This past weekend was the start to my favorite part of the year, shearing day! We spent the afternoon on Friday sorting out the ewe lambs from the ewes and getting them in the barn and ready. If you don’t have sheep, you may be wondering why in the heck we would choose January in Iowa to shear. There are a few reasons and I’m happy to explain. This is the start of our lambing season. In the next month, lambs will start dropping. We want to make lambing as easy and successful as possible. Not just for us, but for the ewes and lambs too.
- We shear because it makes the ewes not want to hang out outside as long. They go out long enough to eat their grain and let us clean and bed the barn down with straw. We throw out hay for them and then let them back in for the night. We do this so the lambs are not born outside in the cold. A cold lamb doesn’t have much of a chance. The barn isn’t heated, but the body heat from the sheep make it nice and toasty inside.
- It helps the lambs be able to find the teat once they are born. Sheep teats are not very big, so if wool is covering them, the lamb may not be able to find them to nurse. The second most important thing to a new lamb (after being warm & dry) is being able to nurse and get colostrum.
- We also shear for sanitation reasons. Wool is great. It helps the sheep regulate their body temperature and stay dry. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Sheep need sheared. We shear every sheep on our farm at least once a year. The best time for ewes is right before they lamb so you don’t have all of the wool there to get in the way and get dirty.
So when January rolls around, we call and make an appointment with our shearers. Sometimes it varies on who comes out but three guys came this time. They bring their machines and they each have a piece of plywood that they use to shear the sheep on top of. This keeps the wool out of the dirt and makes it easier to pick up.
We bring them each a sheep and sit them down on their butt, and then roll them backwards so all of their feet are off the ground. This position subdues the sheep and they sit pretty still while they get sheared. The shearers roll them around to be able to reach all of the wool and once they’re done they let them go. We take a tub and pick up the wool while another person gives the sheep a vaccination and marks on their back so we know that they are done. If sheep need dewormed, we can do that now too. We work through them about a dozen at a time, pulling a dozen in, then letting them out and getting another dozen once they’re done.
We carry the wool in the small tubs to a really big burlap sack. The sack fastens inside of a large metal hoop (similar to a huge embroidery hoop). This hoop hooks to a pole in the barn. A set of metal steps also helps support the hoop. We take the wool to the top, dump it in, and jump in the sack on top of the wool. This helps to compact it and make room for more.
We have close to 200 head of sheep so it takes awhile to get through them. Our shearers also aren’t as young and quick as they used to be (two of them are brothers in their late 60’s). At noon, we take a break for lunch. Since it’s usually cold when we shear, I like to prepare soup. This time we had chili, potato soup, sandwiches, and cookies for dessert. Sometimes the neighbor lady will bring her small flock and she’ll bring a little something to eat as well. We all sit down together and enjoy a hot meal before continuing on into the afternoon.
Not everyone shears this way. Some people raise their sheep specifically for wool. These people would put much more attention into the care of the wool and may use different methods. We have a commercial flock. Wool is not our main goal, it’s just a byproduct. Some people shear their own flock if they have smaller numbers. There are big outfits with huge flocks shearing much more than just a couple days a year. You can also trim hooves at the same time.
Once sheared, the ewes stay in the barn until they lamb except for their turnouts every day. As soon as they lamb(or start to go into labor if we’re quick enough to catch them) we move them into an individual lambing pen. This allows them to focus and bond better with their baby. Pretty soon I’ll be up to my eyeballs in baby lambs and getting next to no sleep with late night, early morning, all day lamb checks. Who wouldn’t want to come out to the barn for this though? It’s like Christmas for farmers!!! 🙂 Last year, I was doing my late night checks while pregnant. This year should be a piece of cake then, right?
If you farm, what is your favorite time of year? If you have sheep, how does your shearing look different from ours?