How to Shear a Sheep with Best Tips for Beginners

It’s important to learn how to sheer a sheep properly. Not only do the sheep need it to survive through the summer heat, but the resulting wool could be a good source of income for the farm. Sheep farmers with high-quality wool breeds such as Merino and Rambouillet should consider selling their wool. 

Make no mistake about it; sheep shearing is hard work. No matter how skilled you are at shearing sheep, the entire process is challenging and takes a toll on the body. If you learn how to shear a sheep the right way, it will go more smoothly.

However, this work isn’t for everybody. It’s labor-intensive. If you find that your back is suffering after every shearing season, or if the number of sheep on your small farm has grown beyond your control, it might be a good idea to hire a professional sheep shearer. They are surprisingly cost-effective and generally charge per head of sheep.

Sheep shearers are good at what they do and make the entire process seamless. If you choose to eventually hire one, it will save you from having to make second cuts if the first go around wasn’t effective. 

Learn how to shear sheep step-by-step to decide if this is something you can handle in-house with your flock.

Consider the Wool Quality

If you are a beginner and have no experience shearing sheep, you should consider if you want to sell the wool. Merino and Rambouillet sheep produce some of the most desirable wool. Other breeds with desirable wool are Blue Faced Leicester, Corriedale, Debouillet and Corno.

The best wool is long. Sheep that produce long fibers, around 3 – 3.5 inches in length, is considered staple length and is more valuable than shorter fibers. Therefore, you may want to begin with your sheep that have shorter wool lengths.

White faced sheep breeds produce white wool which holds dye. Black faced sheep breeds do not hold dye and sell for less per pound. 

To maximize profits for your sheep farm, you want to collect the highest-quality wool possible. It may make sense to hire a professional sheep shearer (they charge per head of sheep) to maximize profits. Another advantage is you can watch and learn from them.

If you have different sheep breeds on your farm, you may want to begin and practice on sheep with less desirable wool. 

Preparations for Sheep Shearing Day

If you are shearing the sheep yourself and have more than a few sheep heads to shear, there’s a good chance that this work will take several days, if not weeks. However, if you are using a professional shearer, it could take just a few hours. Either way, there are some preparations to be made. Most often, farmers shear sheep in the spring. 

Here are some steps you need to take to prepare for sheep shearing day.

Don’t Feed the Animals

Sheep shearing is a physical task requiring the sheep to be contoured into different shapes during the process. It’s, therefore, easier on the sheep if they don’t have a full stomach. That, however, doesn’t mean they need to be hungry (they’ll become too restless that way). You need to feed them a little hay to keep them calm but not too stuffed.

Keep the Animals Dry

Depending on the number of sheep you have on your farm, it’s always advisable to have all the animals sheared in one location. Finding them in faraway pastures on shearing day will waste too much time. It’s best to keep them in a shearing shed or shearing pen where they are not only easily accessible but also kept dry.

Have a Shearing Shed Ready

shearing sheep with electric shears
Shearing sheep with electric shears

The shearing shed should be kept ready for the shearing process. If you use electric clippers instead of hand shears, have the extension cord connected to the power source and functional. The room should be clean, and you should have the boxes or bags meant for collecting the wool ready.

Ensure that the clippers or shears are in good working condition before using them on the animals. Use quality sheep shears designed to remove wool.

If you are using a professional shearer, alert them of any medical conditions such as CL (Caseous lymphadenitis) or other infectious diseases so they can take the necessary precautions.

How to Shear a Sheep for Beginners

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to shear a sheep.

Step 1: Sit the Sheep Down on Its Rump

The very first thing you need to do is to sit the shear sheep down on its rump. Here’s what you need to do to achieve this:

  • Plant your feet wide apart on either side of the sheep’s shoulders
  • Slip your thumb (left thumb) into the sheep’s mouth just behind the incisors and in front of the molars
  • Sharply and firmly twist the sheep’s head back towards its furthest shoulder
  • Using your right hand, push the sheep’s rump towards the ground with the same motion
  • As soon as it starts to sit down, pull its front legs up
  • Sit it down comfortably on its flank
  • Hold its shoulders using your knees

You have successfully sat the sheep down on its rump.

