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Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting Shorn

Martok
with Sue Weaver, Hobby Farms Contributing Editor

Shearing sheep
Photo by Sue Weaver
Paul Ahrens shears our sheep.

Our sheep were supposed to get shorn today, but it rained last night so now they can’t. They’re relieved and upset at the same time. They don’t like to be caught and rolled into all those weird positions, but they say it’s nice to feel the cool breeze on their skins afterward.

I talked about shearing sheep last year, but I didn’t mention why it must be done. Most sheep’s fleeces—except for double-coated British and Scandinavian breeds like Shetland sheep and Soay that roo, or naturally shed their wooly undercoats—keep growing until you cut them off. If you don’t, those sheep are in trouble.

Cast sheep
Photo by Sue Weaver
Nick got cast, but Mom helped him up again.

Arthritic sheep, obese sheep in late pregnancy and sheep with extra long fleeces sometimes get cast. That means they lie down in the usual way but somehow lose their balance and roll up onto their sides or even on their backs. Because they’re so stiff or fat or their fleeces are so thick, they can’t get their legs back under them to set themselves up again, so they’re stuck with their legs stuck up or straight out to the sides.

Remember when I talked about ruminants’ stomachs? Our rumens are huge and  heavy, and when a sheep is cast, its rumen presses hard against its lungs. Unless someone comes along and helps the sheep up, pretty soon it can’t breathe and it suffocates. This is not an unusual occurrence. Our granny sheep, Rebaa, died when she got cast late at night and no one found her until morning.

Hair sheep
Photo by Sue Weaver
Because Mopple is a hair sheep, he doesn't have to be shorn.

Unshorn sheep can also die from heat stroke, a dangerous problem when it’s extra hot and humid outside. 

And, a long, ragged fleece is miserably itchy. Can’t you just imagine? I can!

So, it’s off with our sheep’s fleeces, except for Mopple. He gets to keep his fleece. That’s because he’s 75 percent Dorper and 25 percent Katahdin, two types of hair sheep called “shedders,” which grow short wool that naturally sheds in June or July. 

Some kinds of hair sheep don’t grow wool at all; they have hair all over their bodies. That’s what all sheep looked like until ancient humans began selecting sheep for longer wool and a tendency not to shed. That way all of their wool could be harvested at one time instead of rooing it (combing or picking it off by hand) over a period of several weeks’ time. 

Our shearer, Paul Ahrens, rescheduled our sheep’s haircuts until next Saturday. The sheep heaved sighs of relief. But Mom will be watching extra closely to make sure no one gets cast. She’ll be really, really glad when the shearing is done.      

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Getting Shorn

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Reader Comments
Very interesting, Martok, you always seem to teach me something new!
Kelly, Fairgrove, MI
Posted: 12/30/2011 5:38:24 PM
This is Sunday evening. The sheep got their haircuts yesterday! And you know what? It was 93 degrees on Thursday afternoon, so the sheep were panting--and only 51 degrees yesterday when the shearer was here. And it's going to be just 40 degrees tonight. I think the sheep's teeth will be chattering! Brrrrr.
Martok, Mammoth Spring, AR
Posted: 5/15/2011 7:31:54 PM
No sheep here. I suspect the close urban neighbors would probably frown on that a bit. I helped with some sheep once and found it interesting that the sheep would fight and try to escape until they were off their feet, then they were quite docile until the procedure was over. It's also quite a struggle to dip sheep when they acquire fleas.

Have a great sheep shearing day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 5/15/2011 7:01:47 AM
Sheep always look relieved after they're shorn. Like us...after a good haircut.
christine, greeley, CO
Posted: 5/12/2011 4:10:15 AM
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