MORRISVILLE, N.Y. — Shearing day at a sheep farm is one of the most important days at the farm, and it begins this time of year across Central New York. Depending on the breed of sheep and the growth of their wool, it can happen once a year, twice a year or – in a few cases – not at all. During shearing, sheep are clipped of their winter wool as it is not needed in the summer months. If the wool is left unclipped, it can be very heavy and can trap moisture against the skin of the sheep causing unwanted bacteria.
Here is a look at the process and why it is so important:
The shearer, or the person clipping the wool, gets organized and set-up as the sheep quietly wait in a holding pen for their turn. The shearer then oils the clippers, so they are quiet, smooth and ready to operate, then the first sheep is brought into the pen. The shearer is a highly trained professional that uses their legs and feet to gently move the sheep into six different positions to carefully run the clipper over the body and to seamlessly remove the wool. The sheep are not harmed in any way as the shearer moves them around to finish their job. It is a quick process, and much care is taken while getting it done quickly so the sheep can return to their flock. Cornell Small Farms Program (New Videos Teach Sheep Shearing – Cornell Small Farms) goes into great detail on the positions that a professional shearer uses to handle the sheep in a safe and humane way. It also shows how to handle the clippers to make easy cuts on the fiber.
Some people wonder just how well trained a shearer is and how someone gets into this line of work. A typical professional shearer goes to a specialty shearing school (such as the American Sheep Shearers Council), which typically offers weeklong programs. The programs are hands on learning experiences that include humane handling of sheep and use of shearing equipment to reduce the time handling the sheep. New shearers often move from an education program to an apprenticeship in order to work with a seasoned professional shearer and to gain more field experience before starting their own shearing business.
Some misconceptions of shearing and that it is inhumane and unhealthy for the sheep. However, shearing the wool is a humane process and is incredibly important for their long-term health and wellbeing. If the winter wool is not removed, the wool can start to weigh on the skin and cause discomfort. For perspective, think of what it would feel like to wear a heavy, thick winter coat all summer long!
According to MSU Extension ( The benefits of shearing before lambing – Sheep & Goats (msu.edu), certain breeds of sheep have especially heavy wool with weights of 13 to 15 pounds per sheep in one year of growth. Beyond the concern of carrying a hot and heavy wool coat, if the wool is not removed, dirt and other undesirable particles can be trapped in the wool creating a microclimate of bacteria that could endanger the sheep. Imagine having some itchy dirt and sand stuck under your winter coat! Some farmers shear the ewes (female sheep) just before they have their lambs to provide a cleaner environment for the lambs to be born into. This is another step in good animal welfare as it reduces the potential for bad bacteria to be passed to a newborn resulting in a sick lamb.
Once the sheep are shorn and clean of their winter coats, they typically receive spring vaccinations and worming as directed by the farm veterinarian. After that, they are all ready for the warm summer months ahead! Shearing is amazing to watch and a key part of sheep health and welfare. To learn more, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County has a wonderful in-depth shearing video provided by Ridgeway Farms. It is located on the CCE Madison YouTube page (Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County – YouTube). For more information about shearing or sheep in general, please visit Home – American Sheep Industry Association (sheepusa.org) and The benefits of shearing before lambing – Sheep & Goats (msu.edu). New Videos Teach Sheep Shearing – Cornell Small Farms, shows the shearing positions in more detail.
For more information on all things Ag please visit our website at www.madisoncountycce.org, like us on Facebook at CCEMadison or give us a call at 315-684-3001 M-F 8am-4pm.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Madison County
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