Sheep shearing day January 26

We shear the sheep once a year, usually in January. Why, people ask, do you shear off their wool in the winter? Don’t they freeze? Traditionally sheep are shorn in the spring before they are turned out to pasture to have their lambs. This makes them more comfortable and eliminates problems with flies laying eggs in soiled wool.

I have the sheep shorn in January about two weeks before lambing. Most breeds of sheep are seasonal breeders. I remove the rams no later than July 15 and put them back in about September 15th for winter lambing. Gestation is five months.

The first lambs usually arrive the second week of February. By shearing the ewes two weeks before they lamb and moving them into an insulated lambing barn,the lambs get a better start. The first thing I do is put down a lot of straw. The sheep eat some but mostly lay on it and pack it down. It doesn’t take long for the manure pack to begin generating heat. It’s a natural form of in-floor heat. The ewes cuddle together to keep warm. When the lambs are born they cuddle up to their moms. If the moms had long wool they would be warm but the lambs couldn’t snuggle up. Also, within minutes of being born, the lambs try to nurse. Shorn ewes do not have wool tags that the lambs could mistake for a teat. It gives them a better chance of surviving if they get milk right away.

Lambs are usually ready to be weaned in about two months. Weaning time is stressful for the lambs. I usually move the ewes out of the lambing barn and leave the lambs in their familiar surroundings. Also I don’t like to send lambs out to pasture with the ewes as we have coyotes who roam the nearby woods. They don’t seem to bother the big sheep but won’t hesitate to take a small lamb.

Finally I like winter lambing because it makes me think of spring. Sure I am frequently in the barn in the middle of a subzero night assisting a mom giving birth or helping a wobbly lamb start nursing. More than once I have brought a struggling lamb into the house to get it warmed up.

It’s all part of farming. Shearing day signals the beginning of a new season. Curious? Contact me for details. Mr. Ed

20130108-205014.jpg These white face sheep are North Country Border Cheviots.

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