22 October 2007

Shearing Day

Yesterday was sheep-shearing day at the farm. To answer the most obvious question first: No, we do not shear the sheep ourselves. After watching it done just one time, we quickly decided that was a skill we did not need to acquire. It's hard work, wrestling the sheep into the correct position, and requires a lot of experience to master. For the small flock we have, it makes much more sense to bring someone in a couple of times per year. Besides, with fleeces as nice as our Icelandics produce, we want someone who will bring them off the animal in as good a condition as possible. And it doesn't cost that much per animal to have them shorn, anyway.

Icelandic sheep are shorn twice per year. The spring fleece is almost always bad; imagine a heavy winter coat that's received lots of wear and abuse. If we're lucky, we get one usable fleece. The rest become mulch in the vineyard. (If we really wanted to take up felting, the spring wool could in theory be used for that. Mulching is a whole lot easier.) Fall fleeces are the best, and include wonderful soft wool from this year's lambs.

The day begins will all three of our kids, plus Scooter the Amazing Wonder Dog, driving the entire flock into a small diamond-shaped area that joins four quadrants of the pasture. The four of us humans fan out across the pasture, behind the flock, and get them to bunch up. Scooter takes it from there, helping us drive them into the central area. Each wall of that diamond-shaped area is a gate; by closing three sides tightly, we can drive all the sheep in and then close the remaining gate.
Next, we run about 200 feet of electrical extension cord from the barn down to this area. (Next year, at our new property, we'll be able to do all this in the comfort and shelter of the barn itself!) Lisa the "sheep shearing lady" (as our kids have dubbed her) sets up all her equipment, and then goes to work on the first member of the flock.


She begins by cutting off all the nasty matted and dirty wool in various places on the underside of the sheep. She then skillfully buzzes off the entire rest of the fleece; if the sheep doesn't thrash around too badly, the fleece all comes off in one piece. And it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Meanwhile, as each shorn sheep rejoins the flock in the holding area, Scooter continues to stand guard. His presence insures they stay bunched up --- and out of Lisa's work area.

We ended up with 16 very nice fleeces this year, which we will send off to a fiber mill for processing into yarn. (Or, since the mill is in Canada, I guess that would be "fibre" and "proh-sessing.") Someday, perhaps at our new property, Mrs Yeoman Farmer hopes to get a weaving loom --- so she can begin using this yarn for some really beautiful crafts.

2 comments:

Steve said...

OK, question I've always wanted to ask: you shave the coat off them just before winter. How do they stay warm? Do they manage to regrow a coat in time? To you have to keep them in the the barn?

TYF said...

Good question. The commercial meat breeds of sheep have fleeces which are much more slow-growing; you only shear those breeds in the spring. Our Icelandics have faster-growing wool coats, and do just fine with what they grow between now and December-January. And they're a very cold-hardy breed to begin with.