Monday, February 01, 2010

Shearing Day...

Today was the day for shearing sheep.  Not a very nice day here, in fact, it was cold.  I don't think the thermometer ever got above 20 degrees but there was no wind which seems to make such a difference to us.

The ewes are due to begin lambing in the coming week and so it's important for us to have them sheared before the lambs start dropping.   Once the warm, heavy fleece is peeled from their bodies, the chill makes the ewes want to go into the shed.  They definitely  feel the change in the weather.  Shearing also makes it easier for newborn lambs to suck when the wool is sheared away from the teats, and that is a very important part of lambing.  We will be shed-lambing which means what it says.  All the lambs will be born in the shed or near the shed and will be processed through the barn so that we can be sure that the mothers and their lambs are a working pair.

I'll take you through the process of shearing with some pictures that I snapped between cooking for the crew  and the coffee break.  First off, the sheep are in full wool as in the top picture.  They are brought into the barn and up through some pens and alleys and up into the shearing trailer.

Here you see the sheep going through the alley and walking up a slope into the trailer that is pulled near the door outside.  Our job, mainly, is to feed the sheep up into the trailer for the shearers.  The alley goes all the way through the trailer and there is a trap door for each shearer to open and grab a sheep.  There is no tying or wrangling much.  The shearing process is smooth and fluid.  The shearer pulls the sheep close to him, lays her on her back and shears the belly first, then the head and neck, up the legs and then lastly over the back so that the fleece is entirely in tact when the shearer is done.  I absolutely love to watch a good shearer do his work.  It looks as though he is slicing through warm butter as the fleece is shorn away from the body.

We had three men here to shear our 204 head of sheep.  The men get paid double for the bucks since they are more than double in size in comparison to the ewes.  Plus, they are usually hard-headed and naughty.   The men got their work done in about four hour's time and that was setting up and tearing down and driving to our house for dinner.  See the young fella in the back?  C. is a 17 year old who just won the champion shearing award for the beginner's division at the Black Hills Stock Show shearing contest.  This is his second year shearing with this particular crew.  The two fellas in front have been shearing for us since I came here about 28 years ago.  These men all belong to our rural community.  Boy, did they give C. a lot of ribbing and man talk about being a champion shearer.  He took it in stride, though, as young men should.

Do you see how the fleece is all in tact as Chuck  shears the ewe?  He keeps gently rolling her around to make long, smooth swipes with his shears.

Out the door she goes!  Once the ewe is sheared, the fleece is kicked out one side of the trailer and the trap door on this side is opened by foot release to let the sheep out.

These two are skirting the wool.  The fleece is kicked out on their side of the trailer and they throw each fleece over that round skirting table and inspect it, removing any undesirable wool from the fleece.  They are particular about removing pieces of the belly wool and the dirty, rough wool from the britches or backside of the sheep.  The "bellies" as the undesirable wool is called, are thrown into the white sack standing in the frame, and the good wool is thrown into that machine that says "stand clear."  The machine is the sacker which receives the wool and presses it compactly into a bale that will be laced closed and taken to the wool house in town to be sold.  Back in the old days, a man would continuously tromp the wool into the sacks and lace them up

I just love the look of  freshly shorn sheep.  They always reminds me of this verse. 
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool."  ~Isaiah 1:18  It won't be very many days and the ewes you see here will not be white as snow.  The dirt and dust and hay will stick to their lanolin-greased sides and they will blend in with the landscape once again -- if it isn't snowy.

 I always think of how God compares us to sheep. We really are a lot alike, you know.  We are followers, we are social, and if one is disturbed or alarmed, she disturbs the whole bunch.  Even their coughing  and sneezing sounds like human coughs and sneezes.  When the lambs start to come, we see all sorts of personalities show up.  Some ewes are good, strong mothers and others don't give a flip about their lambs and would rather run off with the herd, leaving their lambs cold and alone.  We must force this kind to mother up.  I won't tell you how, but let's say that part of it is solitary confinement  -- with her lambs.

I'm looking forward to lambing season.  It is hard work, but there's something about animal husbandry that is so rewarding and satisfying.  I enjoy helping with the cows and calves, but the sheep are my favorites because they are easier for women and children to handle.  And who can resist the scrawny, helpless little  lambies?

"We all like sheep have gone astray...."  ~Isaiah 53:6  
"We are the sheep of his pasture..." ~Psalm 100:3
"My sheep hear my voice..."  John 10:27

Addendum:  The wool bales were taken to the wool house and weighed.   We averaged the weight per fleece and it came out to approximately 10 pounds each which is quite a good, heavy fleece especially when the sheep were sheared a month earlier than last year.  Perhaps the colder weather we've had produced that heavier fleece.


