FARMING MATTERS: All hands on deck for sheep shearing

Sheep farmer Richard Belgrove giving a sheep demonstration at Buckinghamshire Young Farmers Rally in 2014. Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt
Sheep farmer Richard Belgrove giving a sheep demonstration at Buckinghamshire Young Farmers Rally in 2014. Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt
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Sheep shearing is well under way around the country and we had our own small flock shorn recently, when it was a case of all hands on deck with help from family and friends who helped out with handling the ewes and rolling the fleeces. We don’t have a sheepdog, so the flock was rounded up with the quad bike as the ewes and lambs were funnelled into the field shed where the shearer Richard Belgrove was waiting for them. Richard is a neighbouring sheep farmer who has a mobile shearing rig on the back of his Land Rover and he travels around the area to help shear small flocks.

It’s hard work and especially on a hot day, when everyone gets covered in a mixture of sweat and grease from the fleeces. A mature ewe of a biggish breed can weigh 50 kilos and you can add up to a further 20 kilos for the rams, so it’s pretty back breaking work to tip them up onto their bottoms and hold them in place whilst removing the fleece.

The lambs of course don’t need to be shorn, but they do need a worm drench and so this is a good opportunity to do it. It’s always a pretty noisy day because the ewes and lambs have to be separated for a time while the shearing takes place, although they are held in nearby pens so can see one another.

Fleece rolling is hard work, the fleeces have to be tightly rolled and then packed correctly into the big woven polypropylene sacks.

These sacks are then sewn up and taken to the collection centre from where they will be transported to Bradford, the headquarters of the British Wool Marketing Board.

We might get £2 for an average fleece, but the cost of removing the wool is more than that. Shearing is done primarily for welfare reasons these days. In the past sheep would have shed their fleeces naturally but most breeds now hold their fleece after hundreds of years of breeding for that purpose when wool was worth a lot of money. It is still a viable product but its value has collapsed due to the use of cotton and synthetic materials.

Preparing to shear the sheep

Preparing to shear the sheep

Sheep farmer Richard Belgrave giving a shearing demonstration at Buckinghamshire Young Farmers Rally in 2014. Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt

Sheep farmer Richard Belgrave giving a shearing demonstration at Buckinghamshire Young Farmers Rally in 2014. Picture copyright Heather Jan Brunt