Blade Basics

Perhaps the one subject that I found most difficult to learn about was blade set-up and alignment. There is precious little out there on proper blade set-up and operation. Once you start out shearing you will learn just how important this is, – while it is inevitable that you will nick and cut sheep, a great deal of that inevitability rests upon proper blade set-up.

First set of pictures below shows the two elements of a blade:

The Comb:

 

The Cutter:

 

The second picture set shows the proper relationship they must maintain to safely shear an animal.

  

While it is true that the closer the cutter is to the bevel (brim where it slopes off) the better the machine will cut, it is equally true the risk to the animal greatly increases. At all times the cutter should remain approximately 2 mm or .07 inches (5/64) from the bevel edge.  Otherwise, not only the risk of cuts greater, they can be far more severe, especially in critical areas like nipples, narrow angles (tendons, folds, wrinkles) and tails.

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Sheep Shearing Machines

Once you have decided upon shearing your own sheep, the first important step is choosing what method you prefer. To a large degree this will come down to how many sheep you own or plan on raising. For a small number you might choose hand shears, which is popular with native shearers and some old-timers. We have never actually used this method though we have hired Navajo shearers that have and I can tell you that unless you have a strong back and a lot of endurance (young) this is probably not a practical option. Mostly this methods only advantage is it is inexpensive and doesn’t rely upon power.

The second method is probably the most commonly encountered, the electric handheld shearer like the Oster Variable Speed Showmaster. There are several other professional grade machines available which are suitable for small herds (our average is about 30 ewes and a few rams) and relatively inexpensive at about $400. The third method is a professional shearing machine which most professional shearers use, these cost twice as much but offer many advantages, but starting out it is probably best to stick with a handheld shearing machine like the Oster Showmaster.

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Shearing and Wool

   

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.

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Watering & Testing Batteries

Perhaps the most routine task servicing batteries is the most important, – the watering and testing of batteries is absolutely critical to long life and problem free service. It is imperative to monitor and maintain water levels; nearly as important is routinely testing batteries, watching for signs of poor performance. One bad battery can drag down entire battery bank, if ignored long enough a few bad batteries can leave you with a next to worthless system.

The first sign of a problem is typically the batteries not holding power like they use to, they cannot handle loads for very long and they quickly shed voltage at a certain point, – typically they hold a moderate load until a certain point and then the bottom falls out rapidly. Say your 24-volt system will hold well until sundown, and then remain stable until 23.4 volts, and then the bottom will fall out within 30 minutes; this is a sign one or more batteries are bad or underperforming, dragging your good batteries down. This pattern can be subtle at first, but over time it will worsen and become very noticeable, but it is better to catch this early as the harm can become cumulative.

The general outline of general service follows, it is very basic and takes only half an hour, but it must be done religiously once a month, possibly more often if your batteries are older or weak, some failing batteries will consume more water and even feel warm (a bad sign usually).

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Living with Deep-Cycle Batteries

Living on your own terms can be both rewarding and challenging and this is never truer than when it comes to living with batteries. Taking the decision to live remotely, for whatever reason, whether due to the love of solitude or whether to escape the rules and regulation of society the same dependency for power is ever-present. Batteries and inverters are often the most practical means to achieving this goal of taking the best society offers without all the conformity that goes along with it.

A power system designed around batteries offers many advantages, for one if taken care of they can last for a decade or more, they are reliable under most conditions, in this age of high energy costs they can be economical over the long-term; lastly they provide a family with power in a wide array of options and most people can adapt to their use and maintenance with a minimal commitment of time. The only real disadvantages are the upfront cost and the fact you are the utility company, – there is no one to call when there is a power outage!

Here we will go over the basics, what you will have to deal with eventually if you buy and maintain your own battery bank. We will not pretend to know all there is about batteries and inverters, only our personal experience of actually living off-grid for over 15 years, – there are literally hundreds or thousands of websites dedicated to batteries, PV, wind and inverters, here we will only cover the raw basics drawn from actual trial and error.

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