By Dr Clive Dalton
(Photos by Des Williams)
Shearing a sheep using hand shears.
A blade shearing method.
There are may methods used around the world to shear a sheep using hand shears or blades.
The method shown below is used in the north of England and in Scotland. In parts of Wales the sheep have three legs tied together, and are shorn on a long stool with the shearer sitting on one end.
In New Zealand Merino sheep in the high country are still blade shorn when shorn in winter or pre-lambing to leave more wool on them to protect them from cold weather. To achieve the same result with a shearing machine, combs (called 'snow combs) are used with deeper teeth.
Sit the sheep on its rear end in a comfortable position . Keep your toes well in below the sheep with its body leaning against your legs. The sheep will initially slump into a concave position.
Take hold of the sheep's ear in your left hand (right handed shearer) and start shearing down the side of it's face, around the back of the head past the mid line, and shear the wool down towards the brisket to open the fleece out.
Start shearing down along the back of the neck and keep coming around to the front leg. Notice in the picture how the sheep is now pushed out away from the shearer with the knees.
Lift up the front leg and shear along it. Then holding the front leg, continue shearing down the side.
Continue shearing starting near the backbone and then come right around to include the belly.
Go as far across the belly as you can. In males watch out for the sheep's prepuce, and in rams their penis which may protrude with the pressure on the belly.
In females, take care not to cut the udder or teats. In young females (hoggets) put your fingers over the small teats to protect them when shearing near them towards the bottom of the belly.
Now the job gets easier as you can lay the sheep down. This is especially useful with very large sheep such as rams.
Note that the sheep is kept down, and is lying very comfortably, by kneeling on the neck wool, which is unshorn on the other side of the sheep.
Then you can concentrate on shearing along the length of the sheep, making sure you first shear well over the shoulders, and then along the back.
Note my left hand being used to steady the sheep if she starts to kick. Press down and she'll soon lie quietly.
Now change from kneeling on the neck wool to putting your knee right across the sheep's neck. The sheep now cannot move, and allows you to easily reach the rear end of the sheep.
In this position, resting on your right knee and with your left foot in the sheep's crutch, it's easy to shear around the tail and the crutch.
Now you need to shear as far over the tail as you can reach, as this is where the sheep is going to sit when you sit her up to do the last side. First loosen the wool so it's standing upright and easy to cut. If the sheep is lying on that bit of wool, it's hard to shear with the blades.
To raise the sheep up, pull it over by some skin around its tail dock. This is much easier with UK hill sheep which have long tails - and which have to be shorn by going down one side and up the other.
You now want to get the sheep from lying on its side to sitting on its read end again - like when you started. There's a tricky move (shown in the picture) by grabbing a front leg to pull it up from where you ended - but just get it back up as easy as you can.
Here you can see I am back on one knee with the sheep held by the nose and its head resting on my other knee. Then start shearing from the brisket up to the nose to start the last side.
Continue to open up the neck and down to other front leg.
You can keep on shearing while kneeling, but it's much easier to lay the sheep down and hold it there with your knee over its neck. You can then shear from the rear end (which you shore when you did the first side), right up to the neck.
Preparing the fleece. Lay the wool out for 'skirting' which is where you remove the belly wool and all the stained and coloured pieces around the edge, short bits of wool and any wool with raddle or plant contamination. The aim is to keep the main 'body wool' with similar length staples in one lot to be marketed.
Rolling up the fleece. There's no need to do this in New Zealand but it's used in UK, and is a handy trick to carry a single fleece. Lay the fleece out and fold in both sides. In UK the hill breeds are wrapped with the skin side in, and lowland breeds are folded with the skin side out.
Once the sides are folded in - start rolling the fleece from the tail end. If confused over which end is which after the wool is off - look for the neck wood which is usually shorter and finer.
When you get near the neck, start pulling some wool and twisting it into a band.
You end up with the fleece wrapped up for easy carrying without it falling apart. In New Zealand, fleeces are put loose into the fadge.