Shearing day can make or break the whole year for a fiber producer. You want the day to go as smoothly as possible. You want to keep the shearer relaxed and happy so he can focus on his job. And you want to stay focused and relaxed, too, so that the day is pleasant and emotions are easy. Organizing the day ahead of time can go a long way in conserving your energies and making the day successful. But when your organization falls through, you can rely on my secret recipe.
Shearing Day Food:
When the shearer comes to your farm you need to provide him with food for the day. This usually consists of two coffee breaks and lunch. If you have a lot of helpers, which is always a good idea if you have more than a few sheep, goats, llamas, or alpacas to shear, then you’ll need to provide them with food, too.
My secret recipe for success
My secret recipe for shearing day success is Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day.
When the first van drove up the driveway, and I realized that we would actually have helpers, I took out my pyrex measuring cup and took 6 cups of hot water from the tap and scooped in 3 tbsp. of yeast. I set it aside and started getting the other things I would need for the shearing ready.
Clear bags, the garden leaf kind, for the fleece, a permanent black marker, and smaller kitchen bags for keeping special fleece separate in the larger bag. By the time I had gathered all the supplies, the yeast was bubbly and I was ready to mix the dough.
I poured the working yeast into my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl.
Then scooped in 3 tbsp celtic sea salt. Don’t skimp on the salt, its a critical part of the recipe.
And 4 cups of white flour
1/2 cup flax seed, freshly ground
1/4 cup poppy seeds
6 cups of whole wheat flour
2 eggs (omit these if you are keeping the bread dough refrigerated for more than 24 hours before use)
Using the dough hook that came with my mixer, I combined these ingredients and mixed it on low until all the ingredients combined and I could see the gluten threads begin to stretch — less than 5 minutes. I added an additional 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time and allowed it to combine before adding more.
Once all the flour had been combined, I put the dough on a floured counter and kneaded it briefly by hand until my dough was smooth and elastic.
The dough was put in a covered stainless steel pail and left on the counter to rise.
This is the one I use: Brushed Stainless Steel Compost Pail
All of this took 10 minutes and I went outside to begin skirting fleece. The shearer had begun and the first fleece was laying on the skirting table. My helpers were mingling with the animals and everything was going smoothly.
We sheared 28 sheep before the coffee break and when I had skirted 25 fleece, I left the helpers in charge of the final three fleece and went back to the kitchen, removed my hairy sweater and thoroughly washed my hands.
The dough had risen and overflowed the milk pail but it was ready. I punched it down. Got a frying pan with 1/2 inch of coconut oil warming over medium heat. While waiting for it to heat up, I formed round balls of dough in my hands about the size of an apricot. I wiggled my thumb into the centre to make a hole — doughnut shaped. I got a small dish of 1/2 cup white sugar and 1 tsp. of cinnamon ready. The oil is hot enough when you can sprinkle a few drops of water into it and it sizzles vigorously. Also while waiting for the oil to warm I got a coffee pot perking on the woodstove, as well as a tea kettle. Placed a tea bag in the tea pot and put out sugar, milk, and mugs on the table. It takes longer to tell you this than it actually took to do it.
I placed 5 doughnuts into the oil and allowed them to get golden brown on the bottoms. They will rise significantly while they are frying. Then I flipped them and cooked the second side until it was golden brown. Using a slotted spoon or spatula I removed the doughnuts from the oil, allowing them to drain over the oil briefly, before putting them into the cinnamon sugar. Drag them through the cinnamon sugar to coat all sides. And fry the next five. I made 12 doughnuts for the coffee break.
The remainder of the dough was formed into 12 buns/rolls and placed on a buttered baking sheet, covered with a towel and allowed to rise, while we went outside to shear 25 angora goats. My helpers were well trained in the skirting by this time and the conversation was interesting. The shearer was working hard, but for the rest of us, it felt like a party. When we were 3/4 s of the way through the goats, with 5 animals still to go, I went back in the house.
I put a pot of soup on the woodstove and preheated the oven to 400F before putting the buns in the oven on their baking sheet. 30 minutes later the table was set, the buns were out of the oven and the soup was ready. Shearing was complete and all that remained was the clean up. I had a good visit with my helpers while the shearer moved on to the next farm: The end to a perfect shearing day.
Planning the shearing day
To ensure a successful shearing day, organize ahead of time.
Arrange for helpers
When planning a shearing day, besides food, you need a few helpers.
We like to have a shearer, someone to catch the sheep and bring one at a time to the shearer, Another person to pick up the fleece and carry it to the sorting table. Another person to sweep the shearing board clean between animals, and at least two people to skirt and bag the fleece. That way each person skirting the fleece just has to serve one side of the skirting table, which makes the job go faster. That makes 6 people in an ideal situation. If you had more than one shearer, as they do on larger farms, you might want 4 helpers for each shearer, as a minimum.
