We shear our sheep once a year, usually in June or July. Our main flock are mules which are a commercial crossbreed bred for meat and wool.
Despite what some people think, we do not breed sheep for their wool. It is purely a welfare issue which I will go into further in a moment.
Years ago, sheep were bred purely for their wool. From the Middle Ages, wool was used to make cloth and it made a great many British towns (and people) very rich. Such was the superiority of British wool.
Nowadays, if you can’t find something new to diversify and use the wool for (like the lovely people at places like Herdy Sleep), farmers send their fleeces to be graded and weighed to the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford and a few weeks later, we get sent a cheque.
No remember I said we don’t do it for money-even though we get paid for it? Well if you have to employ someone to shear the sheep for you, the chances are, the price you get for the wool is either less than the cost of shearing or only just covers it.
It is just he way it is. British wool is just not as popular (in terms of profit) as it was in the wool hay day.
So why do we bother?
Although there are some breeds of sheep that will self-shear-they shed their coats without the need of clipping, the majority of sheep need a human to do it for them.
If we didn’t shear, not only would they get very uncomfortable but should they encounter any mass of water larger than a puddle, they would most probably drown due to the sheer weight of the fleece on their back.
The main welfare issue though is fly strike. A horrid affliction where, usually in warmer weather, flies lay eggs in the perfect environment of the oily, warm fleece and maggots grow. There are cases so extreme that whole parts of a sheep’s body can be eaten away by the maggots which much truly be a horrific way to die. We can spray them to help prevent fly strike but really, relieving them of their wooly coats is the most humane thing to do.
On sheep shearing day, we gather the animals together and then a shearer gets a sheep and flips it onto its back (to minimise movement and shaving nicks) and begins to shave with a pair of special clippers.
Apart from the odd nick which is only as painful as one if you shave your legs, it is a painless exercise and they look so much better shorn.
In its crude form, the wool is dirty and needs a lot doing to it to be used in carpets and clothing like washing, carding and, if used for yarn, spinning. It seems quite unfair that something that was once part of a farmer’s livelihood is now just a by-product.
However, if we all do our bit, we can help put this Great British product back in the spotlight.
All you have to do is buy British wool. Whether it’s yard for knitting, carpets, tweed or any other bi-product, if it bears the British Wool Marketing Board’s distinctive logo of the shepherd’s crook and Union Jack are British wool rich.
Do keep in mind though that there are also smaller British manufacturers who process fleeces themselves. They also contribute to the British Wool industry.
If you have any questions, please do ask and, if I cannot answer them myself, I will find someone who can.