an amazing fiber (and worthy of a blog post of its own) it can collect manure and moisture resulting in an unhealthy environment for the sheep. When ewes with a long fleece give birth the extra wool can make the birthing process more difficult and even worse, lambs can and will starve when they mistaken a tag of wool for a teat. This last issue, making certain young lambs have clear and clean access to colostrum and solid nutrition, has been my selling point to the time of year in which we shear.
In all, shearing 2016 was a success! The ewes look great as we quickly approach their due dates. We are beyond grateful for the help of our family and friends throughout the year. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue this family tradition and overjoyed that it is entrenched in agriculture. The hands of many make for light work and especially fantastic potlucks!