Every spring brings with it the most important (and often dreaded) task a sheep-reeve (shepherd) faces, the sheering and the harvesting of wool. Nothing in sheep rearing is more important than understanding and practicing shearing; it is the cornerstone to any profitable sheep ranch. The task of shearing can be a little intimidating at first, it is a physically demanding and often an exhausting activity and there are some unpleasant aspects to the process, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives once you become accustomed to the process.
Twelve years ago when we selected sheep rearing as an occupation, we decided that we would put off learning this most important skill. Some of this was because we were totally unfamiliar with the process, but also it was because we could afford to put off the ritual for a time. For the first few years, we would hire professional sheep shearers; this was neither a bad idea, nor terribly expensive, but it did delay the inevitable. Hiring a professional shearer the first time out is probably a good idea, doing so will give you a good introduction to the process, plus it allows you to experience some of the downsides first hand and realize there are just some things that are unavoidable, – for instance once you start shearing yourself you will find that it is nearly inevitable that you will nick or cut animals. This can be a little disconcerting at first, but no matter how you try to be careful cuts will occur, especially if the animal is not controlled well (inevitable at first) or the animal resists and jerks (also inevitable); seeing a professional experience this repetitively in the course of the day can reassure you that this is common and generally unavoidable.
Once you have decided upon learning this most important skill, you will also find that there is no better teacher than actual practice. Of course there are books on the subject, but most are very general studies and often conflicting in advise, worse still there is next to nothing on some of the more technical basics, – most guides focus on holds and managing the animals or blade strokes (most of which vary), very few discuss setting up your blades and the hazards a newcomer is likely to encounter.
In the posts to follow we will endeavor to discuss and illustrate how to set up your blades, details regarding blade longevity, tips to avoid nicking or cutting your animals and other simple observations that we found nearly absent in books and online. Naturally, our experience is limited to our situation, however providing a basic guideline is our purpose here, – some basics that will get you started and hopefully comfortable enough for you to learn through your own experience, which is truly the only way to develop a skill.