  1. Shearing already, I would have thought it would be at lest another month. I am still jealous looking at all the sheared wool xoxoxo Clarice


  3. Oh thank you, Jody. This met my heart this morning. When I saw the title on my Google page, I couldn't wait to read and you do not disappoint. I am going to think about sheep today (and Groundhogs AND my granddaughter's first birthday) because I want to be a good sheep who follows my SHEPHERD willingly. I love the phrase "mother up" and I wish I could say it to some women who miss out on the rich joy of motherhood. You are so good. I'm so glad I know you.

  4. Oooh, those lambs look soooo cold without their wool on! Very interesting -- thanks for sharing with us. Does this only happen once a year?

  5. Very interesting! I'd love to be around while the lambs were coming.

  6. hey hey, gave you a blog award today. :D check it out

  7. Hi there. Nice to meet you. This is fascinating!

    I found your blog over at Gen's.


  8. I love big days on the farm. I can almost feel the excitment. I bet the sheep leave the shearing shed thinking, "What the heck? Don't these people know it's cold out here?" LOL! Thanks for sharing, Jody.

  9. I found this post today about the sheep shearing rather nostalgic. You see, I am one of the "old" guys who used to stomp the wool into the burlap bags. Our racks stood upright and each fleece had to be pulled down around us so that we could stomp it into place. To say the least, not a drop of water would stick to us and our leather boots were waterproofed what with all the lanolin from the wool. This job gave me a lot of extra spending money back in the 1950's.

  10. Oh, Jody, you live such an interesting life! I hope it seems that way to you (it sounds as though it does). Thanks for the shearing tutorial. I couldn't help but thinking that the young champion shearer is probably a lot more grown-up and centered than other young people his age. Maybe I'm wrong, but to be useful and skilled ... so many teens don't know what that feels like, because they don't have good work to do. I worry about this for my boys ...

    Thanks for an interesting read!


  11. I appreciate all of your comments so much. Big days on the ranch are rather fun even though very full and busy.

    This ranch was first a sheep ranch and then they got into Hereford cattle. We run many more head of cows now than sheep, but the sheep are still well-worth raising. I don't know anything much about dairy cattle nor crops.

    Yes, shearing only happens once a year. The wool is one part of the crop that sheep give. The other crop is the lambs that will be sold for replacement ewes and/or for meat.

    Pom Pom,
    I like the words "mother up" too. It's a common term on this ranch and if a cow or sheep isn't good at mothering up, she is often culled from the herd.

    Village Gardener,
    I'm glad you found this post about shearing. I always thought the men who tromped the wool had to be the thinnest of all. That always looked like such hard work to me. I notice that some of the shearers wear what I call "slippers" made of wool and as they shear, they become "waterproof" by the lanolin from the wool. I'm so glad you commented here.

    Left-handed Housewife,
    You are right that the Champion shearer is very grown up. I know him and his family and he is quite a hard working young man. He is very well-grounded and a kind person too. Hard work and young men do go together nicely, I think.


  12. I love your blog. I'm listening to "There is a fountain" and clicked on your blog. How appropriate to read scripture and your post on the sheep. I live in a subdivision in southwest Michigan. If I could, I would come and help in some way, that's how powerfully drawn I am to your lifestyle in the country. God Bless!

  13. I agree with everyone that this work looks so interesting. And I agree about "good work" for boys/young men. I'd noticed the young man in the picture, but I'd thought he was learning to sheer, not already an accomplished shearer. Good for him!

    This was all so fun to read, and the sheep look so funny turned over with their legs sticking up! I have to admit that from my urban perspective, the end product sort of reminds me of sheared...poodles.

    Oh, and I'm curious: What finally happens to all the wool? Does it ever go anywhere that the rest of us could wear it or sleep under it?

  14. Sewn With Grace,
    I'm glad you've enjoyed your visit here. Come back!

    "Sheared Poodles" is just about right. Probably a little more rustic shearing though. After the wool is taken to the wool house (a warehouse) they will have wool buyers come and grade the wool and that determines price. The finer the wool, the more it's worth. The buyer will purchase it and then process it into the things it is best suited for. Usually we have a very good grade so you might be wearing or sleeping under some of it one day.


  15. Dave & Shelly Hahn2/05/2010 7:27 PM

    Our family enjoyed reading your article on 'Shearing Day' and the comments that followed. I have to tell you that the encouraging words written about our son Clint brought tears to my eyes (okay, I pretty much broke down).
    For him to read those kind words and realize what others see in him I imagine will be a positive influence for many years to come! Thank you so much!!

  16. I loved your reference to Isaiah 1:18 and freshly shorn sheep. That's a wonderful picture. I love all the info you share with us. Thanks for taking the time to do so.
    Yes, we are so much like sheep!

  17. I had such a feeling of peace as I read your post. Those men and the young man seem so grounded. The life you share with us is rich in all the ways that are important -- family, love, God, and living in harmony with the land.


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