One of the most important occasions on any farm that raises fiber-bearing animals is shearing day. Preparation is important to ensure the success of this event.
Planning for shearing starts the day after the last shearing event. What little fiber is left on the animal is now clean and shiny and you want to keep it that way. Vegetable matter can seriously and negatively impact a fleece. There are a few simple steps that you can take to avoid this problem.
Do not graze your animals under trees. Trees shed. They shed seeds, they shed leaves and they shed needles that can work their way into a fleece. Ruined Fleece.
Don’t feed your animals on the ground. To begin with it is not particularly healthy. Second of all, if they are eating in a crowd, one animal with a mouthful of hay will lift its head and drop it on the back of its neighbor. Ruined fleece. If you are feeding on a windy day and your friends are all waiting eagerly on the other side of the fence, you drop the hay and the wind sends it all over their backs. Ruined fleece.
The best type of feeders encourages the animal to keep its head down while it eats and protects the grain and/or hay from falling on its head. If the feeder is outside, it should have a cover to keep the hay and grain dry.
If you are feeding sheep or goats, here are plans for my favorite feeder: Lamb Brooder and Ewe Feeder
If you are feeding alpacas or llamas, here are a couple of ideas for you that will help keep your fiber clean and prevent wasting hay:
Alpaca Hay Feeder Grid from Island Alpaca Company of Martha’s Vineyard
Another way to keep your fleeces clean is to coat your animals. This can be a time-consuming task depending on how many animals you have. A typical sheep will grow through 4 coat sizes throughout the year. Coating doesn’t work with every type of fleece in every climate. Some fleeces of the long luster wool types in a wet climate will felt under the coats. Given all of that, a coated fleece will obtain a premium price.
So, another year has passed, your fleeces sparkle, the date is set for the shearer and you need to think about how you are going to catch your animals. Shearers are not animal whisperers; they have no special insights on how to get your animals out of the field and confined for shearing. That’s your job. If your animals are not used to coming into a confined area, then you need to start practicing. Food is the motivator. Lure them in and feed them with the gate left open for a couple of days. When they are used to that idea, then close the gate after confining them. Keep practicing until it is routine. When the big day arrives, confine your animals before the shearer arrives and try to act natural. Animals can read intent in us humans.
Consider dividing the sheep into two groups: white-fleeced animals and natural-colored animals. In order to avoid contamination of the white fleeces with fiber from the natural colored fleeces, shear the white ones first. Since your beasts are now confined, this is a great time to perform other maintenance activities such as worming and hoof trimming. You can always ask your shearer to do these tasks; some are willing, some are not.
So what does the shearer need besides confined sheep? A shearer wants to work in a dry, well-lit and well-ventilated area. Your animals absolutely must be dry. It is very uncomfortable and dangerous to shear a wet animal. The shearer will need access to electricity. If he/she is using down-shaft shearing equipment he/she may need a wall or overhead beam to attach the equipment to. Ask. What kind of platform does the shearer use and do you need to provide it? If you provide handling equipment for shearing alpaca or llamas, make sure in advance that it is in good working order.
Do not be clever and put clean straw down in the area where the shearing will occur. Fresh straw clings to fleece and will negate the effort you made all year to keep the fiber clean. If the area is not clean, cover it with a tarp or several pieces of plywood. Look for and remove all trip hazards.
So much for what the shearer needs. What about you? Here is my list of what to have available:
- Helpers – the more the merrier. Someone should be available to catch the animal and hand it to the shearer as well as someone to handle the animal that was just sheared. There also needs to be someone to pick up the fleece and carry it to the skirting table. Experience in this area is a plus.
- Skirting Table – Fleeces are best skirted when fresh and this is another area where an experienced helper is called for. If you don’t already have a table, here are a couple of links to skirting tables that you can build yourself.
Alpaca Fleece Skirting Table from Husbandry Hints by Bill and Sherri Duey
Fleece Skirting Table from Gleason’s Fine Woolies Ranch
- Broom – To sweep the shearing platform between animals.
- Clear Plastic Bags and Tags – You will need bags to put the skirtings into and a bag for each skirted fleece. Tags will help you identify which animal the fleece came from and, when necessary, which part of the fleece is in the bag.
- Water and snacks!
Need I say more?
Shearing day is now over. Fleeces should be stored in air-tight containers, out of the sun, and not in an area with dramatic temperature changes. Ideally, you will not be storing them for long.
There are many different avenues for selling raw fleece:
- Facebook, either your own site or sites such as raw wool for sale: https://www.facebook.com/groups/654917504688930/
- There are many fleeces for sale on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/. They are being sold every which way: raw, washed, carded and/or spun into yarn.
- Local fairs and fiber festivals usually include fleece judging shows. They may or may not offer an opportunity to sell your fleece at the end of the show but, in any case, it is a wonderful way to get exposure for your farm.
- Contact your local fiber processing mill to see if they have any interest in fiber from your breed for mixing with other fiber types.
Whatever you do, please do not burn or throw out your fiber unless it is damaged or too full of vegetable matter to clean. There is not such thing as bad fiber, it is all good for something.