Shearing 101: What happens?

Having grown up on a working sheep farm, I have witnessed thousands of sheep be sheared safely and professionally each year.

So to counter some of the myths and misconceptions circulating which suggest shearing is cruel and exploitative, I thought I’d document an afternoon in a shearing shed in Lancashire, UK.

The videos and photographs have not been altered/photoshopped so what you see is what happens for yourself.

SHEARING

Here is a video of Luna, my ‘pet sheep’, being clipped.

This is a typical example of how sheep are sheared in the UK.

Seth, our local shearer, completes the task in 54 seconds.  

This may not be the quickest time but notice how the sheep is relaxed and unharmed by the process.

img_3347
The trailer set up

Farmers usually hire skilled and patient shearers who care for the welfare of the sheep – after all it is their livelihood in the shearers’ hands!

If a shearer is careless and unprofessional, word of mouth gets around and so they would not get any business.

No farmer would hire someone who physically abuses their sheep!

Seth (left) and Chris (right) busy shearing

I have yet to encounter a shearer who attempts “fast work without regard for the sheep’s welfare” a claim on PETA’s website.

Possibly because shearers are often from farming backgrounds themselves and so understand the animals they are dealing with.

They shear the sheep as if they are their own, taking extra care and time rather than rushing to “get the most sheep done”.

Sheep often move when being sheared but it is rare that shearers actually cut them.

If the sheep is injured, farmers and shearers work together to treat it immediately.

It is utter nonsense sheep are left to bleed out or shearers quickly do a ‘botch job of the stitching to save wasting time’ – every sheep is cared for on our farm without a time limit!

Shearing sheep also provides farmers with a chance to check their flocks health.

We can clearly identify which sheep is lame/has a bad bag whilst it is being sheared and so mark it with spray so that we can treat it afterwards. 

So shearing sheep helps us identify any health problems the sheep may have and treat it as soon as possible.

img_3358
You can clearly see the bag and feet with this angle

Once sheared, the wool is wrapped.

And this is what freshly sheared sheep and tups look like …

img_3355
Freshly sheared texel tups
img_3351
Freshly sheared ewes

Notice the lack of blood gushing from limbs?!

WOOL WRAPPING 

Here is a video of me showing you how to do it (not my best or quickest attempt but you get the gist).

Below is a before and after photograph of wool wrapping.

img_3359
Before and after

The wool once wrapped goes into wool bags which are then stitched and  labelled so that the British Wool Board knows where the wool has come from and who to pay!

img_3352
Once wrapped, wool gets placed into the bag
img_3348
Once the bag is full it gets stitched up
img_3356
Then we add labels

Nowadays wool does not bring a lot of profit to a farmer, especially after paying the shearers and labourers.

In fact, the average wool cheque prices for 2019/2020 had ‘halved’ due to Covid-19 global market closure, with farmers receiving an average of 32p/kg for their wool.

So the idea that sheep are shorn for ‘monetary motives’ seems bizarre, given the lack of a profit margin within in the wool industry.

The best reward sheep farmers can get from wool is this certificate!

WHY DO FARMERS SHEAR SHEEP?

Sheep farmers shear their sheep usually once a year during the summer months when the temperatures become hot.

They do this because it has great health benefits for their flock, in that shearing:

  • Prevents buildup of manure and urine that can lead to parasitic infection and flystrike- long fleeces are likely to become dirty and drag along the ground.
  • Allows adequate wool regrowth which improve the sheep’s ability to control its body temperature during extreme heat and cold conditions.
  • Creates a clean environment for newborn lambs.
  • Decreases the chance of heat stress.

It is crucial to shear sheep annually for the sake of their health and not to do so would be incredibly cruel and detrimental to the flocks health.

I hope you have found this blog post informative and let me know if you have any more questions about sheep shearing!

Off back outside enjoying their new haircut

Blog Sign Off

#LoveLambWeek

Unsurprisingly for a sheep farmers daughter, Love Lamb Week is my favourite campaign in the farming calendar – here’s why

It’s finally here…  the best campaign in the farming calendar (although as a sheep farmer’s daughter I am a bit bias!).

