Shearing sheep is a necessary part of being a shepherd. Wool cannot be left on sheep
indefinitely, and knowing your breed's fleece will determine how often, and when they should be
sheared. Icelandic sheep have a dual coated fleece that grows very long. We have found that
shearing twice a year keeps the fleeces healthiest, cleanest, and more valuable. We market our Icelandic
wool directly to handspinners, felters, knitters and weavers, so providing the best quality wool is
important to us and our reputation. Knowing how to grow better wool is imperative to a fiber
producing farm. If sheep are provided with adequate nutrition through free choice pasture and hay;
minerals and plenty of water, their fleeces will excel. We have found that adding kelp to our flock's diet
has greatly improved the quality of their wool. We are also using Apple Cider Vinegar routinely, which
has been shown to improve wool quality. The better your sheep are fed, the better the wool they will
produce for you. How sheep are fed is also crucial to clean fleeces. We have invested in grate bale box
feeders that keep the fleeces free from almost all chaff and vegetable matter.
You will need to locate a shearer who is willing to shear your flock. Shearers use either electric blades
and some more rarely now will do blade shearing. Blade shearing will leave a little more wool on the
animal, thus providing a layer of insulation against unpredictable weather. We also like blade shearing
because it is quiet and the sheep seem to relax more. We have been very fortunate to find a shearer who
is proficient in both methods.
There are some things that you can do to prepare your flock for shearing day. The more organized you
are in moving your animals to the shearer, the more likely your shearer will be happy to come back and
shear your flock. Shearing day is also a good day to coordinate other "sheep work" such as any shots
that need administered, hoof trimming and moving them into breeding groups (fall shearing).
Kevin Ford, who was trained in Ireland, and certified in New Zealand as a master shearer has written a
wonderful book titled "Shearing Day." In it, he gives the following suggestions for shearing day:
* keep the flock dry, tightly penned for easy catching, and empty bellied.
* have sufficient helpers around to move sheep quickly - to and away from - the shearer
* have somebody there to pick up the freshly shorn fleeces for sorting and/or boxing
* have a designated "sweeper" who can sweep away the "tags" and "end pieces" in order to keep the
next fleece clean.
* make sure the shearing area has good lighting from a couple of directions.
* most shearers come with their own platform, but if they use electric shears, make sure a good electric
source is nearby.
* many shearers like to take a break after a couple of hours, so be sure to have a snack and beverage
available to them.
I would also add that you should providey our shearer with a "tip" above and beyond what it costs to
have him (or her) shear your sheep.
In October of 2002, I was privileged to be able to take a blade shearing workshop with Mr. Ford. At
right is a photo of me shearing. I really enjoyed learning and hope to someday be proficient enough to
do my own sheep as needed.
For more information about Icelandic wool click here.
In October 2007, Kevin Ford returned to
Runo Lorentzen and Betsy Erickson's farm
for another weekend of shearing
instruction. I took my daughter Fiona along
and she is shown above and at right (with
Runo), giving blade shearing a try. She had
no fear and did a good job -- until she got
physically too tired. Shearing is very
demanding on the body, and it was even
hard for a 10 year old to do it for very long.
Thank you to Runo for his patience in
working with Fiona!