Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My First Sheep of the Season

I sheared my first sheep of the season at the weekend.  She was a Suffolk Mule and she sheared beautifully.   I was proud of myself as I managed the whole operation without any help or anyone on standby, I turned her, dragged her out of the pen and sheared her without letting her go.  For my first sheep of the year I’m very pleased.  She went off looking reasonably tidy and without a single nick.  Here she is:

While shearing her I did learn the importance of a good grip on the floor.  I have got a new pair of moccasins, moccasins are especially made for sheep shearing, mine are made from felt, they keep your feet cool and they give you good grip on the shearing board.  Or they’re supposed to.  As you wear them sheep grease gradually builds up in the sole of the moccasins, new moccasins don’t have that grease, I was also working on a new shearing board.  With use the shearing board becomes soaked in lanolin, the combination of lanolin in your mocs and lanolin in the shearing board helps stick your feet to the boards.  It doesn’t feel sticky but your feet stay where you put them.  

A new shearing board and new mocs were a terrible combination, as the sheep’s weight rested on my legs my feet slid away across the boards and I had to keep adjusting my position and that of the sheep.  It was a huge strain on my muscles and my legs felt a bit shaky by the time I finished the sheep. 

There were some Southdowns among the flock and I was keen to try one.  Shearing a Southdown is like shearing two or three normal sheep.  There’s so much wool on them.  

I’ve seen plenty of Southdowns shorn but watching and doing are two completely different things.  Southdowns wear socks and they are a bit ticklish about having them removed, trying to shear sheep’s legs was scary, I was afraid of cutting the sheep, then shearing the back legs I suddenly realised the ewe’s teat was very close to the shears, that gave me a moment of panic.  The shears will easily take off a teat and a sheep with damaged teats is of no use to a farmer because she can’t raise her lambs.  It only takes a second to ruin a sheep during shearing.  The wool on the underside of the sheep hung in tags so saturated with hardened lanolin they looked a bit like toffee stalactites.  I needed to push hard on the handpiece to drive it through the toffee but I couldn’t afford to let the handpiece go too far and chop off a teat or a bit of vulva.  I spent so long on the underside of the sheep my back really started to ache.  On a normal sheep you spend less time in the same position which helps ease your muscles.
Even more terrifying than shearing the sheep’s legs and bottom was removing the face wool.  Southdowns grow wool on the backs of their ears, their cheeks and right around their eyes.  You can see my moccasins in the background. 

Some Southdowns have more facial wool than others, some can hardly see where they are going.

My sheep decided to keep her eyes open.  As I was running the wide comb over her face this huge yellow eye was staring at me.   I had images in my mind of that eye skewered on the teeth of the comb.  I can tell you now a bomb could have dropped beside me and I wouldn’t have noticed, I was concentrating that hard.  I didn’t do a very neat job, I left quite a few tufts on but my sheep walked away unharmed, I’d rather leave some wool on than cut her face to bits.  I’ve seen a Southdown lose the side of her ear, it’s easily done.

Here’s the Southdown I sheared:

She looks a bit tufty!

I did four sheep, two Southdowns and two Suffolk mules.  To put things in perspective, a professional shearer will shear in excess of 200 sheep per day.  But I’m not a professional shearer and I’m happy with my four.  That was enough for me.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this, I found it fascinating! I live in Canada and grew up down the road from a sheep farm but never witnessed the shearing. Cool! I also didn't know anything about the AMOUNT of lanolin that comes off the sheep or moccasins.

  2. Wow, this is fascinating. I don't know anything about shearing sheep, but I have learned a lot just by perusing your blog! :)

  3. Thank you! I'm by no means an expert on sheep shearing but I like to link up the whole process for people from shearing through to using and wearing the yarn.