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Shearing The BIGGIES

How To Clip Difficult Sheep


By Nathan Griffith

Photos Provided By
Natalie Redding


California sheep breeder Natalie Redding has developed a way to shear large, active sheep.

Redding raises the rare Wensleydale, Teeswater and Gotland breeds of sheep for their luxurious fleeces and mild-flavored lamb. While the Gotland is a manageable size for shearing with standard shearing procedures, the Wensleydales and Teeswaters can be quite a challenge even to experienced shearers. They are “very active on the board,” and local shearers quoted a price of $20 per head to shear them.

An experienced shearer (though less than half the weight of most of her big sheep), Redding began developing a system that was safer for herself and them.

She discovered that if the animal’s head is immobilized, it struggles much less, thereby speeding the process. She estimates that she can shear a Wensleydale ram (averaging 300 lbs., but can go much larger) in about 7-15 minutes if she skirts the fleeces as she goes along and carefully avoids all second cuts that might spoil her chances of winning fleece shows and competitions.

Wensleydales also have a lot of face, head and leg wool and she prefers to let them grow to about a 7-inch staple. The ram in these photos had only a 5-inch staple length, which she said was “much easier” to shear. Redding estimates that she can shear a large Blueface Leicester sheep by this method in about five minutes, due to having no head, belly or leg wool.

Redding turns over the sheep by usual methods. Then the spunky Wensleydales and Teeswaters “really thrash, trying to figure out how to get away. This is almost always a short battle, and one where I just sit on them, avoid their feet hitting me, and wait a minute or so. Once they realize they can’t get their head up, they stop fighting,” Redding says.

It’s important to note that Redding is tall, and this makes this large ram appear smaller in these photos than it really is. She relates this anecdote: “The first year I had Wensleydales I did have a shearer. I warned him about their temperament and he said, ‘Listen honey, I’ve been shearing for over 20 years. I think I can handle them.’ I said, ‘I have no doubt; just letting you know.’ He ended up stabbing himself with the shears a couple of times and it took him three times as long as the Cotswolds. He was breathing very hard and said, ‘Boy, you weren’t kidding…I’ve never seen anything like it!’”

An important point is to keep the sheep’s head pressed backward a bit. Redding advises, “The key is keeping your leg wrapped around their neck. …Also, as you can see in the photos, when I’m doing his chest, I have his neck pushed backward with my heel. It looks unintentional, but is what stabilizes him from getting up.”

Redding has two sets of clippers, one made by Premier and the other by Heiniger. She has been satisfied with the performance of both.

From time to time while shearing, a particularly active sheep may “wake up,” and fight like it had never fought before. Redding says of her sheep, “It is very primal reaction during this awakening. They will then go back to the subdued place they were moments before.” She adds, “I am always paying great attention to where their hooves are, knowing at any minute they can blow up. When they do, I raise the clippers, stay where I’m at, and wait it out. I have noticed that even the most nasty of sheep recognize there is no point in fighting for long.”

In studying these photos one may think the control of the animal’s neck seems over-cautious. Redding replies, “The ram looks so gentle in these pictures, but he is not. …The key to shearing like this (I learned this from dealing with horses), is as long as their neck is extended backward and has weight on it, they can’t really do anything. It looks so serene in the photos, like he isn’t caring. While I have him subdued, I am careful to never take the pressure off his neck area and to try and keep it tipped slightly backward.”

1. Redding opens the belly fleece with the sheep lying on its right side. Gently bringing the sheep's left front leg towards the shearer stretches the belly skin for easier entry into the wool.

1. Redding opens the belly fleece with the sheep lying on its right side. Gently bringing the sheep’s left front leg towards the shearer stretches the belly skin for easier entry into the wool.

2. Having finished the belly, the barrel of the sheep is shorn all the way to the hind leg.

2. Having finished the belly, the barrel of the sheep is shorn all the way to the hind leg.

3. After clipping the sheep's barrel, the hind leg is brought towards the sheep's shoulder to expose and tighten the sheep's hind leg skin. She then clips from the front of the hock to the sheep's backbone area.

3. After clipping the sheep’s barrel, the hind leg is brought towards the sheep’s shoulder to expose and tighten the sheep’s hind leg skin. She then clips from the front of the hock to the sheep’s backbone area.

4. When most of the sheep's left leg is cleaned off, the inside of the leg is trimmed, along with the hamstring area. Clipper comb enters the lower leg wool obliquely (not in a direct line with the Achilles tendon) to avoid cutting the hamstring.

4. When most of the sheep’s left leg is cleaned off, the inside of the leg is trimmed, along with the hamstring area. Clipper comb enters the lower leg wool obliquely (not in a direct line with the Achilles tendon) to avoid cutting the hamstring.

5. As the rump is finished, Redding keeps control of the sheep's head using her left foot. Her right leg is tucked under the sheep's left front leg.

5. As the rump is finished, Redding keeps control of the sheep’s head using her left foot. Her right leg is tucked under the sheep’s left front leg.

6. The sheep still on its right side, its left hind leg pulled forward (out of the way), the inside of the off hind leg is clipped, toe to crotch.

6. The sheep still on its right side, its left hind leg pulled forward (out of the way), the inside of the off hind leg is clipped, toe to crotch.

7. Proceed around the back until the point of the sheep's right hip is reached, about two comb widths past the backbone.

7. Proceed around the back until the point of the sheep’s right hip is reached, about two comb widths past the backbone.

8. Clipping the rest of the sheep's left front leg and shoulder area.

8. Clipping the rest of the sheep’s left front leg and shoulder area.

9. Sheep is turned to nearly square on its back. Right front leg is shorn towards the shoulder area. Pinned sheep's head lessens struggling.

9. Sheep is turned to nearly square on its back. Right front leg is shorn towards the shoulder area. Pinned sheep’s head lessens struggling.

10. The flipping of the sheep is completed, and the rest of its belly and side shorn.

10. The flipping of the sheep is completed, and the rest of its belly and side shorn.

11. Clipping the rest of the 'last side' in the same way as the first side.

11. Clipping the rest of the “last side” in the same way as the first side.

12. Left hand pulls loose skin towards shearer, tightening skin and exposing remaining fleece.

12. Left hand pulls loose skin towards shearer, tightening skin and exposing remaining fleece.

13. Lightly seated against sheep's shoulder, left hand tightens the sheep's skin while shearing the right side neck wool. Note shearer's left foot props the sheep's neck back to tighten its neck skin and diminish struggling.

13. Lightly seated against sheep’s shoulder, left hand tightens the sheep’s skin while shearing the right side neck wool. Note shearer’s left foot props the sheep’s neck back to tighten its neck skin and diminish struggling.

14. Finishing up the jaw, throat and chest.

14. Finishing up the jaw, throat and chest.

15. After trimming the ram's face and testicles, the job is done. In 7 to 15 minutes, Natalie Redding saved a $20 shearing fee, and gained the convenience of shearing at her leisure.

15. After trimming the ram’s face and testicles, the job is done. In 7 to 15 minutes, Natalie Redding saved a $20 shearing fee, and gained the convenience of shearing at her leisure.

Natalie Redding holds a master’s degree in biotechnology and has many years of livestock experience. She and her family produce high-luster wool and high-value animals in a scientific breeding program in “longwool hostile” Southern California. For more info visit her website at: www.namastefarms.com





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