Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shearing Time!

Last Thursday, we had our sheep sheared!  It was quite exciting.  Even after having Martin Dibble come for the past three years, I am always still awed by how easily, quickly and efficiently he shears sheep!

Martin has been shearing for about 40 years now, starting when he was about 15.  I'm sure he took longer then but each sheep now is sheared in two to three minutes!  We asked him what his daily limit of sheep is and he told us that he'll do about 100 per day.  Well, we're not that big yet but in a couple of years we might be taking up the better portion of a day for Martin!

After watching our video of him shearing SweetPea, you may start to wonder what we pay him for.  Well, Jason and I have both sheared sheep before, using electric sheep shearers though not as nice as Martin's setup, and it took us much closer to an hour for each sheep.  and our fleeces came off with way more second cuts and the sheep were a fair amount bloodier than when Martin is done with them.  If you ever have the chance to attempt to shear a sheep, you will likely also conclude that Martin is worth his weight in gold!

Getting set up to shear was an interesting task.  Our first shearing experience was with some folks who, at the time, had nothing in the way of handling facilities.  We had to catch each sheep in the field.  With Jacobs being known to be more flighty than more commercialized breeds, this made for interesting times.  We learned our lesson then and there but we have to make facilities when we need them now because as yet, we have nothing permanent.  With our sheep barn steadily emptying of a decade's worth of storage, we had enough room in the nice dry barn to make a pen where we could squeeze the sheep into a small enough space to catch them easily without anyone getting hurt.  Our sheep are still flightier, being Jacob sheep, but I think they are less so than their reputation when we use gates and panels and chutes and proper handling techniques.  All of it is worth it in the end for happy sheep and the products they provide us with every year!

This year, we had 24 sheep done.  With an average of just over 2.5 lbs of raw wool per animal and selling two fleeces before even getting home, we still have 59 pounds of raw fleece to sell, process and sell.  None of this included the lambs.  Their wool is not yet long enough to be useful or cause them to overheat as it gets hot in July and August.
After washing, our sheep keep about 80% of that weight, on average, which is a pretty good yield.  That will leave us with about 47 pounds of wool.  If approximately 20 percent of that weight is lost again in the carding and spinning of the wool (dirt, vegetable matter, short fibers, etc.) we will still have nearly 40 pounds of wool yarn.  If it takes, on average depending on the weight and size of them, a pound to make a sweater.  Our sheep could make approximately 40 all-wool sweaters!  So if 59 pounds of wool didn't seem like a lot before, It sure seems like a huge amount now!  As a spinner, I'm looking at my huge pile of wool and thinking "geeze, I'm going to be BUSY this winter!"

If you are a fiber artist of any sort, please let us know if you are interested in purchasing some of our wool in any of it's states between raw and yarn.  Batts for spinning and hand-spun yarn will be available on a limited basis as I can make time for working on them.  As much as I enjoy the art, I have very little time to work on such items.  We should have washed fleeces available after the fourth of July as that will be our washing weekend.  If you absolutely must have a whole fleece before then, let us know and we can probably squeeze in a little bit of washing time.  Raw fleece is $12 per pound, Washed fleece is $20 per pound.  Batts are $4 per 1 ounce batt.  4 ounce skeins of yarn (varying yardage) are $20.  Colors will vary between white, black and all the greys in between.  If you come to the Pullman Market, you can choose from what is available each week.  If you have a particular project in mind, please come talk to Margaret and we will figure out just what you need!  (509) 590-8897 or OmacheFarm@gmail.com.

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