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Any use for fleece with burrs?

2662 Views 18 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  John Hill
I've been doing some shearing...slow going since this is the first time I've done it myself. I've done 7 sheep so far. 26 more to go I think (not sure exactly :) ). Anyways, my dorsets wintered in a pasture with lots of burrs (pasture was undergrazed and not mowed when it should have been). Is there any use for the fleeces that are no good for spinning? Is it any good as a bedding, or does it just absorb bacteria? The wool from their backs is mostly good. Probably not for spinning since I made 2nd and probably 3rd cuts since I'm still learning. Or would it be more trouble than its worth to try to do anything with it? The burrs make shearing difficult and its hard to get a good hold on the skittish yearling ewes when they have burrs all over. I'm finding my neck crook VERY useful! I'll be glad when all the sheep are sheared!
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If the wool is very contaminated it will be a lot of work to pick out he burrs. You could try skirting off the worst and hand picking the rest of the wool. You could compost the burry wool, wool is very high in nitrogen but very slow to break down. I like the leg catch crooks a bit better.
Having a lot of old wool stored and more on the way, I used a bunch as tomato mulch on top of paper feed sacks. It worked great and I intend to use my less than great fleeces that way in the future.
My friend has Dorsets and gives me his spring clip each spring in exchange for doing a spinning demonstration at his annual shearing. I use the skirtings and any unspinnable wool as mulch on the hedges and vines. As noted, it does take a while to break down, but means I don't need to mulch that often!

I've picked apart fleeces if the wool was super-nice and worth salvaging. I guess it depends on how much you like a particular fleece and how much work you're willing to put into it to get it clean. Burrs are devilishly hard to get out -- a few I don't mind, but don't think I'd spend time trying to pick apart a fleece that was full of them!

By the way, if you do have a fleece you need to pick, either wait for the nice weather and do it out of doors or, if you do it inside, put a real long movie into the VCR or DVD, put the bag of wool on one side, an empty bag on the other, and put a cookie sheet in your lap to catch the bits. You'd be surprised how much "stuff" is in even a washed fleece!
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LeahN, it reads like you are having a big task shearing those sheep, do you have the right equipment?
Its not the equipment thats the problem! I have a new Premier 3000s shearing with the proper blades. I'm just new to shearing my own sheep. I'm getting quicker though...the first 2 took me a LONG time and they were the only ones I got done in a day. The other 5 took about the same amout of time as the first 2. So I'm getting the hang of it, and it probably takes 15 minutes now per sheep. Hopefully that 15 minutes will become much less by the time I get to the last sheep!
Thats good LeahN, I hope you are using the 'sit-em-on-their-butt' method. If I can offer a suggestion it is that you should keep the shears really tilted up so that the tips run along the skin. This will help, practially eliminate in fact, 2nd cuts. You avoid cuts (I know you didnt mention these) by rolling the sheep sort of away from you so that the crinkles are well filled out.
Yup! I sit em on their butt. It also helps prevent cuts from wrinked skin since they are heavily pregnant. I'll use your tip about angling the blades. I did cut one ewe on her side...not bad, just a small cut. I also guessing I nicked another ewe near her pinbone, because a few days after shearing, I noticed an abcess. It drained on its own and healed promptly with some Pen-G.
I haven't been out to shear since I did the last 5...I've been helping a friend get some fencing up. I really hope tomorrow I can go out and shear some! I hope to be all done with shearing by next week when I have 17 ewes due. I won't be too big of a deal though if the 3 rams and 8 ewes bred for later don't get done this week.
Also I think part of the problem was a handling problem. The first time I went out without my crook, and when I caught a sheep, since they aren't too tame, it was almost impossible to bring the sheep to the shears to dump her. With my crook, I pick one out that looks like she's close to lambing, catch her, and then with the crook its EASY to get her to the other end of the pen where I have the tarp set up and the blades plugged in. It really cuts the time down and reduces stress when I don't have to chase any!
I'm doing the dorsets first, then the lincolns (hopefully by then I can get a useable fleece!) and then the merino cross and the merino. I'm saving the merinos for last since I know they probably have more skin wrinkles than the other sheep and I should be less likely to cut her after I do 32 other sheep. Then maybe I'll tackle the 2 alpacas! Haha.
I could call the guy who sheared for us last would take him much less time, but I feel shearing is a good skill for me to have, and I'll only get good at it with practice.
Any suggestions for shearing a skinny sheep so I don't cut her backbone? Should I leave the wool a little one along her back? She's a late gestation 8-9 year old lincoln ewe that looks like she's carrying twins (she had twins last year). Its hard to keep her weight up, and I just started taking her out everyday for some extra grain (she's very friendly so she's easy to separate from the rest). She's just an old worm problems and her teeth are ok. She eats the grain just fine, but I think she may not be getting enough when she has to compete with the other sheep for her feed. The other sheep maintain their weight better on more hay and less grain than the old ewe. (I feed generally .5-1lb of corn per ewe to suppliment hay when there is no pasture and they are late pregnancy or lactating...othertimes I don't feed any grain)
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I think the skinny sheep is the hardest to do neatly, she will unavoidably be looking a bit lumpy when you finish her but I guarantee she will not complain.

