The Highlight of the Year!
There are a many 'key events' that happen through the year. Breeding season, lambing, weaning, and my personal favorite sheering. Sheering is the culmination of a years hard work where we get to see the final product of our Ewe's efforts - their beautiful wool! And providing fine wool is our primary focus, everything we do during the year is focused on producing amazing wool. From our breeding program, to our pasture management, to our nutrition program everything is about producing great wool. But all of this effort is for nothing if we don't do an exceptional job during sheering. And thanks to great support by friends and family, this was our best year of shearing yet.
Our sheering process really begins with hiring a professional sheerer. Ethan Wall (from Oklahoma) did our sheering this year. And he did a fantastic job! More on this later. Before the sheerer comes we move the sheep to a barn to make sure they are dry and we hold back feed for 12 hours so their stomachs are not full during sheering. This makes the entire process much easier on our sheep, and also safer for them.
The first step on the day of sheering is to take the coats off the sheep. My good friend Dr. Nick Johnston, my son Eric and Allan did a great job of bringing the sheep from inside the barn to the 'sheering' section where they removed their coat and handed the sheep over to the sheerer. This may not sound tough, but it is physically demanding work.
Then the sheerer Ethan, took over. It's amazing to watch as he skillfully rolls the sheep around, carefully using his sheers to remove the fleece as one piece! It's amazing. His first ewe took under 3 minutes. By the time we finished the last ram, our biggest ram, he was still going at an amazing clip with the last Ram's hair cut taking less than 8 minutes!
Ethan's skill and speed was great both in terms of producing great fleeces, but also in terms of being easy on the sheep. Sheering is a very demanding job which requires skill and expertise to avoid having second cuts (which severely degrade the value of the wool) and to avoid accidently cutting the sheep. Ethan was great on both accounts.
After the sheep are shorn, Eric and Stacey Brown carefully put the sheep in a 'reclining chair' so they could trim their hooves. With fine wool sheep, hoof trimming is kind of an on-going process. We typically trim hooves once or twice a year, depending on weather and a number of other factors, but the bottom line is that we trim hooves every year at sheering. Stacey is the queen of hoof trimmers! Stacey also uses a Famacia visual inspection to check each sheep for a parasite called barber poll worms which are a problem in our part of the country. Thankfully, this year we didn't have to treat a single sheep - our pasture rotation system is paying off!
Once hooves were trimmed, the sheep were put into a chute where they stood in a foot bath to provide a preventative treatment for foot 'thrush' due to damp weather in the spring. They are also, if required, treated for barber poll worms using a 'drench', given a CDT vaccination, and given a fly repellent. Yours truly (Ed) takes care of the 'health station'.
While this is happening, the wool crew (Terri Crowley, Dr. Dana Schweiger, and Stacey - when she wasn't trimming hooves) carefully skirted each fleece in order to remove dirt, VM (vegetable matter), and grade the fleece on a scale of poor, good, prime, and super prime. They also took a wool sample and labeled it for lab testing. They also 'noodle' the wool by rolling it in paper for storage and labelling the noodle for storage. The wool is then given to Cindy Heischmidt who weighs the wool and adds this information to the label. In the final stage, Dr. Ken Heischmidt and myself put the coats back on the sheep and they get to enjoy the rest of the day back 'munching' on the pasture!
And then we have the finished product. Noodled fleeces being stored for shipment to our clients! We sell wool through our Etsy store (by the pound and entire fleeces), through fiber festivals, and a few select fiber retail shops. We have our less than prime fleeces sent in for processing into roving and yarn (also available on our Etsy shop).
At the end of the day, we had a great pot-luck dinner, reflected on our hard work and enjoyed the comradery of a job well done! We had a great team and everyone played a role in our most successful sheering day to date. And our mascot, Bailey, managed to catch a nap at the end of a very hectic day!