Some of the most popular questions I receive are: Do we shear the sheep? Why do we shear the sheep? When do we shear the sheep? How do we shear the sheep? And what do we do with the fleeces?
Most sheep do not have the ability to shed like your dog. If they are not shorn the fleece will continue to grow becoming felted and heavy, posing potential health risks like fly strike which is very unpleasant for the sheep and shepherd alike. The time of year and the number of times a year sheep are shorn is dependent on many things like the producers’ purpose of production, fiber length needed for the targeted market, the breed, the geological location and timing of the markets demand, to name a few.
Here at NCF Squam Farm we time things a bit differently than most producers. Our top priority is land management instead of selling at markets. We time events such as lambing and shearing around where the sheep need to be for optimal grazing effectiveness. So we shear between the end of March and the first of April. This is a few weeks before lambing is due to start. This helps the ewes be more comfortable in late gestation; losing 10 pounds while carrying twins is quit a relief! It makes for a much cleaner birth and makes it easier and cleaner for lambs to nurse. The ewes are more in tune with weather conditions when it comes to their newborns’ needs. Shearing before lambing time also improves the value of the wool. Normally, the stress of lambing causes a small break in the wool fiber. If this break is at the end of the fiber because the ewe was shorn close to lambing, it doesn’t reduce the value of the wool. If the ewes are shorn after lambing, this break also poses challenges to the shearer along with making the fiber less useful.
I know your next thought is: won’t the sheep be cold that time of year? Especially this year! The answer is yes and no. Sheep are at more health risk when freshly shorn on hot summer days, believe it or not. They are more prone to having heat stroke and damaging sun burn from losing their fleece than having negative health effects from being a little chilly. Their internal furnace works much better than their air conditioner. I will provide them with fields where they can get out of the wind and a little extra feed to aid in keeping them comfortable in inclement weather.
I do not shear the sheep myself. Sheep shearing is a specialized skill that takes years of practice and is very physically challenging. We are lucky to have an excellent on island sheep shearer Eric Shoemaker. Thanks Eric!!
What do we do with the fleeces? Some of the fleece we have processed into different yarns and roving at Twist of Fate Spinnery, a small family run spinnery in CT.
Those products you can purchase at Flock, The Cranberry Festival or through the NCF office – just give us a call (508) 228-2884. Some of the yarn will be woven into blankets and sold at Nantucket Looms on Main St. The rest of the fleeces are purchased by the RH Lindsey Company, a wool merchant company in Boston. The funds raised from selling the fleece help support the NCF sheep program, particularly expenses such as feed.