Yesterday was fall shearing day at Joybilee Farm. Inevitably we awoke to pouring rain that stayed all day. We haven’t had a full day of rain since June — only intermittent showers the past week. But yesterday, as Robin was doing chores in the early morning darkness, preparing for the arrival of the shearer at 7:30am, it poured. And the rain lasted into the night. This morning — no rain and the clouds are high.
Shearing day is a long, tiring day. But it doesn’t have to be stressful, too. On a fibre farm, all your months of efforts in careful feeding — feeding the hay low to the ground to minimize fleece contamination — mineral supplementation, and gentle animal care culminate on shearing day. Shearing day is the day you realize a profit or a loss. After a decade of raising fiber animals and experiencing both profit and loss — here’s a few tips to ensure that your shearing day is a happy day rather than a disappointment.
1. Keep your animals dry.
We have enough shelter to keep them secure and dry before shearing day. We brought the males closer to the house and penned them in a stall in the barn. They did get out of their stall and in with the girls. We marked the date — 5 months hence, just in case. Robin stalled them again. And they stayed dry until shearing day.
Although animals can be sheared wet, you can’t save wet fleece, and the people working with the animals will be wet and cold before the day is over. Keeping them inside and dry will maximize your success.
2. Be nice to the shearer.
Phil made the trip from Armstrong to shear for us yesterday. Most fiber farms shear only once a year, in the Spring. But angora goats need to be sheared twice a year. You pay a premium for the Fall shearing — double per animal over the Spring shearing. Phil has to cover his gas for a special shearing trip. We had 39 animals to shear. Phil took his time and treated the goats with gentleness and respect. I was really please to see how gentle he was with them. We were shearing from 8am to 5pm. It was a long, tiring day.
You have to feed the shearer and crew when they come to your farm. Its a bit difficult to help in the sorting area and prepare 2 coffee breaks and a hearty lunch. I found myself changing clothes a lot to keep the hair and dust out of the kitchen and off of the food.
Snacks of coffee and tea, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, banana-nut muffins and bananas were spread on the table. Lunch was homemade buns, salmon, egg salad and peanut butter as the choices for sandwiches, and a hearty vegetable and chicken soup.
You need to tip the shearer, too, to say thanks for making the trip. Since money is short this season, we gifted Joybilee Farm Hemp Rescue Remedy and our limited edition Wild Rose and Goat’s Milk Soap. He won’t find that at any other farm. Its good to say an extra thank you and treat the shearer well.
3. Don’t feed the goats or sheep the night before shearing or in the morning.
Their rumens need to be empty so that the shearer can fold them as he’s shearing. This is less stressful for the animals and easier on the shearer.
4. Line up help on shearing day to catch the animals, gather the fleece and sort and bag the fleece. A minimum of 3 helpers plus a shearer is good to aim for.
5. You have to treat your helpers well, too.
Make sure you feed them and say thanks.
6. In the 6 months preceeding the shearing ensure that your animals have ample minerals.
A successful shearing begins on the day following your last shearing. Fleece grows continuously, up to an inch a month. Sheep and goats need both lose minerals and salt blocks. We supplement with additional selenium as well.
Goats need copper to grow lustrous fiber. Sheep can become toxic with too much copper. Both species need trace minerals, cobalt, zinc and selenium. An imbalance of minerals will prevent your animals from growing their full potential of fleece and lead to parasite infestations and poor health.
Also check the common mineral deficiencies in your region — your feed store can advise you. The fleece will let you know if you need to make changes.
7. Make sure the animals have adequate feed and protein in the 6 months preceeding shearing.
During the summer our animals are on range and protein supplements with grain are minimal, as they get ample food from the grass and browse on the farm. But in September we start supplementing with hay and grain. This gives fine, soft fleeces. Too much protein creates coarse, broad fleeces, however, not enough calories reduces the amount of fleece growth substantially. You need to find the balance. “The eye of the husbandman fattens the cattle.”
8. Spend time with your animals everyday.
They learn to know your voice and trust you. When shearing day comes and you are with them, they will be confident and calm — even though the shearer is new and the circumstances are unusual. One of our girls is so calm that when the shearer sits her on her rump, she slumps into full relaxation. That’s a bit too calm.