Step 2: Shear Between the Legs and Belly

sheep shearers shearing sheep wool with electric clippers
Shearing sheep wool with electric clippers

There are several sheep shear options you can use at this point. You can use electric shears, blade shears, or scissors. Blade shearing is often quite challenging, but some farmers like it. Either way, shear between the sheep’s legs and belly while it’s in this position.

Once you are done with those parts and are satisfied that you got all the belly wool, put the sheep back on its right hip and let it lean against your legs as you keep supporting its shoulders with your knees.

This position will give you access to the sheep’s left rear leg, hips, tail, and spine. The best way to go about it at this point is to bend your waist. Otherwise, you risk injuring your back.

Step 3: Sit the Sheep up on Its Rump

To get to the sheep’s head and neck, you must sit it straight on its rump. You should step between the sheep’s legs using your right foot to do this. Keep the toes of your feet under the sheep’s flank and lock your knees between its right foreleg and breastbone. Using your right leg still, support its back, so it feels secure in that position and stops struggling.

shearing sheep
Shearing sheep showing the wool and the shorn and unshorn parts of the sheep

Step 4: Lay It Down on Its Right Side

When you are done with the sheep’s head, left shoulder, and neck, it’s time to lay it down on its right side. You must be careful when doing this and ensure that the sheep’s feet do not touch the shearing floor as you turn it. This is because most domestic sheep find this position unnatural and will struggle once they sense that they can regain their footing.

Keeping your right foot where it is, let the sheep down gently (only the front end) and step back using your left foot to support its right shoulder. This ensures that the sheep’s feet don’t touch the ground, resulting in struggling.

Once you have the sheep in this position, use your shearing equipment to make long cuts along its back and side, going as far as you can without needing to roll the sheep.

wool shearing
Wool from shearing

Step 5: Put the Sheep on Its Right Hip

At this point, you need to change the sheep’s neck and head position towards the other shoulder. Simply kick your right foot out and pull it back towards the sheep’s body. Then gently pull its head up while bending its neck towards its left shoulder and hold its head in that position using your legs.

Once the sheep is secure, clean off the remaining wool or fleece from its head, neck, and right shoulder. When shearing these body parts, grab the sheep’s right elbow using your left hand and pull so that the skin is taught as you continue supporting its head and neck with your legs. Gently bend your knees and point your toes in, so they are at an angle just beneath the sheep’s hips.

Step 6: Finish Up

That position will give you a clear view of which body parts still need shearing. If you have done it all correctly, at this point, all you need to shear will be the right leg, rump, and hip.

Once you are done with the single sheep, gently stand the sheared sheep up while supporting it with your hands as it gains its footing. Take a good look at your handy work and decide whether or not you want to shear the rest of the flock yourself or hire a professional shearer to do it. Remember, it takes lots of practice so if you have the patience, you may want to keep at it.

Why Shear Sheep

Shorn sheep are healthy sheep. It’s essential to shear sheep yearly. Some breeds may require it more frequently if their wool grows quickly. While it can be stressful for them, shearing doesn’t hurt sheep. It provides benefits such as:

  • Keeps sheep cool in the summer
  • Prevents them from overheating
  • Reduces parasites such as mites, ticks, lice, and maggots which can cause flystrike
  • Keeps them overall cleaner – less feces, etc.
  • Shearing before lambing can make it easier for the lambs to access the teats and can make it easier to milk sheep

Does Shearing Sheep Hurt Them

Shearing sheep does not hurt the sheep. However, it does cause stress and anxiety for them. Being organized with the workspace and shears, keeping the environment as calm as possible, and using the step-by-step directions to be sure it’s done properly can make things go easier.

Shorn sheep and sheared sheep will look different than sheep with their wool. Being shorn will keep them cooler in the summer and keeps them healthy. How long do sheep live

Here’s a sheep shearing video showing how to shear sheep properly:

Shearing Sheep Tips

It should be noted that the wool industry and the American Sheep Industry Association have strict guidelines on the quality of wool from ewes and lambs in general. If you are raising domesticated sheep for their wool, shearing sheep skills should be at the top of your priority list. Thankfully, you don’t always have to do it yourself.

Many available professional shearers and shearing schools can guide you or even do it for you at a small fee.

Don’t let the excess wool on your sheep go to waste. You can make money from it, but it has to be done right. This guide should help. Even if you intend to use a professional shearer on your farm, it’s always a good idea to learn the shearing process yourself so that you know what’s going on and be capable of doing it yourself should the need arise.

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