Shearing Day

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”.

Betty was a great one to warm up with.
Betty was a great one to warm up with.

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.

Mia watched to be sure her sheep were safe.
Mia watched to be sure her sheep were safe.

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.

The clippers have big teeth and could easily take off a finger or damage a sheep.
The clippers have big teeth and could easily take off a finger or damage a sheep.

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.

The shearer stretches Betty's head to the side to smooth all the skin on her neck
The shearer stretches Betty’s head to the side to smooth all the skin on her neck

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.

Betty seems to enjoying her spa day.
Betty seems to enjoying her spa day.

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.

Betty got turned out to pasture but her fleece covers a 4' X 8' sheet of T-111
Betty got turned out to pasture but her fleece covers a 4′ X 8′ sheet of T-111

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 is almost as wide as she is long
Matilda in all her fuzzy glory
Matilda 1
Matilda the lioness

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.


Matilda 2

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.

This is the relaxed face

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.

A close-up of the lanolin rich wool
A close-up of the lanolin rich wool

Some parts of the animal are yellow with heavy lanolin while other parts remain snowy white.

68 sample 2
Beautiful crimp

The lanolin gums together on the outside of the strands catching all the dirt and protecting these inner layers of fleece.

Katherine 1
Belly wool is usually too dirty to use, even in a coated sheep

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.

Katherine 2
Stretching helps to smooth some of the wrinkles around Katherine’s neck

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.


Katherine 3
Getting her nails trimmed

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.

Livestock Guardian Dogs inspecting naked sheep
Livestock Guardian Dogs inspecting naked sheep

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.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Marilyn Guilmet says:

    Anybody there that can shear, is gentle with the sheep, and would like to come to kodiak RT airfare, room board and
    ? Amount per sheep to shear. Added
    Work trim feet, vaccines. About 115
    Sheep. Call me 907-486-3099. Sheep are used to caring gentle women
    Shetland sheep

    1. We use Frigid Farm for our shearing. You can contact them thru Facebook.

  2. Marilyn Guilmet says:

    Do you hire out to shear? The have about 115 Shetland breeders. Please give me a call if you know of a good person to hire and bring over to Kodiak
    I pay RT airfare, room and board and a charge per sheep for shearing, trimming feet and assisting with vaccines and worming. Speed is not a big concern within reason. Gentleness and quality
    Work are appreciated. Thank you
    Have a wonderful season.
    Marilyn Guilmet
    Faith Farms
    Kodiak Alaska

    1. Check with Frigid Farm, Coyote Trail Fiber and Mill, or Calypso Farm, they are the only shearers I know.

  3. Tim says:

    I need a sheep shearer in Wasilla Alaska

    1. Check with Frigid Farm, they are in Fairbanks, and come down in April or May to make the rounds. All 3 shearers in the state are in Fairbanks/North Pole area.

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