When we set up our sheep breeding groups in the fall, rams are paired with ewes for specific reasons. Our goal first and foremost is to be produce healthy, strong multipurpose lambs. By using the same ewes and rams several times, I can generally predict what type of lamb the pairing will produce and for what purpose it will be used for. I am always so thankful and excited when each new lamb is born!
Finn and shetland/finn cross lambs are shorn when they are about 6 months old. Lambs are evaluated at that time and lambs that don't meet certain criteria or lambs that were born to a pairing specifically for meat will move to the "meat" pen. Shetlands aren't sheared until the spring of the following year. The same theory applies. These culled lambs thrive and live happy, healthy lives until they go into the freezer and are offered for sale.
When we make an appointment with the slaughterhouse to take lambs, we always ask for our hides back. This means a trip back to the slaughterhouse the following morning to pick the hides up immediately after slaughter.
This is one half of my basement. It's a wonderful place to process sheep hides and for storing winter vegetables. It's a 4 foot frost wall design so I have to stoop a little as I'm 5'. I'm going to get a rolling mechanics stool so I can sit and push myself around. I have milk crates set up on the other side with plywood on top with heavy plastic over the plywood. These serve as my drying tables. The house is 68 feet long so I have quite a good amount of space.
When I bring the hides home, I have to use a sharp knife to remove all the fat from the skin side and trim around the legs, head and butt section. I like a nice, shaped hide. Once the hides have been trimmed and cleaned, they need to be salted. I buy canning salt or use taxidermy salt. All skin surfaces of the hide must be covered with salt to aid in drying and to prevent rotting.
It usually takes about an hour or so to process each hide. I check them every day to make sure I covered them sufficiently with salt and that they are drying as they should be. It takes a couple of weeks or so to dry them sufficiently.
These hides have all been salted and are dry, ready to be sent off to the processor.
When they are completely dried, I roll them up, put them in paper lawn and leaf bags, box them up and send them off to be processed. We have our hides done at Buck's County Fur Products in Pennsylvania. It takes approximately 6-10 weeks to process and return to me. These hides will be fully machine washable and can be dried in the dryer. The difference between what I send them and what they return to me is amazing!
These are finished sheep hides that I had for sale at Common Ground Fair last year. I sell many of my hides to expectant parents. Wool is naturally fire retardant and wonderful for new babies to sleep on. One some of the hides I have the wool sheared to an 1" or 1 1/2" long, other's I leave the fiber it's original length. I have sold hides to men for their motorcycle seats, women for their window seats and college students for their beds. I think my greatest feeling of accomplishment is meeting a delightful baby whose parents bought a hide for them to sleep on before they were even born and they have used it everyday of their life :)