Plan the food ahead and do some baking
When you are planning the food think of menu items that aren’t too sweet or rich. The shearer is bent over most of the day, and you want food that will give him energy but won’t make him taste it a second time. Fresh fruit, breads, soup, salad, meat and vegetables are better than brownies and black forest cake. The lightly sugared doughnuts were perfect, according to our shearer. If the shearer is billeting at your place you can impress him with your best desserts at dinner time, but don’t bring them out for coffee break or lunch. And have lots of tea and cold water available through out the day, especially if its warm. You want to keep your helpers hydrated.
Order sunny weather for the shearing day.
This is the first year that its been clear on our shearing day. If you can book your shearing day for the full moon, you have a better chance of getting fine weather.
Keep the animals dry.
If the sheep are wet or sweaty the shearing combs don’t slide as easily between the hair and the skin, and animals are more likely to be nicked. Wet fleeces can spontaneously combust in storage, so you will have to dry the fleeces before they can be stored. Further, the shearer and the fleece handlers get wet, cold, and grumpy while handling the wet animals and their fleeces and grumpy helpers don’t make for happy shearing days.
Don’t feed sheep and goats the night before shearing.
Animals that are sheared standing up, like alpacas and llamas can be fed before shearing but animals that are sheared sitting down are folded to get their backs and sides should have their feed withheld for 12 hours before shearing. If an animal has a full rumen, they can be stressed and even have difficulty breathing during the quick shearing. So for the comfort of the animal, especially pregnant animals, its important to withhold their hay and grain on the night before shearing, when they will be sheared in the morning.
Pen up the animals the night before
If your sheep live on pasture, its important to put them in a close paddock or building the night before shearing. You want to be able to handle the flock one animal at a time. Ask if your shearer will be bringing a chute with him. A chute is a framework of steel bars, with a door, that allows the sheep to be taken out one at a time for shearing. This can be set up along a wall or between stalls in a barn, making it easier to handle the sheep.
Lead with a whether
Here’s a job for that whether who has a gorgeous, lustrous fleece or colour that you couldn’t resist. He will lead the flock out to pasture in the morning and bring them back at night. He will also lead them through the shearing gates. We put our whether, Kiwi, at the front of the chute to lead the ewes in. They are less stressed seeing Kiwi, standing patiently waiting his turn to be sheared.
Put away the fleece promptly
If you are planning to send your wool to the wool depot or a mill get it in the wool bags right away, and close up the bags, and store them undercover. If you plan to sell the fleece yourself or use the fleece individually get the fleece put away and undercover right away. We’ve lost our hard work because we thought we were too tired on shearing day to take the extra step of putting the fleeces safely away. Our dogs (or goats) came to the bags and thought they would be fun to tear apart. A whole year of careful feeding, shearing, and skirting can be ruined by the single act of procrastination. So work for an extra 30 minutes to get the fleeces bagged and stored in a permanent, dry location before you call it quits for the day.
Deal with the dags
The dags are the undesirable parts of the fleece. They may be poopy, soiled, or too full of vm to go in with the good fleece. So they are skirted off at the skirting table and dropped on the ground. They might be left where they fall for many months, collecting pine needles, dirt and debris. They decompose only slowly and remain an eyesore on your homestead walkways and roadways. A better use for dags, which are rich in nitrogen, is to use them in the garden.
There are several ways to utilize this resource. Wool decomposes slowly. It can be used in the bottom of container plants to add slow release nitrogen to the root zone of tomatoes and peppers. It can be felted and used as liners for hanging baskets, in the place of imported coir fiber. It can be used as a mulch around fruit trees. Don’t use it as a mulch in the garden though, as it doesn’t block out light well, and in a garden situation it can allow weeds to grow right through it.
It can also washed and dried and run through a picker for house insulation. Or run it through a carder for home insulation batts. Wool is naturally flame resistant. And is often used in natural house applications. Wool insulation has a higher R-value than fiberglass or rock wool insulation at 3.5 to 3.8 per inch of material. If you intend to use your dags this way, wash them well and soak them overnight in a boric acid solution before drying and carding them. Some carding mills, like Custom Woolen Mill in Alberta will make house insulation batts for you, for a small fee.
We had a really good shearing day this year. We had help. We had enough food for all the helpers. And the fleeces were dry and gorgeous — You can have a really good shearing day, too, if you plan ahead. And if you do get caught by surprise just mix up some artisan bread in 5 minutes a day and make doughnuts — that’s what everyone will remember best.