Washing sheep prior to shearing?

Discussion in 'Sheep' started by Maria, Apr 29, 2009.

  1. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

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    Do any of you wash your sheep a week or two before you shear them? I've been reading a bit trying to find out more about this "yolk" stuff that my sheep have in overabundance. Some old publications I read indicate that washing sheep before shearing used to be common practice, but that farmers wanted to wait a while before shearing so the yolk would build up again.

    They'd get better prices for the wool, you see, if it washed- but washed wool didn't weigh as much because there was less yolk.

    I'm wondering if maybe I wash the sheep good next year, then maybe they won't have so much yolk and the shears won't get gummed up so bad. Has anyone else tried this?
     
  2. John Hill

    John Hill Grand Master

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    Maria, as far as I know the yoke is lanolin? I have seen fleeces so heavy with it that it hangs together and would make a nice floor mat right off the sheep's back!

    I usually shore sheep at the height of summer and the sheep were always crammed together in pens for some time before shearing, several hours or maybe overnight which meant they were quite warm and cosy. Being hot I think made the lanolin less of an issue. Whatever the condition of the fleece the few millimetres closest to the skin is the cleanest of all and that is where you should be cutting.

    If your shears are getting gummed up I assume that is crud building up underneath? If so the problem will be less if you can keep the back of the clippers up so that only the tips of the combs touch the skin, this is also the position that will cut closest to the skin and I believe least likely to cut the hide. Having hot boiling water to pour over the shears may help to clean them but this might be impractical for electric shears.

    John
     

  3. Ronney

    Ronney Well-Known Member

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    Maria, I can't imagine NZ'ers washing 44 million sheep before shearing:) It's just not an option.

    Who is shearing your sheep - yourself with handshears or a professional shearer with a handpiece? If your using handshears it is that much harder to get close to the skin and under the yolk and even a handpiece will get gummed up with the lanolin. Next year, leave your sheep for another 6 weeks or so before shearing by which time the wool will be on the rise and you won't have the same problem.

    Cheers,
    Ronnie
     
  4. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

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    We are shearing the sheep ourselves, using this clipper set http://cgi.ebay.com/NEW-320W-SHEEP-...5|66:2|65:12|39:1|240:1318|301:1|293:1|294:50 we got on Ebay.

    I've sheared exactly 4 Shetland sheep now, and the first one (the ram) had practically no yolk and was relatively easy to shear. All three ewes were extremely difficult to shear and even when going right next to the skin, I had to go really, really slow to avoid pulling the skin with the wool and cutting them. The yolk gummed up on the thingy that is right above the blades and on the last (and worst) ewe I was having to spray lubricant on the blades every few minutes over the hour or more it took me to shear her.

    I can't really wait much longer than I did. It was in the mid 80's (~29C) on the day I sheared the last one and she was really panting the day before. And rubbing constantly on things, trying to get the wool to shed. This is my first year with sheep, and I'd wanted to wait until May so they'd be cooler during the summer months- but they started shedding on their own so I had to act.

    I've read that overfed sheep have more yolk- but mine eat only grass so I don't see how I can regulate that. I was just wondering if maybe washing them with warm water a week or two ahead of time might get some of that excess yolk out and make shearing easier. It'll be 6 sheep next year, and shouldn't be that hard.
     
  5. RiverPines

    RiverPines Well-Known Member

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    It sounds to me like your blades went dull after the first sheep.
    Are you using a high quality blade set?
    The quality and proper oiling of the blades makes a big difference in the cut.
    You should be able to cut through like butter!
    Lanolin doesn't gunk blades, it lubes them.
    It gunks around the blades and that shouldn't be an issue.
     
  6. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

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    The ram has a completely different texture wool than the ewes. The ram has two lengths- the under and outer protective coat while the ewes are all single coated (I think it's called).

    The ewes have super fine wool and it seems much more densely packed than the ram's. I think the yolk isn't able to move out down the hair shafts because of this, and just builds up at skin level. Some places are incredibly dense.

    The ram came out of the shearing looking OK. The ewes look kinda rat chewed.
    Every time I'd hit a super dense patch it was really hard to get all the way to the skin.

    Maybe I should shear my dog and see if the clippers really are dull.... ;)
     
  7. John Hill

    John Hill Grand Master

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    Maria, if you have been shearing for hours you can be sure at least the cutter (the moving blade) is dull and I expect the comb is too (thats the fixed blade).


    If you are shearing to the pattern we use here (sheep sitting on her butt method) you really dont ever need to cut down through the wool to reach the skin, you start at the brisket and from then on every cut is adjoining a previous one.

    There are just so many things that combine to make it really, really hard for a beginner to shear even 'good' sheep. But it does get easier, or at least not quite so hard!
     
  8. Ronney

    Ronney Well-Known Member

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    Maria, I'm glad John came back on - he's the shearer:) And while I've seen literally 1,000's of sheep being shorn, it is still an art form and one that I can't even begin to aspire to. I think John has given you a good answer to your problem.

    John, how effective do you think these little shearing handpieces are? I'm used to the sort of gear that you would have used which is quite substantial by comparison - and of course the wider combs. Maria doesn't mention the breed of sheep but her ewe fleece sounds similar to Arapawa or Merino. I have several cross bred ewes with Arapawa in them and my shearer curses them because of their Merino background. Not only do they come complete with wrinkles around the neck, they have very soft skin and a fine, dense wool and are hard work for the combs that he has which are more suited to open fleece. I am wondering if this little machine of Maria's isn't up to the task?

    Cheers,
    Ronnie
     
  9. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

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    They are Shetland sheep- quite little. The person I bought them from said she didn't like electric shears and always hand sheared them. I didn't question that at the time- but she probably had as much trouble shearing these as I am having.

