Our shearer, a local guy named Michael was fantastic. He was happy to chat away to us, let me take lots of photos and for us to help out. James caught a few sheep whilst I tried my hand at some shearing (a few strokes along the back of one of the ewes). We also had some little helpers with us – Angus and Montana who manned the gate when the next sheep was being caught. Little farmers in the making! Set up was pretty quick and by the end of the morning two of bags had been filled with rolled up fleeces for Michael to take and we were left with a much happier and smaller looking flock.
Last weekend we nipped back to James’ parents where our sheep, two bulls and alpaca remain in residence. A local shearer had been organised to come and tidy up our flock so we wanted to be on hand to help out and see the process. The mob had grown pretty woolly over winter, which was not a bad thing considering how cold it had been.
It seems easy to forget how small the animals are under all that wool. Even the animals struggled to recognise their fellow flock members, which made for some interesting behaviour afterwords when we saw a couple of the wethers head butting each other. The most dramatic change was Gemma who, after a rough haircut looked about half the size.
Watching alpacas being shorn has always amused me. They can be quite difficult and stubborn and their size means they are much more difficult to manoeuvre around like sheep. The solution seems to be to tie their front and back legs outstretched to either a shearing table, or between two posts on the ground. This was also useful in enabling us to trim her nails. I have to laugh though as it always reminds me of the Roman racks!
I also found it interesting the difference in the wool. The black-faced suffolk are a meat breed, so the wool is of little value. Like most sheep they produce lanolin, which gives their fleece a greasy feel. In comparison the alpaca, although not a high-quality coated animal (Gemma specific), had much softer wool that was completely dry. It also contained a lot of dust, which must have made the fleece very heavy to carry around.
All in all it was a good morning’s work and I enjoyed seeing the process up close. I am thankful we don’t have to shear the highlands with those horns!