Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shearing & Cheese; Comments - Q & A

It's been a busy few days here. Shearing continues when the weather permits. No shearing wet sheep - I could sure use seven days of straight sunshine :)

No goat kids yet - below are before and after shearing photos. Not the same goat in each photo but they don't always cooperate :)

Whaddya think - twins, triplets? Her milk bag is so full today that her udders are sticking straight out instead of down. These goats just keep on eating and I keep wondering and waiting. I am so eager to go to the barn in the morning :)

Shearing - a hot topic in the fiber world this time of year :) Thank you all for your great comments. I read them all and am usually more prompt about responding than I have been lately. I thought this would be a good place to answer some of your questions.

Anyone can learn to shear. Honestly - The last shearer that I had here charged me $11 per head and $80 trip charge. With 40+ sheep, that was an expensive couple of days. I raise Finn sheep as well as Shetland. The Finn need to be sheared twice per year. I simply cannot afford that. The shearer I had before him is a terrific guy and mentor. He sheared for me for three years and sheared for many other folks as well as his own large flock of sheep. He decided with gas prices and travelling, he just couldn't afford to do it anymore. He only charged me $6 per head. I always do my own feet, de-worming, vaccinations, etc., and provided lunch, coffee, or whatever else he needed. One thing about him, he was willing to teach me as we went along. I absorbed everything he said like a sponge. I watched and listened and knew when the time came, I'd be ready. Yea, right!!

Shearing with scissors or hand shears is time consuming and just plain hard. My hands simply can't take that kind of abuse. But that's just me. I have small hands and a touch of carpal tunnel. I have a friend who shears all her sheep with hand shears. She's quick, efficient and I envy her. I had used electric clippers before, having grown up on a horse farm. They still make me nervous. I have Andis (Heineger) clippers, lightweight for women's hands. They are great. I would strongly recommend anyone wanting to shear their sheep, regardless of what you use, to get yourself a shearing stand. Steve made my first one out of wood with an adjustable head rest and a little grain box on it. It worked great. He has since purchased me a steel shearing stand from Premier Sheep Supply. It is awesome. It has a ramp and side rails and you can use it for sheep or goats.

You have an advantage from the get go because your sheep/goats are familiar and comfortable with you. I would give them a little grain as a reward for standing nicely, and begin. I went very very slow. I was a nervous wreck! Short, small strokes, remembering to never go back over what I had already done - we don't want second cuts in our fleece. You can clean them up after you get all the wool off. The first sheep took me 3 1/2 hours. You know, I didn't nick her or cut her anywhere. She was calm and cool and actually enjoyed being fussed with. Each time I did one, I became a little more comfortable and now I can do a sheep in about a half an hour, including trimming their feet. It's just time and patience and becoming comfortable with the shears, your sheep and having confidence in yourself. From the money I save on a shearer, I could have bought 5 electric clippers.

I use a Mohair comb. It seems to be the best one for me. Combs with fewer teeth are easier to nick with or more aggressive. This is a standard cutter that goes with the comb.

I send the cutters and combs out once per year to have them sharpened. I have 5 combs, 15 cutters. Cost me $36 including shipping. They were back within a week. I should have everyone done within two weeks, weather permitting. Doesn't get them all done in one or two days, but that isn't as important as saving money, comfortable sheep, rare nicks or cuts, very few second cuts and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction! I can shear the ewes completely on the stand. The males I have to flip on their butts to shear their belly. Don't want to cut off the important part :) I try to make sure someone is around to help me flip the big rams and the biggest ewes. Some of these sheep weigh more than I do!


A bag of beautiful white Pygora fiber - when we do have rainy days, I'll spend my free time skirting my fiber which entails laying the fiber out on a screened table and picking out the bits of hay and vegetable matter. Pygora fiber has no lanolin so doesn't it hold as much "stuff" as sheep fiber. This has to be done to all my fiber, sheep and goat. With sheep fiber, I pull off manure tags, belly wool, etc. Any fiber that isn't good enough to be sent to the processor and I'm fussy!

Michelle, I do not have any polled Shetland genetics that I'm aware of. The ram lambs in the photo I posted were Shetland (small horns) and Shetland/Finn crosses (no horns/scurs).

I hope I answered everyone's questions......if not, ask away :) Thanks again for all your great comments and for reading the blog.

Tomorrow............more on Cheese ~


Christy said...

I wish you weren't in Maine! I want to learn to shear so I can do my sheep when I get them. I'm only going to have a few and it wouldn't make sense to have a shearer out for so few.

threecollie said...

Great post! I have clippers, but shear with scissors because I am so afraid of nicking the sheep

Egghead said...

I am so impressed you are doing this. Those sheep would no longer look like sheep if I was let loose with clippers.

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