So yesterday I touched on the care that shepherds give their flocks. Part of that care is shearing. Sheep are not meant to grow wool their entire lives without a hair cut. Yes, technically it's not hair, but you get what I mean.
How do you feel after you've had a hair cut? There are times when I've gotten a hair cut and felt 10 lbs lighter. I can only imagine how relieved a pregnant ewe must feel to get rid of all of that wool just prior to lambing. Ahhhhhhh! Depending on the breed, some of them can literally be 10 lbs lighter!
Sheep are very efficient animals. They turn the grass they eat into beautiful wool, milk and meat. It really is pretty amazing when you think about it. Grass and water. That's all they need. I think that's a pretty cool super-power!
Shearing cleans the sheep up, (think back end of a sheep) and helps them prepare for giving birth. Imagine being a tiny lamb, coming from inside a nice, warm, dark womb and suddenly being plopped on the ground and wondering where your first meal is. Nature takes over and the lamb gets up on all 4 legs, clumsily makes its was to the back end of the sheep and starts to look for something to eat. If there is a lot of wool in the way, the lambs can die in a short time without their first drink of colostrum. I know. I've had this happen to lambs I wasn't expecting.
Shearers are not in it for the money. This is back-breaking work. You're bent over a sheep and giving it a haircut. I've had some shearing nightmares in my day, but most of them involved the shearer himself and their lack of courtesy on showing up and being prepared or even keeping their mouths shut and getting the job done. I had one stop in the middle of shearing a sheep to talk.
Do sheep get cut when shearing? Yes. It happens. It's not intentional, but have you ever cut yourself shaving? Same thing. The lanolin the sheep produce helps speed the healing and you don't even see the cuts the next day. Once in a while a wild one will get a deeper cut, but shearers carry suture material and needles with them to stitch up if necessary. They are pretty capable!
So now we have sheared sheep, ready to lamb and lots of wool to deal with. When it comes off of a sheep it's called a fleece. This is not to be confused with polyester fleece. That's the fake stuff. A sheep fleece is real. It just came off of a living animal. Those fleeces need to be skirted. That's the term they use for removing all of the tags or poop balls, wet wool and VM. Remember, they live outside and are not potty trained. Poop happens.
Once the wool is skirted it is put into bags. Some people use old sheets. I use paper lawn and leaf bags. It's now ready to be sent off to the mill.