I have never owned any sheep, so I am curious about the timing of shearing. We have a neighbor who has several ewes who now have lambs. The ewes have very long wool and it hangs off of them in long dangling patches like dreads. wool is scattered all over their pasture and is stuck on anything that is taller than the grass.
The poor things are hot and panting and look miserable. Don't most people shear before lambing and then again in the fall? What is the norm?
I am uncertain when Pros do it but we had sheep for a while and would cut the wool in the spring (early April here) and again in fall (August/Sept) - enough to keep them comfortable.
Panting releases heat and the wool coat also helps keep heat out (and in) - acts as a barrier.
I always thought they were more comfortable when shorn but I don't shear my dog who also has a thick coat - I just help nature along when he starts shedding - as I pull the "ready to come out" part of his coat.
But with sheep shearing them also helps keep them more sanitary - keeps the dingle berries from sticking to their butt (as do the cropped tails).
FWIW, I am on the Mississippi Gulf Coast -- much warmer than you, I'm pretty sure; and our shearer from Missouri travels a circuit each Spring. We sheared the first week of April. My ewes lambed in Nov / Dec w/ no problems nursing, but I have Gulf Coast sheep, which are a heritage / landrace breed -- other sheep breeds may be higher maintenance.
I have Katahdins, so no firsthand experience with shearing, but I've attended several courses on flock health/production/etc. recently and yes, shearing before lambing is generally the recommended course of action, though some people will "crutch" and remove the wool from around the hind end and possibly udder of the sheep instead of a full shear at lambing time. And many people do end up shearing again in early fall, as you and Valentina mentioned.
Idaziens is totally right about hair sheep looking mangy when they shed. Mine lose hair in huge clumps. They get itchy and rub up against the inside of the run-in shed, too, so I have this sheep-height mostly-white thick streak of hair stuck to the rough-hewn oak that lines my shed right now.
Sheep in general are not particularly comfortable in the heat, though. Mine are shedding like crazy, but they were still panting and uncomfortable when it hit 80 the other day. They like the cold a lot more. When it gets really hot, I put them in a little side paddock that has a few trees next to it, so they can lie in the shade, and still get the breeze, and they don't feel like they have to follow the horses all over the place and stand in the sun with them :P
"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
Our shearer makes rounds in March, I believe. I didn't use him. I decided that I would buy a pair of hand shears and do it myself, since I only had one adult sheep and two lambs without enough wool to shear yet.
First thing I realized is how easy it is to get a sheep to sit on it's hunches and give up on fighting you. No wonder so many fall prey to predators.
Second thing I realized is that, despite consulting books, videos and friends with sheep, I am NOT a sheep beautician. My poor ewe was very patient through my very clumsy shearing job. Plus, she hadn't been sheared for so long (I had bought her only a few months before) that she had dreads and sand mixed in the wool, all the way down to the skin. That really slowed me down and it came off in clumps in those places.
The good news is that I didn't nick her.
the bad news is that she was so ashamed of my sloppy shearing job that she wanted sunglasses to hide her identity. I kept telling her it would grow out....
I gave up on the sheep project a few months later. I was told that Gulf Coast sheep eat more like goats and would help rid our pastures of some noxious grasses. After trying them for awhile, I can definitely say that that information was not true.
A buyer came for them who had a lovely little flock that she could join. He promised the other sheep wouldn't make fun of her hairdo. His truck was in the shop so he brought his wife's car to transport all three sheep (the babies were grown by this time). He simply put a blanket down in the back seat of the cute little four door sedan and shoved the sheep in. All three were in the sitting position of the back seat. I'm sure it was quite a sight to see on his 20 minute drive home. I also hope his wife didn't kill him for using her car.
So, yeah, hand-shearing on a whim = bad.
“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
We always sheared our sheep in the spring, they tolerated the heat a lot better without the heavy layer of wool. With our 4-H market lambs, they got shorn about monthly, starting mid-May for January lambs. They ate better, had better weight gain for the first of August Fair. They didn't really do much panting with short wool and shade to lay in, even on hot days.
