Notes from Windward: #67


Shearing the Sheep

     We've been so focused on other projects, everything from getting the Propagation Greenhouse on line to butchering roosters, that we were well overdue on the annual task of shearing the sheep. This past week has been hot, and even though the sheep have plenty of shade in their summer pen, it really was time to cool them off by getting them sheared.

     We shear by hand for many of the same reasons why we milk by hand-- it's fast enough to meet our needs and since our goal is precisely that--as opposed to trying to compete with the industrial-scale farmers--we prefer to go with human scale methods when ever we can. In order to shear by machine, you need two things: a heavy-duty shearing set up powered by a 1/2 hp motor, and a lot of sheep to shear so that you can develop and maintain the technique. There's a lot of skill involved in shearing sheep with the heavy gear, and if you make a mistake then there's a good liklihood that you'll end the day with a bar-b-que.

Kai shears while Becca soothes

     Doing it by hand takes us about 45 minutes so we gather together in the cool of the late afternoon and do one a day. The technique we prefer involves one person stoking the head and keeping them calm while another person uses hand shears to remove the wool. Hand shearing allows us to take the wool without creating what are called "second cuts" which are short bits of wool created when a power shear goes over a place that has already been cut, and it's primarily those tiny bits that make wool itchy.

Alison and Nikki bag the wool

     We started with our two largest--Chaucer the ram, and Zed his whethered friend--and then sheared Brownie since black sheep are more sensitive to the heat. The white-wooled ewes are next, and soon we'll have another year's crop in the bag. We store the wool in the burlap sacks that our grain comes in, prefering the natural fiber for a number of reasons but especially because it insures that the wool will dry out and not rot as it can do when stored in plastic.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67