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.

Shearing at Home Farm Wensleydales

Shearing at Home Farm Wensleydales

Shearing

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.

fleece!!!

fleece!!!

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.

needs a haircut!

needs a haircut!

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.

black and white sheep before shearing

black and white sheep before shearing

The funniest sight is the newly shorn shearlings, free of their huge weight of fleece, skipping, jumping and running around the garden.

the skipping shearlings!

the skipping shearlings!

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.

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This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

7 thoughts on “Shearing at Home Farm Wensleydales

  1. Your pictures were great to see and it was really interesting to read that you watch over them while they get their “haircut”…I’ve only recently began reading about how little farmers are paid for their sheep and will endeavour to try and make sure as much wool I buy from now on is from small producers like yourself who obviously love and care for their sheep a great deal.
    The picture of the sheep “need a haircut” was the best, I just wanted to scritch her nose gently and stroke that velvety looking face.

    • Hi – thank you very much for your feedback. The ewe that you particularly liked is one of my older girls, Eileen. Not all of my 350 sheep have names (although most do) but Eileen is very special to us. Wensleydales have a beautifully soft blue skin and yes, velvety and very soft to touch. They are such beautiful sheep and I am delighted you liked Eileen – she had triplets last year and the year before – and so this year she is having a well deserved year off!
      Thank you so much for supporting British Wool – Best wishes – Jayne

  2. Merci Jane for sharing this intense moment. Reading you in Paris, sunny & in view of old Sacré-Cœur, sending you this morning’s sunny patch, should you require another dry day or two 🙂 I am a city girl yet I regularly spend time on a Dorset sheep farm – your text and photos have truly transported me to your beautiful Cotswolds surroundings and made me appreciate the care & precision of shearing time. I am impressed at how fast shearers can shear… and it cannot be easy organizing a team as it is such a seasonal job! What do they do the rest of the year? I enjoyed how you described the older men leaving the youngest lads to shears the rams 🙂 Sounds familiar in many ways!

    • Bonjour – thank you very much for sending us your mornings sunny patch – and it is a beautiful morning today here in the Cotswolds. You are more than welcome to walk around our sheep when you are in the UK – we have 350 Wensleydales and Bluefaced Leicesters and all of my sheep are for wool only! I must admit I do not like the shearing time as I worry too much – but I do love the following day when I have all their beautiful fleeces in my barn and the sheep are happy that they are not carrying around all the weight of their full fleece in the summer! Best wishes to you from the Cotswolds – Jayne

  3. I love your pictures and info you shared about your sheep. Purchasing yarn from the farm is important to me so I had to place my order right away 🙂 It will be fun to think of the sheep and the UK as I knit – I hope to visit one day.

    • Hi – thank you so much for your kind words and your order of wool! I have just sent my fleece from this year to Yorkshire and it was washed last week and is now ready for combing. I have more this year – approx 900kg unwashed which will probably wash down to 500kg. I am hoping to have some worsted DK and 4 ply weights in soft colours. I hope you love your purchase and whatever you make with it as much as we love our sheep and making it for you.
      Best wishes – Jayne

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