FIBERUARY – PROFESSIONAL SHEEP SHEARING MODELS BY AARON LOUX

FIBERUARY

 

Professional Sheep Shearing Models
The subject of education and careers has been on the forefront of discussion in America in recent times. Young adults trying to find their way are faced with enormous decisions about where, when, and how to get started on a career path that will satisfy their goals. Some choose higher education, while others get started in a trade. From a very young age I knew that I loved working with sheep. I did many other odd jobs as a pre teen and teenager, but my passion was always with animal husbandry. In a way, I didn’t choose to be a full-time sheep shearer; one sheep at a time, and one new shearing job at a time, shearing sort of chose me.
At 18 years old, I too was unsure of where life would take me, and what I would end up doing to make a living. I was never afraid of hard work, and I had already been shearing sheep professionally for a couple of years. The important adults in my life had me convinced that shearing could be a good side gig, but would never be enough to live on. By my mid 20s I finally convinced myself and those around me that shearing was enough. The title “Just a sheep shearer” has never bothered me. Some people are a mile wide and an inch deep. If my skill set is only an inch wide, then I will keep pushing as deep as I can go. My interest in sheep and shearing has taken me to a hundreds of farms, in 15 states, and 3 foreign countries.
The profession of sheep shearing can vary quite a bit from place to place. The biggest factor is the size of flocks and how spread out the flocks are geographically. In places like Australia and New Zealand, where flocks are often enormous, the most efficient model is through contracting. Someone has to “organize the run”. It ends up being beneficial to both the farmers and shearers to have a middle man. For example, if a farmer has 20,000 sheep that need shearing, they would have a hard time finding the help for this once a year task. So they call a local contractor to sort out the details. Similarly, by working for a contractor, a shearer can count on steady work with plenty sheep. Contractors are often shearers themselves, so they understand the whole process. They will usually provide some amount of training, transportation, as well as lodging and meals. And when asked by the farmer, they also supply the wool handling help. Crews are sent out to jobs, and the entire process is efficient and seemless. Given the amount of sheep shorn in this manner, I would say most shearers in the world are employed by contractors.
In the western portion of the USA, flocks can be quite large, so a similar set up as just described, is used. But what about in the northeast where I am from? It’s an entirely different thing. Though a lot of shearers work together on bigger flocks, there is no middle man. There are pros and cons of people like me who are independent. The opportunity for learning is much worse. There are weekend courses which serve as a great introduction to shearing, but are nowhere sufficient for all of what a shearer has to know. The work load of coordinating and scheduling jobs is much more difficult. This means that skills like communication and customer service become very important, and adds a whole new dimension to the job. Also, with smaller flocks that are spread out, I spend lots of time driving. But I do enjoy the human aspect, and I wouldn’t trade the relationships I’ve developed with my customers for anything.
Aaron has just returned from Australia where he has spent time addig to his skills.  Do you need a shearer?  E-mail Aaro ar arronshearing@gmail.comImage may contain: one or more people and outdoor

 

 

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FIBERuary Jill and Jim Lyons

Hello

FIBERuary Day 27   SKIRTING FLEECES

 

Skirting Fleece

 

“Skirting” is the traditional term for removing less desirable/ clearly unusable parts of a sheep fleece.  When a fleece is laid out- cut side down- it looks something like this:

(in this sketch, the head end of the fleece is facing down).  You’ll see that the outside edges of the fleece, all the way around, are the edges to be removed.  (Think of a laid out skirt, with the hem chopped off.)

 

It’s helpful to lay the fleece out on a skirting table.  Ours is about 4’ by 8’, a wooden frame around welded wire that’s set on sawhorses.  The holes in the wire let some small bits fall through.

 

The amount of skirting to be done on any particular fleece can vary tremendously:  all the way from none to virtually the entire fleece.

 

For me, the two things I’m skirting is fiber that is structurally unsound or contaminated by vegetation.  Structurally unsound fleece can be:

  • Fleece from the belly or legs (often a very different quality).
  • Fleece with kemp (hair not wool) fibers- unless from a fleece that should have kemp.
  • Fleece so weathered that all oil is gone.  This fleece is usually found around the edges and (particularly in luster fleece) along the backbone.
  • Parts of fleece that are cotted (clumped together)
  • Fleece with a break (usually caused by stress, when the wool growth has been retarded)
  • Fleece contaminated with manure and so weathered or colored.
  • “Second cuts” or short bits where the shearer has sheared some fleece twice.

