Sheep Shearing Time!

Well, the Ladybug is off on her way to church camp, and I’m not sure if I’m having more trouble right now with the fact that she’s “gone” and out of my reach for the moment or the fact that she’s actually old enough to go. Putting her on that bus really hit me in the gut that she’s turning 9 next month and 9 is half of 18, which means we’re halfway through our home-raising years! (Be still my heart, I can’t breath…) It also means I’m old enough to have a child in 4th grade–and not just figuratively, but I actually have a child in 4th grade! (I may just keel over right here…) How does this happen?!

Sheep Shearing @ Walking in High Cotton {www.walkinginhighcotton.net}In the meantime, here’s a fun post about our sheep shearing 4th of July weekend. (And just for the record–don’t wait until the 4th of July to shear your sheep in Virginia!! We have a never-ending issue with getting a shearer scheduled.) If you homeschool, you should pin this post for your Farm unit or your Easter unit–in case you’re not able to get out and see it live.

My sister, niece, and nephew were in town this year.  Last year we made it public and had a couple drop in guests. This year it was a month later, we had to reschedule twice, and were just desperate to get it done!

We had 15 ewes (that would be the ladies) and 1 ram to be sheared this year. Since we don’t shear lambs their first summer, and we had 20 lambs this year, we had more unsheared than sheared when we were finished! And this year our grass is better than ever and for the most part the sheep all looked in good condition. You can immediately pick out the ewes that are nursing twins, though, they’re always skinnier. Nursing growing twins is hard work!

Step one (after catching a sheep, that is!) is trimming hooves.

Step one (after catching a sheep, that is!) is trimming hooves.

A few fun sheep and wool definitions for you!

WOOL: The fiber coat of sheep when it’s on the sheep.

FLEECE: The fiber coat of sheep, when it’s off the sheep.

FIBER: The outer coat of animals that is used in the production of textile materials–including wool, cashmere, Angora, mohair, and qiviut (that’s the wool from muskoxen–who knew, right?) This could also include hair and felt from buffalo, llamas, alpacas, and any other naturally produced animal hair product re-worked into a textile.

Even though technically these each have different definitions, our experience has been that they’re used fairly interchangeable–which can be confusing at first! {smile}

Then you start shearing by clipping off all the belly wool as "trash."

Then you start shearing by clipping off all the belly wool as “trash.”

SKIRTING: Spreading out a fleece and picking, cutting, or otherwise discarding all the worse chunks and clods of dirt and yuck–usually around the edges. We have also discovered that running a leaf blower over the fleece while spread out pushes a lot of dirt and dust out.

RAW WOOL/FLEECE: Straight off the sheep, no cleaning other than skirting.

LANOLIN: Naturally occurring “grease” in the wool that needs to be removed before the wool is used for any type of textile. (Breastfeeding mommas are familiar with lanolin products!) When you touch the inside of a raw fleece (the inside being the side that’s close to the sheep’s body) you can feel the grease in the fiber.

Shearing followed a careful pattern to make the nicest fleece, with long, even strokes.

Shearing followed a careful pattern to make the nicest fleece, with long, even strokes.

After skirting, your wool is ready to start the washing process. This is the point at which we send it to the mill. They wash it, pick it, card it, and then either put it aside as roving, or spin it on machines into yarn. 

ROVING: The “cotton candy” like, super-soft product after all the fibers have been cleaned, “picked” to separate them, and “carded” to align, smooth and stretch them. Roving can be natural colored or dyed. Roving is what a hand-spinner uses on a spinning wheel to make yarn.

SPINNING: Spinning is taking the roving fibers and twisting them into threads, then the threads are twisted together into yarn. The “ply” of yarn is how many spun threads are twisted together to make each strand.

FELTING: Felt is a matted wool product, created naturally if wool is agitated in hot water. If you’ve ever shrunk a wool sweater in the wash, that’s the natural felting process at work. Felting can refer to the process of creating felt from fleeces, or it also refers to the craft of producing something from the felt–like felting stuffed animals or accessories for clothing.

You can see the difference between the weathered outside wool and the creamy, clean inside wool.

You can see the difference between the weathered outside wool and the creamy, clean inside wool.

Now all the washing, picking, carding, and spinning used to be done at home by farm families (and still is by some amazing folks!). We choose to take ours to a local mill (next County over–how’s that for luck? We have better access to a mill than to a shearer!) for a lot of reasons–not the least of which is that I don’t have time to do it!

But we’re also looking forward to saving some of our raw fleeces to go through the washing and spinning process a few times with the munchkins as yet another learning experience. I think this would be an amazing activity to add to any home study of farming or colonial times. All you would need to do is find a producer and ask to buy a half or whole raw fleece–they might not even charge you for it if wool is only a secondary product for them. I know folks who only raise sheep for training their collies and throw the fleeces away every year!

Those long back cuts are what helps the fleece hold together in generally one large piece when you're done shearing.

Those long back cuts are what helps the fleece hold together in generally one large piece when you’re done shearing.

You’ll find quite a few links on my Fiber Arts Pinterest Board. And here’s some tutorials for home-processing wool:

Oh yeah, and everything is on YouTube these days. I found at least 10 hand spinning tutorials in 2 minutes!

Her friends are all like "Hey, what happen to you?"

Her friends are all like “That’s what we’re in for? They ain’t catching me!”

And if you’re a book person like me, well, here’s some titles in our Homestead Library

Shearing time is a hot, sweaty part of farming--but it's also a lot of fun!

Shearing time is a hot, sweaty part of farming–but it’s also a lot of fun!

If you have any questions–email me! Wool is a secondary product for us, but one that we’re hoping to focus on more in the next couple years, so I’m in full-blown research mode lately! {smile}

Are you a handspinner or fiber artist? Or do you just call yourself “crafty” and leave it at that, like me? 

See where I’m sharing this week…

boots button

 


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