Shearing sheep is a process that’s been used for many years to harvest fleece, cool sheep, and prepare for lambing season. Shearing is most commonly done in early spring, but you may find that some sheep with long fleeces are shorn twice a year. While PETA may want you to think that sheep shearing is a gruesome and painful process, a good shearer won’t leave a single nick on the animal. Even if the clippers happen to snag the skin and leave a mark, it’s no different from shaving your beard and sticking a piece of tissue on the cut. Lanolin, a wax secreted by the sheep, helps heal cuts and keep the sheep skin and in good condition.
There are two general types of tools that can be used to shear a sheep. Hand shears were originally used and still may be in some places, but electric shears have become commonplace for modern shearing due to their speed and safety. While electric shears can be quick and safer, it’s also important remember that they have different care and may get hot. Keeping the blades clean and lubricated can ensure the best and quickest clipping experience as well as a long life for the clippers.
To begin shearing, you sit your dry sheep between your legs and make sure she is comfortable and balanced. Begin shearing down in long strokes from the breastbone. The teats can get cut by shears snagging them in the wrong way, so it’s best to cover the teat with your non-shear hand and clip around it. Clip the legs when the belly is done, and then turn the sheep so unclipped areas are accessible. Shear the rest of the legs, head, tail and neck. Take special care around the neck and ears because they’re sensitive areas that can be easily cut. Shift the sheep’s position so that she’s on her side, and continue to navigate her body so that you can shear long, parallel strokes to finish taking off the rest of the wool. Remember that thinner animals may be more difficult to clip due to the angles, and cut wrinkled skin can be avoided by pulling the skin taut. If a sheep has been shorn well, the fleece will be in a large sheet and there will be no “second cuts”. Going back to cut more fleece off after the original shear will leave short pieces of wool which aren’t economically ideal. Trying to spin these second cuts can make a weak yarn that won’t have the quality of a yarn from a whole fleece made entirely from the first cut. If you’re selling fleece, a bad cut can cost you money!
Crutching is a form of partial-shearing a sheep. This cut isn’t for making money off of fleece, but rather making lambing and suckling easier. Shearing for lambing season involves clipping around the vulva to make the birthing process cleaner, and then taking wool away from the nipple area so that lambs can find nipples with ease.
If you want to put your shearing skills to the test you can enter yourself in a shearing competition. Yes- that’s right, they compete for who can shear a sheep best! These competitions aren’t only judged based on the fleece that was sheared. A shearer is docked points for a sheep that is cut, and any abuse or poor handling of the sheep is not acceptable.
Shear your sheep with confidence and compassion and you’ll hopefully have an un-nicked sheep with no second-cuts on the fleece. Frustration has no place in the shearing world, and your patience and care to make the sheep comfortable will make for a faster and less-stressful shear. Whether you’re getting ready for lambing season, harvesting fleece, or preparing for a show, a good shearing will help your cause and set you ahead. Perfecting the shearing process may take time, but it will be worth the practice!