9. Use a sorting table to sort and clean the fleece.
After shearing you get the fleece in a rolled package. The fleece is thrown on a sorting table. The dirty bits are separated from the fleece and tossed. The fleece is bounced on the table to drop the second cuts and small bits through and separate them from the fleece. You don’t want second cuts in the final fiber, as it will make pills and neps in the processing.
10. Sort the fleece by fiber quality.
In mohair we sort for baby fleece which is the first clip of the kid, young adult which is longer and more bouncy than kid fleece but extremely soft and stronger adult fleece. The young adult clip is my favorite clip and the one I most love to use in spinning or felting. Adult is the stronger mohair that is suitable for upholstery and rugs. We also sort into coloured fleece and white.
We sort according to the fibre quality not the age of the animal. Some young adult animals will have strong fleeces — this is especially true among intact males. And some older females and whethers will have young adult fleeces at 7 or 8 years old. These fine fleeced females should form your breeding stock.
11. Finish the job on shearing day.
You will be tired after shearing 40 to 80 animals. Its an intense job. If your responsibility includes preparing the food for the crew, you’ll just want to stop. But persevere and finish sorting and bagging the fleeces and put the bags in a safe, dry place. Don’t leave it outside until tomorrow. You may find the bags dishevelled and your efforts spoiled if you don’t finish the job.
12. Be nice to yourself.
On shearing day let your other responsibilities go. Don’t plan a family gathering. Don’t stress and fuss over the fleece. If it doesn’t go well, if the shearer rushes and treats your animals harshly, if there are too many second cuts, if the fleece is being gathered up by an inexperienced helper that twists the fleece instead of properly rolling it — it doesn’t help to stress. Shearers, like other humans, form habits and do the job automatically. Stressing won’t change them. Stressing will increase the tension and the shearer will get even. Find a different shearer if you don’t like what this one is doing.
We’ve been very blessed this year with two very experienced shearers who were respectful and gentle with our animals and kind to the finished fleece, so that we were able to maximize the potential of each fleece. This is really important and worth paying a premium for.
On shearing day don’t try to write a daily blog post. (Did you notice there was no blog post yesterday? Not even a tweet.) Don’t even check your emails if you can avoid it. Shearing will take your full commitment and energy to keep up with the shearer and to feed and protect your livestock. And at the end of the day, get help with dinner preparation and doing the dishes. Put your feet up.
If shearing day was a disappointment to you, learn from it. Make changes for next time. If you have sheep, llamas or alpacas, you will have another chance at success in a year. If you have angora goats you will get to try again in 6 months. Fibre animals keep giving and giving so don’t give up.
See a video of our shearing day.
Your Turn: What tips can you share to help fiber farms have a better shearing day? Have you ever sheared your own animals? What would you do with a beautiful angora fleece?
Other articles you might like to read:
How to wash a fleece
The Value of Black sheep and other nonconformists
Helpful Resources to help you live your dreams:
Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep: 4th Edition
This is a basic how to sheep raising book that every sheep breeder should have. It includes the basics of choosing your breed, breeding, feeding and housing. There is a section on doing your own shearing, how to roll a fleece and how to skirt it. Written by Paula Simmons Greene, an experienced spinner and weaver and partner in the Patrick Greene Carding cartel. There are suggestions for fleece use, as well.
Storey’s Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance
This is a one-stop encyclopedia of many of the Storey Guides in digest form. You need this book if you ever plan to one day have your own homestead and raise your own food.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book
This book is more like a huge, kitchen recipe book. Ms. Emery hasn’t tested and tried the recipes in this book. They are a compilation from tips and recipes that were sent to her by country folk with lots of life experience. The initial glances will make it seem disorganized and random, but there are treasures herein, if you take the time to look.
Angora Goats the Northern Way
If you want to raise angora goats you must have this book. Get a used copy if you can’t find it new. This is written by a spinner and includes marketing tips and how to use the fleece. It goes beyond the Storey Guide series and gives you a master spinner review.