Stella is our Lincoln Longwool sheep. She is the largest of the sheep, weighing about 160 lbs. She has the coarsest, longest fleece. Her fleece color includes a shimmery silver along her main body, plus darker shades of grey and black on the edges and her legs and neck.
Stella is expecting a single lamb in mid-April. Her fleece was really long and needed to be shorn before delivery.
Our sheep breeder taught us that there are several reasons to shear before lambing. First, it makes for a cleaner ewe after delivery because all the back end wool isn’t full of gunk. Secondly, it helps the lamb find the udder and nurse properly, so it isn’t trying to nurse on wool tags and such dangling off the ewe’s belly. Also, birthing and nursing cause a “break” in the wool. This means a weaker, thinner place along each strand of the wool. Since we are raising sheep for their wool, we do not want to have a break in the wool, it brings down the quality of the fleece. Lastly, with that big wool coat on, in a cold climate like ours, the ewe might decide to go lay in the spring snow because she is hot. With her lamb following her wherever she goes, it too will lay in the snow and can die. It is better for the ewe to have a similar length fleece to her lamb so she makes good temperature choices for the lamb.
Stella and Daphne both need to be shorn before they lamb. Fiona was shorn back in November and thus still has a short enough fleece to be fine. We normally take the sheep to our breeder to be shorn by a proffesional when the breeder is having her sheep shorn. Unfortunately, this round of shearing the breeder’s schedule didn’t line up with our need to get them shorn in March. The breeder lambs in February, so she shears in January. But with our colder climate up here in the mountains we don’t want to be lambing in February.
We decided it was time to buy our own shears and give it a try. Since we are using the fleece from these sheep for hand spinning, it is important to have a very good shearing. We don’t plan to regularly do the shearing ourselves. We will still continue to take them to be done by a professional. But for situations like the one we are in, it is worth it to be able to just do it ourselves. We will get a lower quality finished fleece, but we can do it on our own schedule.
Husband decided to start with Stella first. Yes, she is the biggest, and thus harder to wrestle around. But her fleece is less dense than Daphne’s, so that would make the actual shearing a little bit easier.
***Sorry for the picture quality. We did this in the evening with the barn all closed up. Not prime photo taking conditions.
We laid out a tarp and then a sheet in the dairy parlor. We brought Stella in and took off her jacket.
He sat her down on her behind, tucked her head back and started with her belly and legs.
Once he had the belly done he laid her on her side and worked up that side and back. Then he flipped her and did the other side and back.
Then he checked her over and trimmed a few shabby spots. And he was done!
The last thing to do was to give her back a good long scratch. She LOVES being scratched after shearing. I can imagine that carrying around 6 inches of wool that weighs about 10 lbs makes it hard to get to itchy spots very well. To have her skin actually be able to be scratched is like heaven to her. She tries to groom us back, and she makes this strange sucking sound with her mouth. It is so cute. She really appreciates her after-shearing scratch down.
Stella did excellent. She only gave husband a hard time a few times, when she was laying on her side. The rest of the time she handled the process well. I’m sure it is helpful that she has been shorn by professionals several times already. She knows the routine and submits to it very well. And the fact that we handle our sheep regularly so they are not wild and are used to humans handling them helped as well.
I was really impressed with husband. For having only watched it before, and never done it himself, plus having lower quality shears than the professionals, I was really proud of how well he did. Not just in the shearing job itself, but in wrestling and positioning a huge ewe. His back was definitely sore afterwards, but he says he really had fun and enjoyed the challenge and the process.
We were also surprised at how good the fleece turned out. He did not have very many second cuts, which is a very good thing for fleece used for hand-spinning. He did have some varying of the staple length from his inexperience, which is not so good. But overall, it is a very use-able fleece.
Later this week he will shear Daphne, and then all the ewes will be ready for lambing. We feel like this was a VERY successful first time shearing a sheep on our own.