    I was hoping the RPMs and wattage of the clipper set I got on Ebay meant they'd be as good as higher priced clippers/shears I've seen here in the US. But maybe that's not so. :( I looked again at the shears last night (no I haven't cleaned them up yet) and the gunk was built up between the shear teeth (combs?) , on both the upper and lower blades. That shouldn't have made a difference in actual cutting efficiency, I'd have thought, but it did.
     
  10. RiverPines

    RiverPines Well-Known Member

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    Watts only tells you how much electricity the appliance sucks. Using a lot of juice doesnt mean better product, often its the opposite.
    RPM's just mean how many rotations of the motor and that doesnt tell you how many strokes that blade is taking per minute which matters more than RPM's.

    I use Shearmaster. 150 watts and 3k strokes per minute. They are great. I also use titanium blades. The job can only be as good as the tool your using.
    A knife that dulls easily wont do as good of a job as a quality knife that holds a razor edge.
    Example, serrated knifes rip and dont really cut anything. A good high carbon well sharped knife clean slices and if sharpened well, you can shave with it! Big difference if you do a lot of butchering and need good knives.
    Same with shearing....good job needs a good clipper and quality blades that hold their edge.

    I am not saying you have low quality clippers or blades. I cant know since I cant even look at them and have no info about them.
    Just explaining the need for good tools for a good job. :)
     
  11. LibertyWool

    LibertyWool Well-Known Member

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    I'm by no means a shearing expert, not even good at it. In my very limited experience, I do find that the buildup of lanolin and dirt on the bottom of the comb does make it harder to shear. I will clean that in-between each sheep. Also, dirt will really dull the blades fast. I have a bit of a mud problem in spring and on some I may have to change the cutter and comb after each sheep or every other sheep. You also have to watch the tension on the cutter. To tight and the blades will dull quickly. Too loose and it will not cut.

    I hope that helps....
     
  12. John Hill

    John Hill Grand Master

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    ummmm... I am not really a shearer but I shore a lot while at school, a few thousand I suppose. My father, his brothers and my brothers were all shearers in the 250 per day class, I was never that fast, 100+ but 200 or so for lambs especially if I had a 'catcher'.


    I am not sure if "art" is the word but perhaps it is, so many things about it become so much easier once the shearer gains a little skill and of course if you are a teenager once you have the knack you can keep at it all day.

    Thanks Ross.

    You have Arapawa? I thought that was a goat thing? I can see Arapawa island (almost) on a good day from here!
    It is normal for shearers to curse, it is an essential part of the "art" :D

    I feel the little electric shears are another of those things that while they might do an acceptable job in the hands of an expert they are just another thing that makes it very difficult for a beginner to acquire the craft. However my brother recently said not to underestimate the good ones available nowadays.

    I dont doubt that some types of combs are better than others for a particular fleece but I am afraid I never had enough experience of variety to add anything really useful regarding choice of combs and cutter, except of course that they must be sharp.

    Regarding gunk build up, one of the systems we used had a "hit and miss" engine that produced gallons of boiling water throughout the day and it was not unknown to dunk the handpiece into the boiling water when a clean up was required. Many places had a stiff floor scrub brush nailed, bristles up, to a plank which the shearer put his foot on when giving the bottom of the handpiece a quick scrub. I dont recall gunk build up on the top (cutter) so obviously your condition Maria may be quite different to what I experienced.

    It was our practice to have a lot of combs and a lot of cutters clean, sharp and ready for each day, the cutter was changed more frequently than the comb and I suspect they were often changed as an excuse to give the shearer's back a rest! If I recall correctly the cutter, would not have been used for more than a half hour, OK that might have been 10 or 20 sheep
    but as far as I know the cutters last about as long regardless of the skill of the shearer, perhaps on a slower or lower powered machine maybe less.

    Riverpines, I dont understand how RPM does not equate to strokes per minute. 150 watts is about 1/5 of a horsepower, if you say they are great I believe you though I would have never thought that was enough power for a practical shearing handpiece. I dont have any experience of titanium blades, can you sharpen them yourself? I think you are quite right regarding the importance of good tools.


    LibertyWool, regarding buildup on the bottom of the comb, yes it sure does make it hard to 'push'. I wonder, do you use a style where only the tips are on the skin? I was told early on that failure to keep the back of the handpiece up (i.e. sliding the comb over the hide) would cause uneven cuts and gunge build up. For sure you are right about dirt dulling the combs and cutters, I think in Australia where sand is common in fleeces the combs and cutters last only about half as long as they do in NZ where most sheep spend their lives on clean pasture. Dirt is another reason to cut close to the skin where the fleece is cleanest and to avoid second cuts.


    BTW, when the handpiece is in good order and the comb and cutter sharp you should get a 'smooth as a baby's bum' finish in a single pass. If you get a sort of 'mackeral' effect on the shorn area the gear is dull. We would usually only tighten the cutter tension enough to cut when the cutter was first put on then when the 'mackeral' effect began to show we would give just a little more tension, finish that sheep and then change the cutter.

    I know having a lot of combs and cutters is expensive but I am sure screwing the tension down to struggle on with a dull cutter will shorten the life of the cutter and probably the comb too while putting more load than necessary on whatever is driving the device.
     
  13. LibertyWool

    LibertyWool Well-Known Member

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    John, Thanks! I'll be sure to try and keep the back of the handpeice up on the rams (I'm glad that is all I have left). I think I'm going to shear in fall instead of spring this coming season. I think it will be better for me and the sheep (Less hay chaff in the head/neck, no mudd on the legs/chest plate). My sheep are Cotswold X Romney, so they will have decent wool length by then....