As it gets harder and harder to find someone to shear your sheep, you might consider doing it yourself. If you’re new to the idea, here are a couple of videos from Pennsylvania State University Extension to get you started.
In this first video, Michael Fournier introduces you to the clippers and how to properly set up the blades. The key is to get the blades set up correctly, and Michael says if it takes you 30 minutes to get it done correctly, take the time. It ensures you’ll have a better experience (i.e. you’ll actually be able to shear the sheep instead of just dulling your blades).
In his second video, Michael shows how to hold the sheep and move through the shearing process. Shearing a sheep is a little like ballet, where you move your feet through different positions. The difference of course is that in this case, the placement of your feet and legs allows you to firmly but comfortably hold the sheep so that it doesn’t move during the shearing process.
Because I don’t have sheep, I talked to Bill Fosher an On Pasture author who runs sheep on Edgefield Farm. He says “This is the standard pattern and technique used for shearing sheep, and it’s a pretty good video. There are some self-taught shearers who have come up with their own patterns, but they are never as efficient as this one. It’s the pattern that I use when I shear with hand blades as well.”
If you’re interested in blade shearing, here’s a video Bill sent on. He says, “The shearer shown in the video, Kevin Ford, was nearly always on my shearing crew, and he could nearly keep up with the power shearers, usually tallying 125 a day or so to the power shearers’ 150. The production values of the video are poor, but it’s enough to get the idea.”
While I’ve never sheared a sheep myself, I feel like these three videos give me what I need to know if I were suddenly faced with the job. That doesn’t mean I’d be good at it. In fact, I’d probably have to watch one step, do it, and then watch the next step before doing that one. But with patience, I think I could become a good sheep shearer. I hope this helps you get on the road to being a sheep shearer too!
When Should You Shear Sheep?
With decades of experience with sheep, I asked Bill to answer this question for us.
“When to shear sheep is a question that will vary from flock to flock and it depends on management. When we were lambing in February, I liked to shear in December when we brought the ewes in to the barn. This accomplished several things: it kept the wool clean, as wool gets very dirty in the barn and during lambing. It made more ewes fit in the same space. A ewe with three inches of wool on her is six inches wider than a shorn ewe. Taking 1800 pounds of wool of the flock also meant that the barn stayed dryer. Wool holds a lot of moisture, even when the sheep aren’t outdoors. Last but not least, it made it easier for lambs to find their mothers teats — less chance of accidentally sucking on a dangling bit of fleece.
“The drawbacks were that they required more energy to maintain body condition than they would have in full fleece, and once they were shorn in the dead of winter, they were inside the barn 24/7 until after lambing. I always leave more wool on the sheep than is shown in this video. Power shearers can use a cover comb to leave about 1/4 inch of wool, and blade shearing naturally leaves more behind. Some shearers don’t like to use cover combs because they do slow you down a little bit, but most will do it if you ask.
“For my ewes that lambed outside in May, I usually delayed shearing as late into the end of April as possible and used a cover comb or hand blades and made sure that I had some woods or other cover that I could run them into if cold rain threatened. In 25 years, this went badly twice. One year we had 4 inches of snow on May 12, right in the middle of lambing. Although I was panicky the whole time — I had 150 first-time ewes lambing — there were no problems. No lambs or ewes lost, despite being freshly shorn. The other time was a rainstorm that started on Friday of Mother’s Day weekend and lasted until the following Monday. It was in the 40s, pouring rain and windy the whole time. The ewes were shivering on Sunday, and I lost three lambs out 20 that were born during that storm, despite the sheep having some shelter from the wind and rain in a grove of evergreens.
“The following year I delayed shearing until June — after lambing was over — to provide better protection from a similar cold rain and wind event, but found that I had much dirtier wool. The fact that it had been a 500 year storm made me rethink whether I needed to alter my management to guard against it.”
Bill was also kind enough to share two quotes about shearing:
“I shear six sheep a year so that I remember why I hire it done.” — Bill Fosher
“You know why I shear sheep? Because it feels so good when I stop.” — Bruce Clement
Do you have some ideas to add to this mix? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.