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Shearing Notes

By Kevin Ford

Kevin Ford
      Kevin Ford is America’s foremost “blade” (hand) sheepshearer. He has made his living at it for over 20 years, conducts many workshops and public demonstrations, and wrote the finest book on blade shearing available today: Shearing Day: Sheep Handling, Wool Science, And Shearing With Blades. [Available in hardcover from sheep! Bookstore]

      Send your questions about shearing to Shearing Notes, c/o Kevin Ford, 279 Warner Hill Road, Charlemont, MA 01339 or via e-mail to sheepmagazine@citynet.net.

Blood Stains?

This is not a shearing question, but do you know how to get a blood stain out of a fleece?

Try soaking it in cold water before the blood dries. I remember this is what my mother would do with blood-stained clothes when we were kids.

What Causes Variable Crimp?

I have a small handspinner’s flock. I shear them myself and have noticed that the same sheep may have one year tighter crimp and other years, looser crimp. What is the cause of it?

Are you sure? A sheep’s fleece doesn’t change significantly from year to year, because it is primarily genetically determined. Age doesn’t matter much. Significant change in level of nutrition will bring about a change, but I doubt your flock’s nutrition varies that widely. A heavy parasite load would mean a change in a ewe’s condition and the resources available for fleece growth, and a lighter, finer fleece with finer crimp.

“Un-Cotting” A Fleece

I am new to sheep. I bought a sheep I think had more than one year’s fleece-growth on her. When we shore her the fleece came off in one piece, like a blanket. Is there a way to separate the matted fiber for use in spinning?

If you can’t pull the fleece apart then there is nothing that will. In preparing wool for spinning the first step (either before or after washing) is separating the fibers—a process called picking, and done with a picker—which prepares the wool for combing or carding. If your matted fleece could be mechanically picked open, it would be done only with a lot of breakage of the fibers, meaning an inferior lot of wool.

Sheep Shears For Trimming Grass

I bought some hand shears at a garage sale thinking they were for shearing sheep. Someone told me they are for trimming grass. But they look a lot like the hand shears people use on sheep, with a spring bow and all. Is it possible they are grass shears, or do people use sheep shears for trimming grass?

The trimming of grass around trees and alongside buildings and in other areas that couldn’t be reached with a mower was done with hand clippers.

I remember a couple of pairs in the garage when I was a child, and the earliest models of these were identical to sheep shears. I once sold a pair of my hand shears to an enthusiastic professional landscaper. This was all before “weed whackers.”

Upgrading From Scissors To Hand Shears

I just have a couple of sheep and use the scissors from my sewing basket to shear the sheep. It takes me about 95 minutes to shear a sheep. How would I benefit by getting hand shears and using those for shearing, besides the time?

The advantage you have with sewing scissors is that they may be sharper than the hand shears as they come from the manufacturer. You are also probably well acquainted with their feel and use. Evidently, you have no complaints about hand fatigue and blisters, and are not needing to save on time. I imagine you are shearing the sheep standing in a fitting stand, and taking the fleece off in pieces, and are content with this too. I can’t see that you need to change.

How Young Can Lambs Be Shorn?

How old does a lamb need to be to get its first shearing? What is the earliest?

A lamb can be shorn anytime, and for any reason. The earliest lamb shorn is probably a show animal, so that it will have the right length of wool on the day it goes into the ring.

Early born lambs can be sheared late in their first summer, to keep them cooler and improve their appetite during the fall and winter, or so they won’t be carrying over a year’s wool growth when they are yearlings and shorn with the adults in a flock sheared post-lambing.

Sometimes lambs are shorn early with little fleece, to remove the weak “milk tips,” and improve the quality of the yearling fleece.

Pregnant Ewe Shearing Worries

Many of my ewes get triplets. The time I can get a shearer here is usually at the end of their gestation and that makes me a nervous wreck, worrying about the ewes getting hurt. Would it be better just to wait to shear them after lambing, or am I stressed out for no reason?

Ask your shearer what he or she thinks. If he has handled the ewes before, he knows the circumstances in which they are moved about on shearing day, how close to lambing he feels comfortable shearing them, how much wool they carry, and how much dirty or taggy wool they carry around the rear.

Small flocks can safely be sheared in late gestation, where each sheep can be considered. Some sheep, even well-wooled ones like Shetlands, have little in the way of heavy taggy wool in the rear and can, perhaps should, be shorn after lambing. Not long ago, just about all sheep were shorn after lambing.

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