#LoveLambWeek is an annual campaign promoting the work of British sheep farmers and their efforts in providing the produce on your plates.

With over 65% of the UK’s farmland suited to growing grass (aka unable to grow crops), especially in Upland areas, grazing livestock is the best way of converting natural resources into protein rich lamb.

Grazing plays a key role in shaping and maintaining our iconic countryside and also stores a huge amount of carbon – a win win for everyone!

Swale lambs grazing at 1000ft above sea level

This year’s campaign, running from the 1st – 7th September, is all about celebrating everything that is tasty about sustainable British lamb and the health and wellbeing benefits of eating this red meat.

I’m quite old fashioned in that I like my lamb chops served with roast potatoes, veg and a dollop of homemade mint sauce.

But with recipes for lamb kebabs, herb rubbed steak and pies popping up all over the internet, the versatility of this delicious meat is becoming common knowledge, which is great to see!

Teriyaki Lamb Stir-Fry.jpg
Teriyaki Lamb Stir-Fry

Here’s a link to some awesome lamb recipes from @simplybeeflamb should you wish to expand your tastebuds and cook something new! http://www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk/campaigns/love-lamb-week

But whilst this is a week of celebrating this sustainable protein rich red meat, it is also a week of educating and shattering misconceptions about the production of lamb.

Some of these misconceptions have already surfaced on my social media timeline.

For example, this image.

It shocks me how misleading this image is.

Suggesting that the lamb in the photograph is a few months old is laughable – at most it is 4 days old.

Here is a photograph of a few months old lambs – let’s play spot the difference.

Just a shed full of lambs

Notice how these lambs are much bigger, with broad legs, neat and compact shoulders, have a good width of loin and their tails are not too lean or fat.

These are the kind of lambs, known as finished/fat lambs, that are served on your plate – not the week old cute and cuddly one in the photograph.

But what bugs me more is the misconception that farmers are cruel to their sheep!

The reality is that sheep farmers care too much about their flocks wellbeing and a lot of time and planning goes into producing a lamb!

A short insight into a year of lamb production…..

Autumn If farmers did not care, we would not spend days at an auction ringside, bidding at sheep/tups sales for additional or replacement stock to ensure our flock grows in strength.

Winter If farmers did not care, we would not drag ourselves from our comfy warm beds at 5.30am to scan sheep in the freezing cold morning or go searching in blizzards of snow for lost sheep.

Spring If farmers did not care, we would not tire ourselves out during Lambing time for months on end.

The list of daily jobs include: bottle feeding pet lambs, marking and turning out, bedding up, feeding up, checking outdoor sheep, bringing in any poorly lambs – to name a few.

Oh and of course, lambing sheep!

If farmers did not care, we would not spend hours out in the fields checking on new born lambs and running after them until we are blue in the face trying to catch them so that they could go back inside for some extra TLC.

We also would not free the lambs who get their heads stuck in fences and suffocate themselves, a notorious party trick for horned lambs!

There is always one!

Summer If farmers did not care, we would not spend most of our time maintaining our flocks welfare through daily chores of dosing and foot-trimming (the smelliest job!).

If farmers did not care, we would not work long hours gathering and sorting lambs to go to the auction/abattoir in sweltering hot conditions.

img_2105
In charge of tagging

So, think again before stating farmers do not care as we clearly do! This, in short, is how the lamb on your plate is produced each year.

A final point to mention is that not all lambs are produced solely for meat! For example, on our farm we select Swaledale/Texel  lambs each year in order to improve the quality of our future flock.

For me, #LoveLambWeek is an incredibly important campaign that sheep farmers everywhere need to get behind.

It is time we educate our consumers about the provenance of their meat, rather than leaving it all to Google.

If you are still unsure about eating lamb, ask your local farmer questions and if possible, go and see how lamb is produced.

Support us by buying lamb directly from local butchers or consciously selecting British Lamb at the supermarket.

And finally join in with #LoveLambWeek and promote our hardworking sheep farmers!

Blog Sign Off