Spring is the time for shearing here at WCF. We shear our ewes 6-8 weeks before lambing, and the ram gets done then as well just because it is convenient. Because we are in a somewhat isolated area that is not ag based it is really hard and costly to get a professional shearer to come to our place for only 3 sheep. So Mountain Man does our shearing.
He is definitely not a professional, but I think he does a pretty good job for someone with no training who only does it once a year on a handful of sheep. A professional takes about 5 minutes for a sheep, he takes 30-45. And he can’t do more than one in a day because it kills his back (those professional shearers have some seriously strong backs!). We have to deal with skirting out a lot more second cuts than with most professionals, but it is not terrible and the fleece is absolutely in good enough shape to use almost all of it. A second cut is a place where after going over a spot once with the shears they go over it again, cutting off a very short section that can’t be used with the fleece but is mixed in with the long fiber.
So this year he started with our ram, Fergus. Fergus is a Merino x BFL with a tiny bit of CVM. He is a mix of dark, medium, and light shades of grey. He has a very soft, medium to long fleece with very organized crimp. He is also light on grease, which makes it easier to get clean.
Generally, long wool fleece grow a lot faster and are thus longer, but are usually a rougher texture and not suitable for clothing items that are directly on your skin because of the itch factor. Short wool fleece are generally finer and softer, making them not have the itch factor. But they grow slower and so the staple length is shorter and can make it a lot harder to spin them into yarn. And they can be very heavy with grease, making them take more effort to clean. So we have been cross-breeding our sheep long wool to short wool to try to get a nice length but still have the fine softness as well. Fergus is a perfect example of what we are trying for. His fleece turned out just how we were hoping when we bred his mom, Fiona, who is a Merino with a little bit of CVM (short wool breeds) with a BFL (longwool breed) ram. Even if we ever decide not to use him as a ram anymore, I expect we would whether him and keep him his entire life because we love his fleece so much.
Since we only shear a few sheep each year I don’t have a big skirting table, so I just put a sheet on our dining room table and skirt there.
His fleece this year is very dirty because he was not jacketed until we got him back to our farm in December. So the first half of his fleece growth wasn’t protected from gathering vegetable matter (VM) and from sun bleaching and staining on the tips. So we had quite a lot of work ahead of us skirting out the bad stuff.
I pull off a chunk of fleece, usually about the size of two big handfuls, and I hand pick out the second cuts and larger VM. Then I open it up and pull it apart and shake it really well to let the smaller stuff fall out. I repeat until it is clean and then put it in a bag. Slowly, working short periods of time throughout the day, I am able to get it skirted. Good thing I only have 3 fleece to deal with this year, since they are so dirty.
This year, Fergus’ raw skirted fleece weighed 4.4 lbs.
I am really excited to see what type of wonderful yarn Mtn Man makes with Fergus’ fleece this year. Last year he made part of it into a soft worsted weight that I used to make Mr. Smiles a sweater.