Monday, April 4, 2011

Shearing


10-7 Ranch sheep wranglers. Marty, Katy and Duster
 


Moving the sheep down from the dry land

Finding good weather to shear sheep is always a challenge, and this year's "spring" weather was no exception.  Our ranch is at 4,200 feet elevation and it is very common to have sun and 65 deg one day, and snow and 20 deg the next.


Sheep in winter feed area dry land
 We like to shear before we lamb, and we start to lamb this year around May 5th. We give the ewes their 8 way booster and worm them around the same time we shear.

One week before we wanted to shear we have several inches of snow, we managed to get a clear weather window this past week, so we sheared. Thankfully we had a very flexible shearing crew. One of the reason we don't have the larger shearing crews do our shearing is they set the schedule of when they come through your area, and when they get to your ranch. If they weather is bad our you lamb later you must run your system around them. 

Most of the area sheep ranchers lamb in the winter or early spring and they jug lamb(bring all ewes and lambs into a barn after they lamb and keep them in a pen for a few days.) We lamb later in May so we can lamb on the pasture when the grass is coming on strong, and not take the ewes and lambs into jugs. We have access to alfalfa stubble in the fall and early winter, and therefore we sell out lambs several months later than many area ranches. This allows us to lamb later on pasture which we consider to be more ideal for our system and less work.

As we continue to grow our flock we may need to go to a large crew, but i am going to stick with the little guys while i can. This is the last year we will be able to get shearing done in one day, the guys worked from dusk until dawn and we just finished.  Another option is to "tag" or "crutch" the sheep before you lamb and shear after you lamb when they lambs are around 1 month old.  Crutching is shearing only the wool in the vulva area and around the udder. This keeps the blood and after birth from getting on the wool when the ewe lambs, and allows the lambs to have clear access to the udder to eat.


Jeremy and Carl earning every penny

One very important factor in a smooth day of shearing is having a good handling system that allows for low stress on the animals, and a continuous/uninterrupted flow of sheep to the shearers.  Our handling system is usually outside by the corrals, but we move it into the barn when we shear.

Clean barn pre sheep

Our 5 year old daughter Katy helped for most of the day. She was in charge of making sure the belly wool was cleaned of of the shearing board and put into the "belly and skirt pile aka BS wool."  This is wool that does not make it into the good wool/fleece bag. Katy also helped keep the chutes moving. Before we could shear the sheep were brought the sheep down from the winter feeding area on the dry land. Katy helped her dad here too.

These jobs would be much more time consuming and difficult without good dogs. The sheep wanted to come out of the dry land, but they also wanted to stay on the alfalfa that is starting to come up in the fields we crossed. Then they wanted to stay on the hay stacks. I am not sure how we would have been able to load the sheep into the barn, and the handling system, without the dogs.  The dogs were also used to sort( we did it in the corral but called the dog in like a shed/sort) the fine wool sheep ( about 85%) of our flock, from the rest of the sheep. I used my dog Mint and while she makes me nuts some times as she does not have an "off" button, she is also very skilled at handling large groups of sheep, and she has a work ethic that never quits.
 
Katy and Duster a pair of ranch hands



Katy pushes the sheep up the race
 

We hired a 250 lb high school neighbor boy to stomp the wool bag. Our kids LOVE to stomp the wool in the wool bags, but they just don't have the weight to really do the job. We let the kids stomp the BS wool at the end of the day, and we fully expect them to both take over the big bag in a few more years.


 
James loads the crate.. wool on ground is belly wool


James hands a fleece up to the wool sack


Our 7 year old son James helped for many hours when he got home from school.  James carried fleece up the ladder to the wool bag, and he also loaded the handling crate that the shearers took the sheep from to shear.


LGD Ella and pup Max with sheared sheep in background
 
 We sell our wool to Columbia wool scouring who is a buyer for http://www.pendleton-usa.com/ Our wool is used to make dress shirts. It is nice to have the shearing done and we even had a few days of nice weather. Now we wait a month for the lambs to start coming and life gets very busy!


Fine wool fleece




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