by Sally Colby
Shearing day is exciting — you’ll get to see what your animals look like without a year’s worth of fleece. Planning ahead will make the day (or days) go more smoothly for you, the shearer and the sheep.
Once you’ve contacted and confirmed a date with the shearer, it’s up to you to make sure everything is in place for shearing day. Assemble the supplies necessary for the job. To limit the chances of the shearer bringing disease (hoof rot, sore mouth) onto your farm, ask what kind of surface they prefer to work on and provide that. If you plan to do hooves, deworming or other procedures, have a separate board to work on. Make sure the shearing area is flat and not bedded so the board remains stable. If you plan to do any work such as hoof trimming, eyelid checks or deworming after animals are shorn, make sure you have ample space adjacent to the shearing board to work on.
Figure out where the shearing will take place. A well-ventilated barn with good lighting is ideal, but sheep can be sheared outdoors if the weather is suitable. No matter where the shearing takes place, sheep should be collected and secured in a temporary holding area overnight with food withheld. Ensure any temporary area created to hold sheep is secure, with firm panels or gates, and that gates are secured.
If you know your shearer uses a shaft machine, set up the shearing area so there’s a convenient, sturdy post to secure the motor.
Sheep in the holding area should be fairly close together for easy handling and catching but with enough space to turn around and lie down. And since some will likely lie down before their turn, bedding should be clean straw, not wood shavings that tend to adhere to and contaminate the fleece and make extra work for the shearer.
Extra supplies should include at least one good broom to sweep second cuts and tags off the shearing board between sheep. If you plan to bag the wool, have plenty of wool bags on hand and a way to label them. Cardboard boxes make good storage for handspinners’ fleeces.
The sheep should spend the night prior to shearing inside so there’s no chance of damp fleeces from morning dew. If the sheep will be housed overnight in an unfamiliar area, be sure to check them at least once during the night. Don’t hold sheep in the same area where groups will be staged prior to shearing — the floor will likely be wet and slippery.
It’s important that sheep are not fed the night before or day of shearing. Full sheep means the rumen is full, which pushes into the diagram of the animal and can lead to serious breathing issues. Animals that are overweight are especially prone to problems during shearing, so take extra caution and keep an eye on them afterwards for signs of any issues. To avoid problems, withhold feed 8 to 12 hours prior to shearing, and remove grazing sheep from pasture at least 12 to 24 hours prior to shearing. If sheep are over-conditioned (fat), the risk of breathing difficulties and serious health consequences is higher.
While it’s tempting to do as many procedures as possible since the sheep are already confined and caught, post-shearing isn’t the most ideal time to vaccinate sheep because the animal is stressed and may not mount the appropriate immune response. However, eyelids can be checked for FAMACHA scoring and possible deworming. Be sure to have deworming supplies (products and dose syringe) and note which sheep were treated. It’s also good to note the body condition score of each animal, but not until it’s up and on four feet because it’s not accurate when the sheep is being sheared. In addition to dewormer and syringe, supplies for sheep should include wound spray, flystrike powder and marking crayons.
Make sure electricity source is reliable. If the barn doesn’t have electric, use heavy extension cords that will hold up to power shears or a shaft machine. Have a spare heavy-duty extension cord that’s in good repair (no worn spots or bare wires) in case the shearer doesn’t have one or it’s too far to the electricity source. Make sure the shearing area is well lit. While some shearers bring extra lights, it’s good to provide whatever you can to make the job go smoothly.
Assemble your help and make sure they’re reliable — you don’t want to be stuck without help on shearing day. If you have more than just a few sheep, it’s good to have someone to catch, someone to handle wool after shearing (gathering fleeces, weighing, sweeping the board) and an extra person to fill in where needed.
Ideally, one person will be assigned to do the job of handling the fleeces. That job includes taking the fleece from the board without delay — if the shearer is fast and the wool handler is slow, use two wool handlers as to not hold up the shearer.
Have a clipboard ready to take notes on body condition, mammary condition, teeth and other important points, but don’t take up the shearer’s time doing this. If you plan to do these checks, be prepared to move the sheep over to an adjacent board. This is also a good time to do hooves, so have several pairs of sharp hoof trimmers ready. Hooves should always be done after a sheep is sheared to avoid the risk of sharp hoof tips that can injure the shearer.
Just prior to shearing, remove any collars on sheep, and let the shearer know whether there are rams or wethers in the group, if ewes are pregnant or nursing lambs, and if any of the sheep have tails. It’s ideal if ewes with nursing lambs can be sheared first then returned to a comfortable, uncrowded holding area where they can rest.
If the weather is warm, be sure to have good ventilation and offer water to the sheep. The shearer and any helpers should also be offered water or electrolyte drinks.
Be prepared to pay your shearer at the end of the job. Expect to pay more if your sheep are exceptionally dirty, especially in the hindquarters from fresh grass, or have maggots (flystrike) or have more than one years’ wool growth. Most shearers will charge extra if they have to spend time gathering sheep or helping you with set-up.
The shearer can get the job done in a short time without undue stress on the animal and appreciate being able to do their job without interruption, such as questions or the owner talking to the animal, while they’re shearing. Shearers are usually happy to provide insight on the condition of the sheep and other husbandry issues once the shears are turned off.
Shearing is stressful for the animal (and sometimes the people), but you can minimize that with proper preparation and handling so the job goes smoothly for everyone.