Notes from Windward: #64

Sheep Shearing 2004

     It's June. The days are long and the weather is warm. The sheep are looking shaggy and it's time to call Sara in to give them a trim.

     Last year we had a wet spring and everybody was muddy. This year it was hot and everybody was sticky. The fleeces quickly dulled Sara's clippers so it took three trips and several resharpenings to finally get the job done.

     We've learned a few things about sheep over the years:

  • Sheep like food and treats.

  • Sheep tolerate people who bring them food or treats.

  • Sheep get suspicious when people come into their pen without food or treats.

  • It's easier to catch sheep in a small crowded pen than in a big open pen.

  • If the sensibilities of the sheep are ignored during a procedure (shearing, worming, lambing, changing pens, etc.), the task becomes a rodeo, everybody becomes tired and sweaty, and somebody is likely to get bruised and/or bloody.

It's not as uncomfortable as it looks

     Using this information, we developed a procedure to make catching the sheep for shearing easier. The ewes and lambs live in the main pen which has large open areas. We use fence panels to set up small holding pens and a shearing area within the main pen. The rams live in a smaller pen adjacent to the main pen.

     Additional fence panels are used to create a shoot to transfer the rams into the shearing area. Just before shearing time, we use hay to entice the ewes into a holding pen adjacent to the shearing area. From there, they can quickly be captured for shearing. When we are ready for the rams, we use hay to bring them into the ram shoot where they are easily caught.

     Shearing does more than provide us with wool and make the sheep more comfortable during hot weather. It reveals things we might not normally notice.

     The first thing we noticed this year was that nobody was too fat - we don't have to put Pia or Warner on a diet. The rams looked just right but some of the ewes looked too thin so we increased their hay ration. Pretty Ewe, one of our senior ewes, looked emaciated so we gave her a private apartment and supplemented her with extra grain and alfalfa pellets mixed with molasses. She loved the supplements but she let us know right away that she did not want the private apartment.

Zadora and Terry watching Sara work

     The second thing we noticed was that the yearling wether, Butthead, is not a wether. He's a ram. That explains his behavior. We suspect he was born on the day of 14 births and somehow was never banded.

     With the job done, everyone looks different (some are especially cute with their poodle cuts). In fact, they look so different that our lamb Penny Two couldn't recognize her mother. For two days, while she went from unshorn ewe to unshorn ewe plaintively bleating, her shorn rejected mother followed her around trying to comfort her. Also, during and after shearing, the adults can't recognize each other and a game of redefining the pecking order ensues.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64