Richard Brzozowski, Small Ruminant Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
(Previously published under the University of Maine: Cooperative Extension Publications)
Factors such as sheep health, nutrition, breed, bedding materials, forage feeding methods, moisture level, barn, and pasture conditions, stress as well as shearing technique, wool handling, and storage can influence the value of the wool harvested.
The quality of wool ought to be on the mind of the producer year-round as management decisions made months before shearing can affect the raw product and ultimately the finished products.
Your preparations for shearing will likely affect your bottom line. View your shearer (or shearing team) as a professional who is invited to your farm to accomplish this important task. Seek their input as you prepare your sheep and the facilities for shearing.
This checklist is designed as a basic framework to help producers make shearing day efficient and uneventful. Feel free to make changes to this checklist for your situation.
30-60 days before shearing:
Select a suitable shearing date.
- Consider a “best time” for your ewes for their stage of the production cycle.
- Many shearers prefer shearing ewes one month before lambing.
- Consider the best time and day for you and your shearer.
- Arrange for a backup shear date if deemed necessary.
Check your wool bag supply (adequate number; types; and condition of bags). Special plastic wool bags are typically the only ones now permitted by most wool processors.
- Obtain wool bags as needed.
- If you bag fleeces separately, arrange for proper bags, sheets, boxes, etc.
- Check out handling equipment.
7-30 days before shearing:
Prepare the shearing area.
- Clean the area of debris.
- Build/assemble the shearing floor.
- Most shearers prefer a wood floor that is raised from the existing floor.
- A shearing floor can be constructed of 2 sheets of plywood (4’ X 8’) and 2” X 4” stock as framing. These can be built separately for portability and storage. Avoid a wet surface. Do not ask to or have them shear on the concrete floor.
- Repair, build or set up the holding area for sheep to be shorn.
- Consider chutes, pen size, gates, and ease of catching and movement of sheep to the shearing floor.
- Check first aid supplies as well as an adequate supply of antiseptic, hoof shears, hoof medication, etc. Order materials as needed.
- Consider arranging for extra workers for specific tasks such as moving sheep, handling wool, skirting wool, recording, bagging wool, etc.
5-7 days before shearing
- Keep sheep out of the rain. Sheep should be dry for shearing day. This is very important.
- Avoid keeping sheep in a damp or poorly ventilated location. Provide proper air exchange to minimize or eliminate condensation. Sheep need to be dry.
12-48 hours before scheduled shearing:
- If sheep are wet, cancel shearing.
- If the weather is questionable or you have other concerns, check in with shearer by phone or email 24 hours before shearing.
- Request that shearer wear clean clothing and footwear (not soiled from the previous farm)
- Separate flock into groups as needed (consider age, wool color, cleanliness, any sheep with an abscess, pregnant ewes, etc.).
- Withhold feed (hay and grain) from sheep at least 12 hours before shearing. If sheep are on grass, remove them from the pasture at least 24 hours before shearing.
- Stage wool bags, broom, and other supplies.
- Prepare wool skirting table and skirting area.
- Set up wool rack(s).
- Have a fully stocked first aid kit available.
- Provide adequate lighting for shearing and handling.
- Determine if hoof trimming will take place and by whom.
- Make sure all shearing equipment brought by the shearer (extension cords, machine, cutters, combs, etc.) is cleaned and disinfected prior to use on your sheep. Provide disinfectant.
- Move sheep to gathering pens. Arrange to shear white-wool sheep first and colored (black/natural color) sheep last.
- Set up the shearing floor (some shearers prefer a raised shearing floor such as plywood on a 2X4 frame) or clear a suitable area for shearing on a level surface. Set up the shearing floor next to the holding pen(s) for minimal stress on the sheep and the shearer. Provide an easy entry/exit door or gate onto the shearing floor. Consider providing an assistant to catch sheep to be shorn and to move sheep to designated pens after shearing.
- If the shearer uses a drive shaft system, provide a suitable mounting site.
- Provide adequate space and headroom for the shearer.
- As each sheep is shorn, monitor for possible abscesses. Mark and record identities of those sheep with abscesses. Isolate and treat affected sheep after shearing. As a follow-up, consider having your veterinarian determine the cause of any abscess. Sample abscess as necessary and send it for testing.
- Provide ample drinking water and light snacks to shearers/team.
- Provide restroom facilities for shearers and wool handlers.
- Provide a wool handler – someone who will remove the wool from the shearing floor after each sheep is shorn. He/she could also clear the shearing floor for the next sheep to be shorn.
- Skirt fleeces (removing belly wool, tags, soiled wool, and debris).
- Weigh/record fleeces.
- Separate fleeces for consistency (fine and medium), separate caps and bellies from good wool.
- Pack wool in wool bags and mark or tag bags by lot.
- Pay shearer for the job well done.
- Request input from the shearer. Make notes of how the day went as well as any suggested changes for next time.
Following shearing day:
- Identify wool lots as needed.
- Store wool in a clean dry place.
- Observe sheep for comfort and make sure they are eating as normal.
- Mark your calendar for wool pool or wool sale day.
- Contact possible buyer(s).
Editor’s Note: Reviewed by Gwen Hinman, Jeff Burchstead, and David Averill, each having several years of sheep shearing experience.