For weeks it’s been sunny and warm in our part of Alaska, but on the day I had scheduled to shear, it got cloudy and cold. Fortunately we have the option of combining chicken flocks allowing us to use a portion of the barn as the “shearing room”.
We started small and worked our way up. Betty got to be the first one and she was awesome. Her sweet personality makes her very easy to work with. When a sheep is set up on it’s rear it relaxes and doesn’t fight. We exploit this trait at shearing time to ensure less injury to shearer and sheep.
Livestock Guardians truly care about the happiness of their charges. Mia was very concerned when the whole shearing process began. She stayed close, watching HER sheep to be sure they were being treated with care and kindness.
During the course of the shearing the sheep gets propped, stretched and bent into all kinds of crazy positions. I call it sheep yoga, the stretching helps to smooth the skin of the sheep. Sheep skin is very soft and pliable, so if you tug on the wool while clipping you could pull the skin up into a wrinkle and clip the wrinkle right off.
I love to watch a good shearer work, the sheep stays nice and calm and the shearer knows just how and where to help stretch the skin to avoid nicks and cuts. When nicks do occur, most will heal in a day or two.
The whole process took about 45 minutes and look at the huge fleece. This fleece will still need to be skirted, meaning the dirtiest bits removed, but it will still be a nice big fleece.
Next up, Matilda. Icelandic wool can be hard to shear because it felts easily. The felted areas, like where Matilda’s coat fit around her neck, were a challenge for the clippers to get through. It’s a delicate balance getting through the tough felt without cutting the delicate skin beneath.
Matilda cracks me up. Her hair is so wild and wooly she looks almost like a lion in this picture. Having her head shaved emphasized all that wild hair like a ruff around her neck. Although she’s not very majestic in the photo, more like the Queen of Casual.
From this angle her belly looks huge. That big belly makes me think there might be twins in her future. Well, at least I’m hoping for twins.
The Cormos have an altogether different type of fleece. They are a wool breed with wrinkly skin, another challenge for the shearer. The extra skin is extra surface area to grow more wool. As if that weren’t challenge enough, their wool is heavy with lanolin, it’s very fine, and there is a LOT of it.
Some parts of the animal are yellow with heavy lanolin while other parts remain snowy white.
The lanolin gums together on the outside of the strands catching all the dirt and protecting these inner layers of fleece.
Because sheep spend a fair part of their day laying around chewing their cud the wool on their belly gets caked with mud and dirt. This wool is usually removed from the fleece and discarded.
Katherine is the biggest of the girls, and once we clipped the wool away from that big belly, it is apparent that she may be the first to lamb. According to careful calculations she is about 10 days out. Of course, I will be out of town this weekend so she will likely disregard my careful math, a thought that strikes fear into the men of the house who will be manning the farm in my stead.
A good shearer needs to know the specific shape of a variety of sheep. The insides may be very similar but the outside can vary greatly. Katherine has a substantial dewlap, a flap of skin hanging under her neck. This is another aspect that has been bred into the Cormo sheep. More skin surface for wool. With these gals it’s all about the wool. If the shearer isn’t expecting that extra skin they might trim off more than just the wool.
What spa day would be complete without a pedicure? While we had ahold of the girls we trimmed hooves, a process that needs to be done about twice a year.
Mia and Al were very curious about the new look of their sheep. Once all the inspections were complete, identities verified, it was back to business as usual at Tower Ranch.