Friday, February 3, 2012

Spring Shearing

It's that time again...time to book the shearing of your animals for when the weather warms up in a few months.

Shearing your animals is an annual ritual for many of our wooley friends. Alpacas, sheep, llamas and some goats are all kept for their wool among other reasons and to get that wool off you have to shear it which involves using clippers and giving them a buzz cut. It doesn't leave them bald, it leaves about an inch of wool on them, so that they stay comfortable. After all, they have a wool coat to keep them warm and dry. And in my experience, we always seem to get a cold snap right after we shear. Here's Rod in action a few years ago. He now has a lovely table that he uses for shearing but using the clean grass was fine too. That's a temporary pen Steve knocked together for the boys to wait their turns in. And here's a before and after picture. See how skinny and funny looking they are afterwards? Even the other alpacas were laughing at him. Don't worry, they appreciate having a lighter coat once the weather gets hot and it grows back in plenty of time to keep them warm in the winter.

Why shear? Well, for the wool of course that can be spun into yarn, made into felt, and used for other products. Wool and fiber are as much crops as hay or corn. Personally, I just spin and felt my fiber. But I'll talk about that another day. Shearing is also part of a health maintenance program. By inspecting your fleeces you can see if there's a problem with the individual strands of hair which might indicate a problem with diet, you can check for insect infestation in the fleece such as worms, lice and other nasties, and you can of course see the skin more clearly so it's a good time to check for any abnormal looking patches of skin that might indicate a problem. If you don't shear your animals, their coats can become matted and cause discomfort as well as harbour pests. I have almost never had a problem with bugs but after shearing we would use a watering can to drench them with medicated liquid or sometimes use diatomaceous earth sprinkled on them which works into their fleeces better when they are freshly shorn. Some people never treat their animals, it's a personal decision.

So, how do you shear yourself? Well, for the most part, people don't. They save their animals the stress of an inexperienced shearer (you and I would take hours to do it) and they hire in a professional or they take their animals to a larger farm to have them shorn at the same time as someone else's animals. SOme of the best shearers in the world can shear a sheeo in under 50 seconds and they do hundreds a day during shearing season in places like Australia and New Zealand where farmers have mobs of sheep numbering in the thousands. We just have alpacas and sheep normally. We used a lovely couple from BC for our shearing and Rod came out to the farm which meant no transporting our animals. He'd come, shear, and be gone in under an hour. Of course we prepared first by having a clean and dry area for him to work in and having the animals penned nearby. If you'd like to contact him he's at shearingbc at yahoo dot com. He does all of BC as far as I know and other places too. He moves around depending on the weather and does the warmer places earlier in the year and the cooler places a little later. But give him a shout if you're looking for a reasonably priced guy who has plenty of experience.

Now I'm not saying that you CAN'T shear your own animals. Of course you can. That's what a lot of small holders have done for centuries either with shearing clippers that look like flattened scissors or with electric ones. I'm just saying that it might be one of the chores that you bring in help for. And the clippers can be pricey. But if you do want to learn I'll post up a video for you. It's a pretty good instructional video but there's really no substitute for hands on experience.

Nick mentioned that I should add some clips from that BBC show we all love so much called Edwardian Farm so here's the first. This episode is split into 4 parts on YouTube and wouldn't you know it...the shearing is at the end of part 1 and the middle of part 2. But they're both worth watching in their entirety and maybe you'll learn not only about shearing but silage, bordeaux mixture for your potatoes and making soft cheese too. Enjoy! And don't forget to click on part 2 of episode 10 to see more shearing.


  1. love info like this! keep it up! you should have put a clip of them doing it on Edwardian Farm with the old style shears :)

  2. There you go Nick, Edwardian Farm Shearing. Thanks so much for the suggestion!