The tips of your comb should not be sharp, you should be able to run the comb up the inside of your forearm without any qualms. If the points are sharpish you can rub the comb back and forth on some soft wood, pine for instance. If you can run it over your own skin without snagging or cutting yourself you will be able to run it all over the sheep without any concern.

It would be fairly difficult to do a neat job at anything other than a close clip, it must be almost impossible to intentionally leave just some wool on. We used to have special combs for this ('snow combs') but they are real hard work. Which is another point, the wool is easiest to cut right close to the skin, and you keep a close cut by keeping the back of the clippers tilted well up.

Do you have your tarp on a firm surface, like a wooden floor? Have you got someone to clear the wool away as you work?

I wish I was there to help out, maybe we could polish them off in short order. Once upon a time I could do 200 in an eight hour day but that was quite a while ago and of course in best possible conditions and with top level equipment.
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You must be doing a reasonably good job to get through what you have without cutting them up. I would say run the blades flat to the skin and keep the skin taught, or you'll either dig or ride up into the fleece. Setting up your clippers is the hardest part really, getting tension, throw and advance right is not hard but you'd sure notice it done wrong! I would hope whomever sharpens your blades would make sure they are not too pointed but it's a good point to check. New blades are not especially sharp when sold. If I were to suggest anything to improve anyone's shearing its to learn to sharpen blades.
Isn't the equipment used for sharpening electric blades expensive?

Also I'm not too worried if the sheep don't look like they were sheared professionally...I don't show them, so as long as the wool is off, and the lambs suck on the teats instead of the wool, I'm happy (and the sheep couldn't care less!)

Thanks for the advice!

I guess I should qualify it by saying having a good supply of sharp blades "teaches" you what not to do by dulling your blades fast. If you're really cranking down the tension to get them to shear you're not doing it right. That your happy with your work certainly suggests you've got a good approach and that you're doing it mostly right. If you weren't you'd find the dulling effect of poor shearing positively maddening. (and expensive!!!) Being able to sharpen your own blades does teach you alot about what you're doing wrong and your blades will last longer because you're not trying to squeeze one more sheep out of a sharpening. "The" equipment for sharpening sheep cuters and combs would likely be made by Sunbeam or Heinenger and use large grinding discs glued to vertical wheels and a magnetic pendulum holder. I've always had a good raport with the local sheep supply store and while I think they do a first class job (they even let me watch up close) I know my little grinder does a better job with less burr. It's a locally made unit by a fellow who probably has the best reputation for blade sharpening around. (partly because he is totally honest and partly because he takes pride in his work) He sells his unit on E bay ( I bought mine from his wife at an OSMA sheep day) and is very affordable at $250 USD plus shipping. NASCO sells a similar unit but the Huntersharp is a more straight forward machine, and has a bigger motor. It does dog clipper blades as well. Here's a past auction link Past E bay link E mail him about it if you are intersted I'm sure they'll relist.
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Ross, I think I will continue to recommend keeping the equipment tilted well up, only the underside of the comb tips should be on the skin. I have never used electric all-in-one equipment, it has always been overhead driven with a torque tube which tends to rotate the handpiece and with that sort of equipment I learned early on that keeping the lower tip (i.e. the right hand tip) of the comb on the skin make the easiest work and less second cuts.

