The last few weeks have been busy with getting ready for shearing and then the actual shearing (for nearly a full week) and now just catching up on everything else!
The fleeces were quite good this year but some did show damage from the summer rainfall events we had over December/January.
Shearing here is a small affair compared to my neighbours and “the big guys”. I only get in one shearer (that I trust) and a neighbour helps with the classing. We generally do 100-130 per day. (Pretty small compared to the thousands at some places! hehe) Normally, the wool is pressed into large bales as we go. This year I had to put the wool aside and then bale it after the event.
One question I get asked is: “why do you shear when it is getting close to winter??”
The answer is a little complex but I will attempt to explain.
- One major factor has to do with the tensile strength of the wool fibre and the role that different phases of reproduction have on it. In this case, when the ewes lamb and then lactate it puts stress on the system and they divert protein from wool growth into their pregnancy and milk. This can cause a thinner/weaker area to develop along the fibre. If the stressful period is nearly halfway between shearings then the fibre can have a “break” (ie. “tender”) right in the middle. So, a fleece that is a very usable length of 8-10cm all of a sudden becomes downgraded because its length will be 4-5cm when put under tension. Processing puts stress on the fibres and for combed wools the minimum length is 5cm/50mm. Sound wool (ie. not tender) is much preferred by the processors and tender wool gets a discounted price. Since shifting the shearing time to May the merino wool from the farm has greatly improved tensile strength which means better product (less pilling and less wastage, also the fibre length is maintained at the 10-11cm).
- With the weather becoming cooler the sheep adjust their metabolism accordingly. Cool weather is becoming the “norm” and so if colder weather/rain comes after shearing then they handle it better than if, say, they were shorn in the warmer weather and then a cold snap happened. Sudden cold weather in the summer months is more likely to cause problems.
- The shearing off of the fleece stimulates wool growth and oil secretions so post-shearing there will be a surge in wool growth which helps to provide the sheep with some growth going into the winter and the extra oils provide protection from the wet and cold. Each breed is a little different. For example, the Drysdales grow their wool so fast anyway that within a month of shearing they have over 25mm of growth. The Merino ewes I have are also growing wool quite fast (comparatively, to some lines of Merino) – they are almost at the point of being able to shear twice a year.
- There is also the benefit that because at lambing the ewes feel the cold more, they lamb in more protected areas which helps to reduce lambing losses due to wind/cold exposure.
Shearing is a necessary activity for the health and well-being of the sheep. Done in a professional manner it is all completed in under 3 minutes per sheep. When the sheep has been released it is generally relaxed, will chew its cud and often they have a scratch (they can finally “get at that spot”!) Sometimes, they even try to come back into the shed…!