Sheep and Shearing

From a hand spinner’s perspective.

It’s HOT

Sheep seem such simple souls. Left in a field to their own devices, they grow fleece and make lambs. Simple. Not so, they require a person with a job (career) all of their own, dedicated to them i.e. shepherd/ess. Of course farmers manage a whole farm with endless work to do, but there seems to be so much to know about sheep. Sheep and shearing are very physically challenging jobs.

Take shearing, a sheep needs to be sheared once a year to keep it healthy. Too much fleece would not allow freedom of movement, the animal would be attacked by insects and unable to eat because the fleece does not stop growing. At shearing time sheep must not eat or drink for 8 hours beforehand and must be kept in shade and dry for the duration. Wet sheep cannot be shorn. If they do eat or drink before shearing, the animal is liable to suffocate because of intestines impacting on the lungs, which would then be unable to inflate.

A professional shearer is valuable as he/she knows from handling each animal if there are health issues which may have been missed, through no fault of the shepherd/ess. Shearers need to be strong and able to manoeuvre the animal onto its back and sides without causing pain. Some sheep are only too pleased to be free of the weight of fleece and lollop between the shearers legs, like a well behaved drunk. Whereas, others need to be firmly restrained by the shearer until the job is done.

Where do the shearers come from? Are they always here, but only work in spring? Many I am told come here from Australia and New Zealand in shearing gangs. They travel around the world, working and following spring. This year, because of Covid. 19 that plan was in jeopardy. Some came but others didn’t. Depending upon the size of farm and amount of sheep living on it, dictates who shears. British shearers, when they are not shearing, carry out worming, foot trimming and other sheep related work for the rest of the year.

A gorgeous Hampshire Down sheep and fleece.

A good, professional shearer wears moccasin shoes to stop slippage and stands on a board on which to manoeuvre the animal, thus keeping the fleece as clean as possible. A clean fleece is what I desire. A fleece that is covered in mud, muck, straw and other vegetable matter is not worth cleaning. It is a long and laborious job, to try to rid the debris from even the most gorgeous fleece. Therefore, us hand spinners who use natural fibres, really appreciate a clean sheep and a good shearer who only cuts each staple once. Did I mention second cuts? Well I shall save that for another day.

I am pleased you are reading this, otherwise I would be writing to myself! Till next time.

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