 

Most vegetal contamination is caused by hay or by weeds.  Sheep are gregarious creatures, and love to chew while turning their head over the back of the sheep next to them.  (My tallest sheep almost always have less back hay than the shorter ones.)  They love to pull out great bunches of hay, dropping the uneaten portions.  This is why most sheep feeders have small openings, forcing the sheep to take smaller bites.  Sheep will also dribble hay over their own and their neighbors’ neck wool. Weeds can be of many species.  We’re renovating old pasture and my two biggest problems come from burdock and thistles…sometimes I don’t get to removing them before the sheep find them.  Burdocks aren’t too bad to get out- as long as they’re removed right after they attach.  I once had some sheep get into beggars’ ticks- most of that fleece had to be tossed.

 

So from a shepherd’s perspective, how do you keep the fleeces clean?  There are lots of strategies:

  • Most time consuming, expensive and effective are sheep coats.  These need to be kept clean (washed and dried after a bout of hot, wet weather- and other times.  Lots of labor- but the value of your fleece is doubled- or tripled.
  • Pay attention to your pastures.  Always check them and remove weeds before turning the sheep into a new section.
  • In winter with snow, ground feed your sheep on clean snow each day.  When you do this, you break the bale into flakes and lay each flake out about 3 feet from any other.  This reduces hay from one dropping into the fleece of a neighboring sheep.
  • We’re trying a new experiment this year, shearing in the fall instead of the spring.  This means that we’re shearing fleece that’s been grazing and not eating hay for five or six months.  The hay falling onto shorter fleece seems to stick less- and some likely washes out over the summer.  The couple we experimented with worked well- we’ll have to see what the whole group look like in October.

 

The photos are of a Romney fleece with six months growth which was shorn in the fall.  The fleece is a bit jumbled- but  the first picture shows about one third of the fleece, with the two small piles on the right being the fleece I’ve skirted out.

The next photo is a close up of some of the wool so you can see the staple.

From a spinner’s perspective, a lot depends on how bad the fleece is and how much you like it.  One of the frustrations is that the finest fleece around the neck is generally in the worst shape, as shown on the two diagrams below. 

When I skirt I actually sort into three bags:  Prime, Seconds, and Skirtings.  I’ve learned that I can often use the seconds- after washing and dyeing they can surprise me.  I’m still looking for skirting uses.  It composts very slowly, makes lousy mulch.  I’ve had people use it for insulation in a double wall (unwashed….not sure what it attracts).  Someone tried to use it as the first layer on a green (ie, planted) roof.  Our dogs have bags of it to sleep on during cold winters….but I just replace the wool if it gets soaked with urine or throw-up.

 

I do weigh and make notes about each fleece, and I use those notes when breeding and when culling.

 

When you buy a fleece it should be clean!  You still should lay it out and look at it whole.  Are the different sections of fleece similar in staple length and softness?  If not and you want to make one project from that whole fleece, you’ll need to take care to evenly blend the different kinds of fiber.  Lots of times I just use the different types of fleece in different ways.

 

Hope this helps you approach a fleece- buying one raw (in the grease) is a great way to start.  Fun- and it smells good.

 

Jill Horton-Lyons

Winterberry Farm

 

FIBERuary MOTHS

Hello

FIBERuary Day 21  MOTHS   Whispering Pines Farm

If you have wool at one time or another you have had moths.  They ruin fleeces and put holes in your clothes.  Here are some way to discourage them from making a home in your woolen items.

Lenny’s Yarn Story

My good friend Lenny passed away in the late 90’s.  I was the recipient of her wool yarns and equipment.    There were many boxes and in one  I found a shirt box.  I opened it up and in between tissue paper were four skeins of handspun singles.  They were surrounded by Bay leaves.  Each skein was tagged with the year it was spun, they were all done in 1948!    I think there were two factors here that prevented the moths.  There were stored in a cardboard box and the bay leaves.Since that time I have always packed my woolens in bay leaves along with some lavender and other  herbs.

IMG_6430

Moths can also come in with fleeces.  Storing the fresh fleeces in paper bags help.  ALWAYS inspect new fleeces.  A few years ago I bought three beautiful fleeces.It wasn’t until I saw moths flying around my kitchen did I realized that I had an infestation..  Most of the fleece had to be thrown away.  Luckily I got it in time as the other fleeces were fine.  I immediately washed the rest of the damaged fleece and the other two.  Another thing I like to do is add some lavender  oil  to the final rinse water of fleeces.  Be careful not to pour the oil directly on the fleece as it will stain white wool.  I have learned this the hard way by ruining a favorite Irish Sweater.  I till wear it around the house and have considered dyeing it with black walnut dye.

If you have a minor problem with moths you can put the item in the freezer for a week.  That will kill them.

Be sure and wash thoroughly woolen items that you are going to put away for the warm months.  Moths are attracted to any stained clothes.

IMG_6432As you can see I do buy Bay Leaves in bulk.  I do sell them at shows or you can e-mail me wspines@aol.com for more information.

Thanks for joining me today in FIBERuary, I hope that I have helped keep your woolens safe.

Carole