Shearing Days Fall 2000

       Icelandic Sheep are sheared twice a year in order to harvest the best quality fleece. They are a natural shedding breed, and in February the rams start loosing the thel or undercoat. The outer coat or tog stays in place to protect them until their new coat grows in. The ewes don't shed until May or June, putting all of their energy  into their developing lambs. If not sheared in the early spring, the fleece will loosen and be rubbed off on fence and trees. Ancient shepherds selected for this trait before shears were invented, in order to harvest more fiber. Sheep were caught and the loose wool was plucked or 'rooed'. After the advent of shears commercial breeds were bred for year around fleece growth. 


    Icelandic sheep fleeces grow slowly during the summer but as fall approaches with cooler temperatures and shorter day length, the sheep grow their fleeces very fast. By late Oct or early Nov the fleeces are 8" to 10" or longer with a 4" to 5" thel or undercoat. Up until this time the sheep are grazing fall pastures and have not been fed hay. The fleeces are therefore clean and free of vegetative matter, a spinners dream. We shear at this time to get prime fleeces, We have this time slot reserved with our shearer Ralph McWilliams Ph# 406-232-2915 (Ralph is a full time shearer and shears over 10,000 sheep a year). Ralph usually gets a 2nd shearer in to help get the flock of 300+ done in 2 days. We provide, a sheltered place, extension cords, food, a support crew and holding pens. Charlie loads the chute, Emily worms and gives vaccinations and I sweep the shearing floor between sheep. Charlie's wife Jeannie caters the food and it is always the best part of shearing days ( home made beef stew, ham and cheese sandwiches, and several different kinds of cookies).  Dawn Ann and Corrine pick up the fleece, skirt, shake out the 2nd cuts, identify the sheep it came from on a card and individually bag each fleece. Rex prepares the shelters with hay and hay feeders, puts food on the table for the crew and cleans up  after lunch.  Rex also wanders around and photographs the events, chatting with the crew and in general getting in the way of everyone who is working.  

    It costs us about $1000 to shear these sheep, including paying the shearers, the help, and the food. Our shearer uses a 13 tooth comb to prevent cutting the sheep. Shearers say these sheep shear like butter in the fall and can shear 30 to 40 sheep before they need to change cutters. The sheep are not docile like commercial breeds of sheep however, and shearer's say they are "wound up tight" and can slip out of the shearer's hold if they get out of position. However the sheep are not mean like other breeds that will try to bite. I try and get helpers that are quiet and work the sheep gently. If the sheep are handled well they come onto the shearing floor fairly calm and don't struggle too much. This year we separated the colored sheep from the light or white ones and sheared them separately. This helped keep the fleeces from getting contaminated with the fibers from a different colored fleece. The sheared fleeces are stored in our barn. 

Now my winter work begins. I take fleeces one at a time and pick off all of the short fibers, vegetative matter and stained parts. The best XX% of the fleeces (grade A Fleeces) are bagged in clean clear plastic bags and sent to spinning customers. See page  Fleece . The grade B fleeces are sent to be made into yarn. See page Lopi Yarn . The grade C fleeces, skirtings and the best of the belly wool is sent for processing into felting batts. See page Felt. The short 2nd cuts and manure tags are put on the garden for mulch.

    The sheep are released as soon as they are sheared and wander down the road to their pastures. This reduces their stress level immediately. I provide tunnel hut shelters in the pastures, well bedded with hay and a full hay feeder placed in front of it. If it is rainy or windy the sheep can eat without going away from the shelter. The sheep will be a bit cold at first but toughen up with in a week. Their skin actually thickens quickly and helps to protect them from the cold. They will grow about 2" of fleece within a month. This is enough fleece to get them through a typical 30 below zero Montana winter with the help of the tunnel hut shelters. The sheep are hardy and I have never yet had any get sick or die from cold as long as they can get out of the rain, snow, wind and can fill their bellies with good quality hay. Their rumens give off heat so as long as they are filled with good hay they are able to stay warm.

In late March we again shear to take off the winter grown fleece that is heavily contaminated with hay. If we did not do this, the old fleece might cott or felt the tips of the new fleece. This would ruin the new fleece which will be harvested in the Fall and is the main clip. These are the photos from our recent Fall shearing. We dodged rain and heavy dew and could only shear 50 to 100 a day as we had to wait for the sheep to dry and the days were short. It took 4 days to get the flock done.

