Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Goats Move in Mysterious Ways


I've been trying my hand at something different. Goat shearing. Goat shearing? Angora goats, the ones that produce mohair, require shearing. I can shear a sheep, sort of, and goats are much smaller and lighter, how hard can it be?

Sheep are stoical, they take shearing quietly. Goats wail in a high pitched sack-cloth-and-ashes manner. If they had hands, they'd wring them. Goats also smell terrible. Then they have horns. Long curly horns which fit perfectly around your leg, immobilising you. Or straighter horns, just right for stabbing you in the throat. I have a lovely big scrape across my throat and a bruise under my chin - that was a nasty moment. I also have horn-shaped bruises all over my legs.

The fibre on a goat can be as much as a foot long. The fleece gets tangled and matted. On some goats the fibre growing on the legs is entwined with the fibre from the belly so the animal is effectively hobbled. Goats grow fibre in every nook and cranny of their bodies. When I turned my first goat over I didn't know where to start. I couldn't see where the goat was under all that hair and I was terrified of running into a skin fold.

Goats are notoriously difficult to shear. They are constructed differently from sheep. Imagine you have made a soft toy but you run out of stuffing - the toy is floppy and has lots of saggy bits. Goats are under stuffed. Their skins are too big for the contents, meaning they are a mass of wrinkles. Wrinkles are bad news in shearing, every wrinkle is a potential cut. To shear a goat without cutting it you have to hang on to all that loose skin, you can't afford to lose concentration. Goats are also much floppier than sheep, it's as though there are no bones in their bodies, they just sag through your legs like a smelly jelly.

Goats have much less grease in their fleece than sheep. The grease in a sheep's fleece helps to lubricate the shearing handpiece. When you're shearing goats, the handpiece tends to over heat, you have to keep stopping and putting on more oil. So, I've just got my goat under control, I'm holding the skin flat and I can see where to go, I'm about to push in the handpiece when I realise it is smoking and the goat has kicked the oil can out of reach. Now I have to hop backwards across my board with a goat jammed between my knees. By the time I have doused the handpiece in oil, the goat has got its breath back and is ready to horn me in the throat again. That's goats for you.

11 comments:

  1. I have never taken classes, but my first experience with shearing was goats. They are not pure Angora, so they might not have as much mohair as purebeds, and maybe that makes it easier. However I read their backs are too bony to lay on their backs, so I lay them on their side and start with their back legs. Later I sheared sheep, (again on their sides, they are too big and I couldn't hold them between my legs!), but I think goats are easier, it takes me forever to shear a sheep. Btw, I use clippers.

    Also, my goats shed their mohair in the spring if I don't shear. Maybe because they are not pure.

    Your blog is great, so educational, glad I found it!

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    1. Thank you - I'm glad you like the blog! It's great to hear someone else's experience. I have done a sheep shearing course so I shear goats roughly to the pattern I was taught for sheep but goats are different and I'm not convinced the sheep pattern is as effective with goats. I love hearing from other women who shear. I am now following your blog - your story is really fascinating.

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  2. I still like your blog even though I have zero intention of owning a sheep or goat. One dog is enough for me.
    Of course I own several sewing machines and plan on more - does that count?

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    1. Thank you Kathy. I'm sure sewing machines have their moments!

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  3. I'm afraid my husband and I thought your exploits were hilarious. We have Angoras and I shear them while my husband holds them. I don't do it properly, partly because my back is a bit crippled, but it works for us and the goats, it all comes off without any cuts to the goats and not too many second cuts to the mohair. We start off with them standing up and then they lie on their sides for me to do the underneath. You maybe didn't shear any wethers? They are particularly delightful underneath as the urine soaks through most of the mohair on their tummies and if you don't like the goat smell very much I'm sure you'd really dislike the urine smell (the billy is much less wet on the tummy but bad on the forelegs). We manage the whole affair without much upset, but we know what you mean about the hand-wringing, one of the females always sounds like it's the end of the world whenever something has inconvenienced her. You're spot on about the under-stuffed toy aspect and I found the floppy bit under the chin was a bit worrying when I first started shearing them as it's so thick with hair and it was difficult to know where to shear to.
    Joanna

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    1. Lovely to hear your experiences Joanna. Where do you start when you do them standing up? Do you open up the fleece from the centre back going down each side? I agree the skin under the chin is scary. I have done a few wethers, I know what you mean about the wet fibre - yuck.

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    2. Yes, I start just above the tail and then go down both sides, moving forwards from tail to head. Sometimes it's difficult to get started as it's so thick.

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  4. "they just sag through your legs like a smelly jelly" really made me chuckle. :)

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    1. Thanks Simon! They are peculiar creatures.

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  5. I'm from Southern Australia and shear about 1500 goats every 6 months and a feel your pain . If mohair gets long it's less then fun , i can remember the same thoughts of where do i start . One trick tip is watch the new zealand method for the final whipping blows better for goats as they can't scramble back up . Great to hear you having a go at Goats it's hard to find goat shearers in australia . Due to the sand and mohair grows so freely it's pretty rough on your gear the upside is that we're breeding them with open heads and bare points . Goats though aren't that bad once you get the hang of it , i'm little biased perhaps running 600 of them my self . All the best and great to hear more people giving angoras goats a crack .

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    1. Thank you, it's great to hear from someone with so much experience of Angoras, I'll look for the New Zealand method. Do you use special combs? I just used a standard wide sheep comb on the goats.

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