Sheep shearing season is already underway on farms all around the country. It is a long standing countryside tradition that has also become a serious sport, as an opportunity to show off sheep shearing talent in competitions all over the world.
Sheep are relieved of their wool for two reasons. The first is to collect the wool in order to sell it to a supplier, who may use it to create textiles and furniture fillings. The second is for animal welfare reasons. Like any other animal, sheep can overheat in the summer so they need to remove their ‘winter coat.’ The hot wool can also become an incubator for parasites, so removing the wool will help to keep the sheep free of illness.
From where it began to where it is now, with some fascinating facts thrown in, we take a look at the skill involved and the benefits of the shearing and wool industry.
A History of Shearing and Wool
The raising and shearing of sheep is one of the world’s oldest industries. It even has a mention in the Old Testament of the Bible, documenting their thriving wool business. The shearing of sheep began in around 3500 B.C, at around the time when man learned how to spin wool for their clothes and other everyday uses.
The wool trade has been popular throughout the world for many centuries, as a highly sustainable resource that always has a use. It is the oldest tradable commodity, which has only changed in the methods that the wool is taken from the sheep.
Starting out as a very tedious process of hand clipping, the art of shearing has come a long way. The earliest known mechanical machines were invented in the late 19th century and revolutionised the procurement of wool. It was a two person job and involved the turning a handle!
Fascinating Facts and Figures
- Sheep shearing normally covers the months between May to July, when the weather has started to warm up. Some more northern areas have a colder climate, so may delay their shearing window, moving it to cover July to September when they can guarantee better conditions for their animals.
- Britain has around 31 million sheep, which produce a staggering 30 million kilos of fleece wool every year! It is estimated that the highest yielding sheep is the Blue Faced Leicester breed, which provides the most valuable wool. It is worth around 10 times more than the more common Herdwick fleece.
- The typical weight of a fleece is 1.5 - 10kg, with a Herdwick weighing in at around 2 - 3kg. The heaviest known fleece that has been recorded was from an overgrown sheep that was rescued in Australia. It took 45 minutes to shear and weighed more than an incredible 41kg!
- The average shearer can work their way through 200 sheep in a day, whilst a really skilled worker can achieve between 400 to 500.
- Sheep who are raised mainly for their wool are sometimes shorn in the winter months instead. The quality of their wool can be affected by stress, which is abundant during the spring lambing season and best avoided.
Top Tips for Shearing
If you are new to the sheep shearing game, here are some pointers on how you can achieve the best results.
- Try to work with a clean and dry sheep. This will help to avoid tangles caused by mud and matted wool. Brush them through if you need to; we like the Perth Comb for hassle free detangling.
- Starve your sheep for 12 hours before the planned shearing, as a full stomach may cause the animal some discomfort.
- Set up an efficient shearing system. You will need a holding pen for the waiting group of sheep and a separate pen to move the next sheep in line to, so that you always have one ready for the shearer.
- Ensure that you have an electricity supply next to the shearing area in order to work the clippers. Try the Heiniger Xpert Clipper for all the power and precision you need.
- Have a flat, dry surface available to lay out the freshly shorn wool.
Ready, Steady, Shear!
- There are many different statistics for sheep shearing contests, depending on the type of sheep and how many hours are given to work in. So here are just a couple of the results that made us jump out of our wool!
- The fastest shearer in the world is Hilton Barrett from Australia, who has a record of just 39.31 seconds.
- The world record for the most sheep shorn in 9 hours is held by New Zealander Rodney Sutton, who managed 731 ewes.
- The record for an 8 hour period is held by Rowland Smith, who achieved a total of 644.
Shearing for wool is a skill that is unlikely to ever die out, with wool being such a high commodity across the world. If you have the chance to watch a sheep shearing expert in action, we suggest you go, as it is an exciting and frisky sport that you will soon become hooked on!