Why do you shear the sheep in the first place?
The main reason we shear all of our sheep is down to maggots. Yes, you heard right, I said, maggots. Horrible little things, flies lay eggs in the fleeces in hot/humid weather and hatch out maggots that in turn nibble at the ewes skin – they can be very nasty and the best way to prevent this from happening is to shear the fleeces so that the flies can’t lay the eggs within the fleece. This year has been particularly bad for it weather wise and we had to put ‘fly cover’ (a chemical repellent spray) on the fleeces to tide us over before the shearers could get to us.
Luckily, the breed of sheep we have (Romneys) produce a really good quality, versatile fleece that we still have a commercial demand for, but there will be some farmers out their that only just break even after paying their shearers/the labour costs for taking the fleeces off. It’s something they choose to do for the animal, rather than the common perception that the sheep’s wool is a commodity.
Where does all of your wool go?
Our wool currently goes to the British Wool Board in large ‘wool sacks’ that we sew shut. The wool sacks get sent to their depot and they sort and grade all of the fleeces by hand individually (this blows my mind slightly – I kind of had this vision that everything would be done by robots of something!). After it has been sorted into different grades, the fleeces then get cleaned and scoured to get the grease/lanolin out. Then eventually carded and combed ready to be spun into wool that can be used for knitted garments.
Do different breeds of sheep produce different wool?
Yes. If you think of all of the different types of sheep you see out in different fields, and then you think about how different they all look, you can imagine how many varieties of fleeces the wool board receive (hence the them being hand sorted). We are lucky as breeders, that we only have one breed of sheep – therefore we have the benefit that all of our fleeces are the same uniform product – making it easier to sort and grade.
Don’t the sheep get cold?
No! The sheep are always happy to get their coats off when it comes round to shearing! Imagine having to carry all of that extra weight around – especially when its hot and humid!
Do you shear the lambs too?
We do, but not until just after weaning, in mid August. Every farm and system is different – but as we graze outside all year round, we tend to shear the lambs so that they aren’t carrying all the extra weight whilst they are grazing in the autumn/winter rainy seasons. Especially as the turnip fields we graze them on can have a tendency to get muddy!
Do you and Andy shear the sheep all on your own?
NO! Gosh, no. Wow – I can’t even imagine how that would go down. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful shearing gang from Wales who come down to shear everything with us and we are just on hand to sort the sheep before hand and ensure that there are always sheep ready to shear – along with providing them with a large lunch and constant snacks!
How many sheep do you normally shear in one day?
Between the 4 shearers they will usually finish 900/1000 ewes in one day. Yes, crazy I know – I can’t even imagine – it would take me a month to do all of them!
When do you shear, and why then?
We shear the ewes twice each year and then once with the lambs (in August). The first shear on the ewes comes just after lambing in June and then the second shear we usually do in September (pre tupping).
Romney sheep are notoriously wooly, so doing the second shear just before tupping works well for us as the girls have less weight to carry into the winter.
How long does it take to shear a sheep?
If you’re asking me, then a long ruddy time. But for a professional shearer around 2mins per ewe – probably a bit longer if it’s a big old ram!
I hope I answered everyone’s questions! Let me know if there is anything I have missed!