                                     The pickups showed up for the work!


click on these thumbnails to enlarge

group in waiting.jpg (129023 bytes) group of colored.jpg (132020 bytes) group waiting.jpg (97565 bytes) group.jpg (125681 bytes) colored group waiting 4.jpg (85706 bytes)
1226 and friends.jpg (91206 bytes) 1478 moorit badger.jpg (80664 bytes) group in waiting.jpg (129023 bytes) watching 2.jpg (80457 bytes) 1226 and friends.jpg (91206 bytes)
White contemplative ewe.jpg (84850 bytes) patiently waiting.jpg (80723 bytes) moorit ewe watching.jpg (84229 bytes) group.jpg (125681 bytes) white horned and friends.jpg (98828 bytes)
colored group waiting 3.jpg (119302 bytes) colored group waiting.jpg (131161 bytes) colored group.jpg (111891 bytes) colored group waiting 2.jpg (111516 bytes) Light moorit.jpg (106496 bytes)
charlie loading chute 2.jpg (107936 bytes)
Charlie squeezes
sheep into the
charlie stuffing one in the chute.jpg (88973 bytes)
This one needed
help to find the
way into the chute
Charlie runs the gate.jpg (93953 bytes)
Charlie loading
the drenching
the chute boss.jpg (87035 bytes)
Everything is
under control in
Charlie's domain
White girls in chute.jpg (84138 bytes)
A load of white
girls in chute
forcing cone to chute.jpg (98430 bytes) 1169 waiting in chute.jpg (96257 bytes) waiting in the chute.jpg (108851 bytes) blk ewe in shearing chute.jpg (83726 bytes) 1579 doesn't like the looks of it.jpg (89424 bytes)
1579 doesn't
like the looks of it
Emily loading syringe.jpg (51816 bytes) Emily and her tool.jpg (82877 bytes)
Emily with her
syringe at ready
Emily giving shot.jpg (108765 bytes)
Emily giving a
 in the arm
Emily drenching.jpg (88901 bytes)
Emily giving a
dose of wormer
Emily giving shot in chute.jpg (106181 bytes)
Ralph shearing a grey.jpg (89019 bytes) Lance at work.jpg (93796 bytes) 1470 gets fleeced.jpg (85242 bytes)
The view is good.
Lance has one almost done.jpg (82520 bytes) dalmation getting sheared.jpg (106370 bytes)
Ralph shearing and Susan sweaping.jpg (80352 bytes) Ralph shearing.jpg (68924 bytes) Ralph shearing3.jpg (93165 bytes) Ralph shearing2.jpg (95712 bytes) Ralph shearing a grey 2.jpg (98741 bytes)
two shearers at work.jpg (89825 bytes)
Two shearers
Lance working.jpg (86727 bytes) shearing under cover.jpg (93866 bytes) keeping it clean.jpg (77986 bytes)
Spotless shearing
sweeping the shearing floor.jpg (70476 bytes)
sweepers.jpg (69858 bytes)
t's a big job to
keep the shearing
floor clean
sweeping between sheep.jpg (86697 bytes) fresh sheared.jpg (71482 bytes)
Ely looks over
the new haircut.
Susan and sheared lamb.jpg (54900 bytes)
Susan and lamb
The dogs take a break.jpg (59667 bytes)
The dogs take
a break.
Dawn Ann picking up fleece.jpg (74240 bytes)
Dawn Ann
picking up fleece
Skirting table.jpg (108192 bytes)
Skirting table
Fluffing Skirted fleece.jpg (91602 bytes)
Shaking out 2nd
Skirting Fleece.jpg (95500 bytes)
skirting fleece2.jpg (87357 bytes)
sheared white horned.jpg (68851 bytes)
Glad that is over
sheared spotted moorit.jpg (78177 bytes)
What happened?
saddle back sheared close-up.jpg (106715 bytes)
Saddle back
up close
saddle back sheared.jpg (61587 bytes)
Saddle back
rough shorn and pissed.jpg (58948 bytes)
Got Fleece?
sheared.jpg (97696 bytes)
Bad hair day!
had to pee bad.jpg (69809 bytes)
Had to pee real
Ike and Ely.jpg (72429 bytes)
Ely and Ike
Ely and barn.jpg (98178 bytes)
counter.jpg (69076 bytes)
The tally counter
Ralph's new handpiece.jpg (60528 bytes)
Ralph's new
hand piece
Ralpph's tools and felt shearing shoes.jpg (87852 bytes)
Ralph's tools and
his felt shearing
Lance's tool box.jpg (84364 bytes)
Lance's tools
shearing motor.jpg (75633 bytes)
shearing motor
Lance taking down his shearing motor.jpg (61864 bytes)
Taking down the
shearing motor
bagger off to the storeroom.jpg (99366 bytes)
Bagging off fleece.jpg (66517 bytes)
bagging off fleece
Bags of fleece.jpg (78238 bytes)
300+ fleeces

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Tongue River Farm
Tongue River Farm
  5000 CR 4910
 Pomona, MO 65789


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  © Copyright Tongue River Farm, 2002



















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