By Hunter Holmes
Growing up on a hobby farm, we always had interesting animals. Chickens and peacocks were standards, but as a kid I remember having goats, llamas, various pheasant species and more. Later, as I got older, I carried on this tradition and began raising pigeons and various poultry. My personal foray into hoofstock manifested in the purchase of two pregnant ewe sheep who later gave birth to a total of three lambs.
Sheep are wonderful to own. They aren’t as rambunctious as goats, so you don’t get as many laughs out of them, but they also don’t damage the things around them. Every sheep has its own personality, and it is really rewarding as a shepherd to learn these personalities. Easily the most challenging part about keeping sheep, unless you opt for a hair breed like Katahdins or Dorpers, is the shearing. My sheep are Black Welsh Mountains, and they are known for their great, black wool. They don’t shed that wool, which means they need a haircut once a year or so.
When it comes time to shear sheep, there are a couple of options. You can hire a professional, or you can do it yourself. Being the kind of person who goes gung-ho on all his hobbies, I opted for the latter. How hard can it be? I wondered. I buzz my own hair. Surely I can do this. So, I watched some Youtube videos and bought some Oster Showmaster shears. Professionals can shear a sheep in under 1 minute. I knew I wouldn’t be that fast, but I was confident in my abilities and my Youtube education.
Do yourself a favor and watch the video below of a professional shearing competition. When I sheared my first ewe, it went nothing like that.
Supposedly, sheep will be totally calm once you sit them on their butt or back. That’s only half true. I was leaned over with an upside-down ewe between my knees while dodging kicks like it was a budget fan-film of The Matrix. I never got kicked anywhere valuable, but it was close. Their wool is so tight that I was having trouble getting the standard shear comb to start cutting. So there I was: stabbing at this woolen chainmail, sweat rolling into my eyes, trying to get the shears to cut. I eventually figured out the correct angle and once you get it started, subsequent “blows,” as the shear runs are called, were much easier!
That first ewe took almost an hour to shear! It was a battle of wills with a very steep learning curve. The second ewe went marginally better. Afterwards my legs were about as sore as they have ever been, and my back was killing me, but I had done it! I had successfully sheared my own sheep. I had only minorly nicked one ewe, and with a splash of iodine to prevent infection, and some treats for the girls, we were done.
One funny thing, after shearing the sheep, it is as though they don’t recognize each other. The two ewes began headbutting in a battle for social hierarchy. The lambs (then still pretty young) wandered around and cried. After a while everyone calmed down and seemed to figure out who each other were, but it took hours. I understand taking a second to recognize someone after a haircut, but this was on a whole other level.
I’m happy to report that this year went far more smoothly, though it was still a bit of a struggle. My average pace was just over 20 minutes a sheep and I managed to complete all 5 in one morning with the aid of my father. One fun thing I did find out: our Super Digest-It does a great job of cleaning the lanolin off the shears. I soaked my comb and blade in some Super Digest-It for about 20 minutes, pulled them out and rinsed them off. I’ll include a side-by-side of the results.
Sheep shearing is no joke, and it is no easy task. At this point after shearing my own for 2 years, I figure I have just about broken even on the purchase of the shears (versus hiring a pro to come out). Don’t be foolish and overly confident like me, but I still do recommend shearing your own sheep if you have the chance. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I write about my sheep in this blog, after all, they are a major part of why I love my rural life.
Here is the link to the pro competition.
Please note that Unique is in no way affiliated with anyone in this video.