Shearing at Home Farm Wensleydales
This evening in the Harvesting Wool phase of WOVEMBER we share an account of shearing from Jane Dryden of Home Farm Wensleydales. Jane is one of the small producers whose work we are seeking to highlight here this WOVEMBER.
I personally find shearing to be the most stressful time on the farm and a few things contribute towards this;
Our British weather – I become an expert weather forecaster the week before shearing, analysing the BBC weather hourly to try to spot the all important window of dry weather the day and night before and dry the day of shearing. The fleece needs to be dry for the shearer and dryness is also essential because I store some of my fleece for sorting and selling direct.
Getting the right shearing team is difficult as they seem to change every year but we have been lucky the last few years – work quickly but sympathetically towards the sheep and try their best to take off the fleece in one cut. I always smile at the look on their faces when they realize the ‘sheep’ are this years lambs and the 90kg ewes at the top of the field are not the rams!! The rams are last and they always seem to get the youngest and lightest member of their team to shear them (they can weigh 130kg) while the older (and tired) shearers watch on and offer ‘helpful’ advice.
The shearers are incredibly skilled and I know of some New Zealand shearers who can shear 6-700 ewes in a 9 hour shift and 700-800 lambs in a shift! – phew no wonder they like coming to me with only 350 sheep on the farm.
They are always surprised when I explain I keep the sheep for wool as all the sheep they usually shear are breeding stock and meat producers. I love the way their skepticism turns to respect when they hold the fleece they have just sheared from a Wensleydale and I often bring out a few balls of wool to show them over their tea break.
I watch each sheep being sheared, rather like a mum with their child at a hairdresser! and this makes sure that there is a minimum of cuts to the fleece and the sheep.
Once sheared, my biggest challenge is to make sure the black and white fleece is kept separate and that the newly shorn ewes are marked back up with the right colours to match their lambs.
The funniest sight is the newly shorn shearlings, free of their huge weight of fleece, skipping, jumping and running around the garden.
The sad thing to me is that it costs £1.60 to shear a sheep yet the Wool marketing board only give this same amount for the wool if you are lucky. This is incredible when you think that the great fortunes before the Industrial Revolution were built on wool.
We are really ‘lucky’ that the Wool Marketing Board might give us £4/kg for the premium fleeces. But if you think that it costs me £75 to keep and feed one sheep for a year, it’s obvious that we have no choice; if we are to keep a British rare breed Wensleydale sheep, we must sell its fleece and wool direct to the spinner/knitter/felter who will pay something closer to what it is actually worth.
Thank you very much Jane for this insight into Harvesting Wool on your farm! All words and photos © Jane Dryden of Home Farm Wensleydales and used here with kind permission. You can contact Jane here.