Without proper preparation, a routine shearing day can quickly turn chaotic, not to mention much more time-consuming. Preparing your flock, infrastructure, and people accordingly helps shearing day run a whole lot smoother, keeps your shearer happy, and prevents you and your sheep from undergoing any unnecessary stress. Redd Summit Advisors has compiled this 5-step guide to shearing preparation so that when the day comes, you’re set up for success.
Step 1: Communicate With Your Shearer
In marriage and in sheep shearing, communication is KEY! Speak with your shearer well before your planned shearing day to discuss both your and their expectations. Find out your shearer’s rates for a flock of your size, class of sheep, and their preferred system, and consider what, if any, adjustments need to be made to your infrastructure to accommodate them. Make your shearer aware of your wool type and management plan, and set up a protocol for inclement weather so that your sheep are clean and dry on shearing day (shearing wet sheep is dangerous). Lastly, try to be flexible with your shearer when it comes to which day you plan to shear, there are not many shearers left in the industry so their schedule may be tight.
Step 2: Prepare Your Infrastructure
Following your discussion with your shearer, the next step is to prepare your infrastructure. Your shearer will bring their own equipment, but you will need to communicate on what else will need to be provided to have a smooth and comfortable shearing day. At the very least, you should expect to ensure that your shearing station has electricity readily available, and provides a sturdy spot for the shearer to suspend or fix their shearing head. You’ll also need to plan to provide a level place with two sheets of plywood for your shearer to stand on; some shearers will offer to bring their own sheets of plywood, but this could pose a biosecurity risk to your operation. Lastly, inspect your holding areas and chute systems for functionality, and have a plan before the shearer’s arrival to hold and move sheep throughout the shearing process. For a larger operation a shearer will bring a crew of shearers and possibly their own shearing shed so it will be important to set up accordingly.
Step 3: Have a Wool Management Plan in Place
For a successful shearing day, you need to have a wool management plan in place all year round. Your wool quality is impacted by several factors including clean pastures, your nutrition plan, and your feeder style. Knowing your sheep’s wool type(s) and what it’s best used for allows you to plan accordingly as most shepherds and shearers find it useful to group sheep by their wool type on shearing day, as to prevent mixing. And once collected, it is imperative to have a plan in place for sorting, grading, packaging, and storing your wool when shearing is complete.
Step 4: Prepare Your Sheep
While the previous steps should occur during the months and weeks leading up to your shearing day, preparing your sheep is critical during the last 12-24 hours of your preparation period. Firstly, your sheep need to be in good health and ‘emptied out’ before shearing. Do not feed or water your flock within 12 hours of shearing, or if on pasture, remove your flock a full 24 hours before shearing day. Otherwise, a full rumen can press on the diaphragm while the sheep is in the shearing position and create serious breathing issues. Also, ensure that you aren’t shearing any pregnant ewes within 3-4 weeks of lambing to prevent excess stress and potential birth issues or abortions. And once shearing is complete you’ll need to provide a warm, dry place for your sheep to rest and recover. Sheep can struggle to stay warm after shearing so adequate shelter and bedding are critical for their health.
Step 5: Prepare Your People
Lastly, shearing day typically requires a few extra sets of hands to keep things running smoothly, regardless of how well you’ve prepared. Gather your friends, family, neighbors, or some hired hands to help out, and be sure to have food and drinks on hand. Also, plan for scheduled breaks to refuel and recharge throughout the day, as shearing and moving sheep can be physically draining. Most importantly, be ready to pay your shearer your agreed-upon rate when the job is complete - this is not the time to negotiate the price.
Shearing day does not need to be overwhelming and stressful for you and your sheep. With proper planning and proper communication with your shearer, your operation’s shearing day can run like a well-oiled machine. For more information about livestock production, risk management, and insurance information visit our Redd Summit Advisors blog and make sure to subscribe to stay up to date when new articles are posted!