The Idiots Guide To Shearing Sheep

idiot sheep shearing

If, like me, you’re relatively new to rearing sheep and shearing time is upon us, my advice is to get someone in.  Seriously!  The professionals and the farmers make it look all lovely and easy.  It’s just a little hair trim.  No.

I thought it would be relatively easy!  I’ve shaved my legs for over twenty years.  I’ve shaved intimate areas with a double edged razor!  I waxed within an inch of my life.  Nothing prepares you for how tricky it is to try and shear a sheep fleece off of a wiggly, woolly sheep without covering the poor baa-baa in nicks and cuts.

I’ve seen sheep shearing done one handed in less than a minute.  That blows my mind!

The Teaching

Farmer D casually sauntered into the barn with the sheep shears in hand, ready for action.  He tells me to grab one of my sheep.  That bit was easy enough.  Nala thinks she’s a dog and, as such, is pretty bolshy.  She came barreling out of the holding pen.

Farmer D showed me a technique to make them sit on their bum.  You support their head and turn it to the side, move them backwards and put your hand under their back legs, easing them into a sitting position.  Lovely.  Takes a lot of practice and is quite exhausting, but I managed this part.

novice sheep shearing

The Shearing

Sheep shearing in the UK begins from April onwards.  Before the fly strike takes hold.

We used the Lister Shearing Laser 2 mains shear from Mole Avon.  I know some people use hand shears and, last summer, we had a go at using those to just dag them but it was really difficult.

  • Starting on the sheep’s brisket (chest), you shear down its tummy, using long blows (to remove the wool from the chest area.  It should, ideally, take three blows – once down the middle and two either side).
  • You then need to remove the wool from around the inner hind legs and the crotch area (remembering to keep the skin taut and to avoid the teats, if it’s a ewe).  I read that it’s a good idea to cover the teats with your non-dominant hand to prevent yourself from accidentally shaving them off!
  • Alter your position, rolling the sheep over, so that the left side of the sheep is facing upwards.  Starting from the toe, you can shear all the way up the outer hind leg and tail.
  • Now the more fiddly bits have been removed on this side, you can make long blows all the way upwards around the sheep’s body whilst rolling the sheep to enable a sweeping motion.

sheep shearing

  • You then need to turn the sheep again so it’s facing right side up.  Repeat the same process that you just completed for the left hind leg.

Rocket Science

I think the way you manoeuvre the sheep and handle it has a lot to do with how easy it makes to shear them.  There does appear to be certain positions you need to get them into to make it easier.  It’s also crucial to remember to keep the skin pulled taught to prevent cuts.  I suspect this is something that comes with practice and experience.

There is a very specific technique to the whole process.  I didn’t, nor could I, get the hang of it.  I was too afraid of making them bleed.  When I did nick one of the sheep’s skin and it looked like when you score the skin to season meat before putting it in the oven.  It made me feel extremely squeamish and I kept worrying they’d end up with an open cut in the field, contracting an infection and dying.  I’m just not sure sheep shearing is for me.

I’m not sure if sheep shearing is something I’ll be trying again in a hurry.  We’ll see.

Always best to make sure the farmer has a sheep and not your off-duty Assistance Dog.

labradoodle shearing

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