Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sheep Shearing Redux, updated

Yesterday morning I finally sheared our sheep. I don't imagine you've ever priced them out, but shearers are quite expensive little machines. So I was hoping to be able to borrow one from a friend who picked up some shearing equipment at an auction. This, of course, meant waiting for them to finish shearing and coordinating pick up, etc. Once I got the go-ahead to borrow them, too, I wanted to order my own set of blades so that I wasn't dulling their blades on my sheep. All of which is a long-winded explanation of why I was so late shearing them.

Here's a photo of some fluffy sheep in January:

The shearing went pretty well, all things considered, and I was really glad to have Jim's help wrangling them out of the stall. The day before, I'd moved the sheep into the paddock closest to the barnyard and set up a chute to the barn using electric netting. With the kids' and Jim's help, I was able to get the sheep into the barn that evening, which not only made them easier to catch for shearing, but also kept them dry—you can't shear wet sheep. While I had them immobilized, I also trimmed their hooves, all of which looked pretty good, and checked their eyelids for anemia.

Here are the not-so-fluffy sheep in April:

I did a pretty nice job on the two black sheep, but the lighter sheep is pretty choppy. The fact that she has horns made the job particularly difficult. Her fleece came out beautifully though:

Just look at all the beautiful color variation:

The smallest sheep, who also happens to have been a bottle baby, was the easiest to sheer. She was very cooperative, letting me get some really nice blows and clean her up nicely. She's the one with the white nose looking at you in the photo above. Her black fleece was absolutely luxuriant:

Jules was out watching, and she climbed into the loft to take some photos of the actual shearing process for the last sheep—Candace, our largest sheep. Candace is the only one who will let me pet her, but I have a sneaky suspicion that has changed since yesterday. *Nope: she was happy to let me love her up, and happy to have the fleece off!

Candace was anything but cooperative. She bucked and kicked and fought the entire shearing. Here I am starting out on the brisket, hoping she's settling into the process:

And here she is about a minute later. Notice the hog panel that is now just inches from her feet as she's fussed and fought herself several feet forward:

She looks good, but her fleece came off piecemeal, as I sheared her any way I could, much of which meant having her on her side with Jim holding her firmly. The neck blows were awful to do because she refused to stay still. Definitely not text book New Zealand method!

Thankfully I didn't nick her at all. The first sheep was the only one I nicked, and unfortunately, I got her a couple of times, though none of them bled. Their wool was so incredibly matted that it would not open up and fall away, making it really tricky to shear. Once I figured out how to work with the wool, however, I got significantly better. I'm thinking that I'll need to shear them twice a year so that the wool's not so difficult to get through.

Here's a photo of Candace from today:

And here's one of poor Esther and her chunky haircut:

Some of you asked what we plan to do with the wool. The girls are really looking forward to processing the wool ourselves, so I'm busy researching just how to do that. We'll need to pick up some carders, and after that, we're hoping to learn felting. I'm not a knitter, so I don't think spinning is in my future. I've learned to knit, but it's just too hard on my wrists to make it worth doing, but I think felting would be a whole lot of fun. The girls are really looking forward to learning and creating. As luck would have it, next weekend is the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, so we're hoping to pick up some cool tools and tips while we're there.

Navajo-Churro wool is unique in its dual wool layer: it has an outer protective coating that is coarse and a finer inner coat that is quite soft, but not nearly as long. Here's a really great website that shows some of the natural fiber colors and the beautiful rugs it makes. Notice that she raises N-C's, shears them herself, spins their wool, and then weaves it. Wow!


Madeline said...

"She's unbelievable" (I'm singing this to you as i read). I am so impressed! How exciting to now have wool to add to your on farm products. I am picturing "lambys" (those simple, warm, soft wool rugs) in your winters. Or you said that you may play with felting? Is that right? Cool! And I am so happy about you getting that cow. Congratulations.

Christy said...

I'm so impressed! Shearing sheep is not easy. Those guys are heavy. What are your plans with the wool?

Jenny said...

Ahhh, it's always such a relief to see them after shearing. Ours are getting done this Wednesday morning, but there's no way I'm doing all 10 of them! We're having our shearer do it.

Ren said...

Very cool!
My friend LeaAnn would love to buy some from you if you have extra.:) She's an unschooler in P'cola who has a fulling/felting business she started. Though she probably buys it already processed I imagine.

Congrats on adding another skill to your inventory. That's really exciting! And the sheep look so smooth and cool.

Rue said...

I love to watch Dagny spin on her wheel. It's like magic. She got Rowan a drop spindle, so we've got another one hooked here.

My hands/wrists give me a hard time too, and so far felting is much better for me than knitting or crocheting.

Reading your blog makes me dream of a huge property and a bunch of animals. My body's not up to it, though, so I'll settle for peeking into your life :o).

karl said...

wow great job. that looked like tons of effort. i'd like to try sheep in the future--as if i don't have too much going on already.

Danielle said...

Rue, has Rowan looked at the Navajo spindles at all? They look sooo much easier to me than the drop spindle, and I'm actually considering making a couple to try out here at home.

Here's a really great youtube video showing what it looks like and how it's done. From what I've read, you just make the spindle a few inches shorter for sitting on the ground instead of a chair.

Thanks for the kind comments guys. Yes, it's incredibly hard work—even when the sheep cooperate! It takes a lot of strength and stamina, and I was definitely feeling the after effects of sheep wrestling the past two days.

Still, it's really satisfying to be that connected to the animal because it really gives the farmer a chance to check over the entire sheep, head to toe. I'm thinking that twice a year would be really good for monitoring the animal's health and preventing the incredible matting that I was dealing with this time around.

El said...

My friend Catharine has her own farm in Wisconsin, sheep included. She doesn't shear her own, though: she hires an itinerant shearer who actually used shears! I must tell you the guy is HOT. So of course she dated him for a while. That's a big aside to tell you I have a small understanding of how much work it is, and my hat is off to you.

Tameson O'Brien said...

Spinning may very well be in your future...Navaho Chirro makes excellent rug yarn and weaving rugs is so simple a second grader could do it - plus your girls could sell them for additional income. - May at least be worth looking into.