Yes, sharp gear is essential.

Regarding the disk and glued paper type sharpeners it is important to not confuse the disk for cutters with the disk for combs. One disk is convex, not sure if the other is concave (although I should know!). Does the aluminium disk equipment use paper or an abrasive compound? I have never used one of those. How do you grind the concave on the Huntersharp as it appears to have just the one disk.

I notice the equipment Leah is using is listed on their website as lower speed which I assume will help against premature blade dulling. Cutting air, which is what someone learning is doing most of the time, dulls and overheats the gear.
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I use an electric shaft driven Sunbeam......... probably not very different from what you've used John!! It's an older unit at any rate. Your's wasn't a hand cranked unit was it John?? :p If your cutting with the tip how do you set the advance? The Huntersharp doesn't put that concave in the cutter, which troubled me before I bought it. (If you search the Countryside archives you might find a post where I asked the same question) All I can say is even with that change in the shape the only difference is a very minor (lighter) change in the tension. It uses an abrasive grit system not unike a valve grinder.
Yes, of course it was hand cranked, we have about 46 million sheep in this country and every year the entire population (4 Million) takes a week off their regular work to take their turn at the crank. :haha:

I think all overhead gear here is rigid torque tube, flexible shafts are only used (as far as I know) for minor yard work.

If by advance you mean the distance from the extreme cutter tips to the tip of the comb then that is set by advancing the comb, maximum advance when the cutter is new moving the comb back as the cutter is ground down.

Convexity may be less of an issue with narrow combs? Do your cutters have three or four points ?
I actually have one of those old hand crank units somewhere, what a chore it must have been! Yeah that's what I mean by advance but you should have a little room to move the comb position between sharpenings to use a fresh part of the comb and still have a safe throw. Guess it would depend on the comb you use. I use the four point cutters, and I do hear ya, it should be ground on a convex grinder but they haven't been and it works better than when I get them done at the wool co-op. So I'm going to do what Leah should do, go with what's working!!
As far as I know the only hand cranked units I have ever seen were never intended for sheep but for horses. Sheep in the pre machine days were done with the hand 'blades'. Now you are talking hard work!

We got around the new-bit-of-comb issue by starting with a thin cutter then through the day moving on through the thicker cutters.

I can't remember how often we changed the comb, maybe after four hours.
John Hill said:
Now you are talking hard work!

I did THAT once. NEVER AGAIN! Took me SO long to do half a sheep. Then the professional shearer came and finished her (and the rest of our sheep). My sister just wanted some wool to experiment with felting and didn't want to wait for the shearer. I was curious to see what the hand blades were like.

I had a couple hours today, so I sheared 3 ewes with lambs, wormed 5 ewes, took a splint off a lamb's broken leg and castrated 2 lambs. So I think my shearing time is decreasing if I got all that done in 2 hours. Finally I was able to let my first group of lambs out on pasture. I have 17 or 18 ewes due any day now...if they were bred and settled on the first day the ram was with them, they would be due today. I'm guessing my next wave of lambing will start within the next 24 hours...some look CLOSE. Luckily they are ones I've already sheared:)

John you tip about angling the blade worked better for me. I was able to move faster through the wool. I didn't cut any of the ewes today. I slipped and ALMOST hit her udder with the blade...that could have been a disaster, but it barely touched her udder and didn't cut (PHEW!) I've heard about animals bleeding out from a cut in their udder...I read the other day in a vet book about the procedure of removing an udder and it said to definitely have blood ready for a transfusion. I'm very glad I didn't cut her udder...made my heart race for a few minutes though!
Leah, it sounds like you are doing really well and I hope the rest of the job goes well too.

Another place that is easy to nick her is that little spouty bit she has on her vulva. It might not bleed much but if you nick it she will likely have trouble with a wet tail end and fly strike and other nasty stuff.

It is good that your work is going faster as the sheep will be better for less time on their butts. Any unnatural position for them can be very hard on their internal organs so if any start to really pant and puff while you are shearing them you should either finish off real quick of stand her up for a bit, well thats what I was told once anyway!
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