I know folks talk about "natural fibers breathe" and that wool is what the Mid-Eastern folks work in that intense heat. However the clothing wool was worn in layers of airy fabric, not a DENSE mat of heavy wool. The fabric layers allow you to sweat and wick it away, where the sheep can't sweat to begin with, and gets REALLY HOT under that heavy mat of wool.
I think it is poor animal husbandry to not shear wool sheep in the spring and remove the heavy wool layer before summer heat and humidity gets going. If you lamb very early, like the Market Lamb folks do, late Dec, Jan, Feb, then up North we need to crutch them out too, for sanitary reasons. Also lets the lambs find the udder easier.
There does seem to be a LOT of people who want to own sheep, but don't know how, don't have contacts, to get those sheep sheared regularly.
Our sheep, Suffolks, Hamp and Suffolk mixes, NEVER have been good to shear when they are sat down. Guess they never read "How To Shear Sheep" and they fight being sat down, HARD, won't STAY quiet. We have had much better luck doing them standing on the sheep grooming stand. Also easier on YOU, since you are not bent over working on sheep down between your ankles! That bent over work is really a back killer! We use electric clippers, never tried the hand clippers which are WAY TOO POINTY to have around a fighting sheep, for me to choose for shearing! My hand probably wouldn't handle that much work either.
DD picks up a few dollars shearing the odd pet sheep around here, using her 4-H experiences. She has an appointment coming up with combination sheep shearing and showing lessons to the 4-H kid who is new to Market Lambs. Checking with the local 4-H agent to get Sheep Leader names, could find you a pro shearer or a kid who would come do it for you.
It is VERY difficult to find a shearer these days, especially for a small bunch. Most people have to get together with neighbors and fellow sheep peeps to get together enough to get a shearer to come out. My BIL is a very good shearer (and he's in Idaho, near Ashton) but it doesn't pay for them to show up for 2 sheep that take them 10 minutes and they're done. We used to have a hard time getting shearers for 200 ewes, let alone two. It's a lost art and tough to break into if you just went and got a couple lambs and now they are yearlings and need sheared. IME they do OK if they aren't sheared but do best if they are, at least once a year. We lambed in full wool and it was no biggie but summer did bother them.
I think they just need a shearer, not that they're neglectful. Imagine needing a dog groomer and they all say no!
Yes, it was a back killer to shear my ewe by hand. The shearer would only do her if I loaded her up and met him. It was a mess to try to catch him before he went back up north so I opted to buy the cheap hand shears (I was scared of nicking her with the electric ones). I was not going to let my girl suffer all summer long. I agree that unsheared sheep suffer in the heat. My vet has a client with Suffolk sheep here in Florida and you bet they shear them. They also have fans set up in their barn and cement walls, which help keep the animals cool.
Wool sheep are a rare sight down here, except for Gulf Coast Sheep, like the ones I had. They have been around for about 500 years as they came over with the Spanish settlers. They were the premier sheep for Florida up through the 1950s. They survive well on the scrub brush down here and, with regular shearing in the early spring, they do well. Interestingly, they do not have wool on their upper legs or their bellies, which also helps.
The reason my sheep didn't work out was because they did not go after the nusiance weeds I was hoping they would (they eat more like goats than sheep) but only because the plants I'm having trouble with are non-native types.
I re-read what I wrote and didn't want to sound like I was bad-mouthing sheep. I liked mine and I wish it would've worked out. Except for the shearing part. My hands and back were very sore after just one ewe.
“The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Yes, it was a back killer to shear my ewe by hand. I re-read what I wrote and didn't want to sound like I was bad-mouthing sheep. I liked mine and I wish it would've worked out. Except for the shearing part. My hands and back were very sore after just one ewe.
I got sore just reading your experiences! I would much rather clip with a machine than hand shears. Our nicks and cuts were reduced to almost nothing with the sheep on grooming stand instead of sitting them down. But if the sheep don't work out like you need them too, it isn't worth keeping them around. None of ours ate thistles or rough weeds. We don't have any sheep at this time, not enough hours in the day. The kids took care of their own sheep projects, so it wasn't much of MY time going to the sheep. Now I have to do my jobs and what they used to cover in outside chores too. Darn kids grow up too fast!