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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343

Teaching sheep shearing
Teaching sheep shearing

Overdue for shearing
Overdue for shearing

 Recently shorn sheep
Freshly shorn sheep

 Hair x wool lambs
Hair x wool crosses

    You need a hair cut

  • Shearing
    Cutting or shaving the wool off of a sheep is called shearing. Shearing doesn't hurt a sheep. It's just like getting a hair cut. However, shearing requires skill so that the sheep is shorn efficiently and quickly without causing cuts or injury to the sheep or shearer. Most sheep are sheared with electric shears or shearing machines.

    Some sheep are sheared manually with scissors or hand blades. While some farmers shear their own sheep, many hire professional sheep shearers. In many countries, including the United States, there is a growing shortage of qualified sheep shearers. Many states hold annual sheep shearing schools.

    A professional shearer can shear a sheep in less than 2 minutes and will remove the fleece in one piece. The world record for shearing sheep is 839 lambs in 9 hours by Rodney Sutton of New Zealand (2000) and 720 ewes in 9 hours by Darin Forde of New Zealand. The most sheep shorn in an 8 hour period using hand blades is 50 by Janos Marton of Hungary (2003).

    View You Tube video of sheep shearing=>

    Sheep are usually sheared once per year, usually before lambing or in the spring before the onset of warm weather. Sheep with long fleeces are sometimes sheared twice a year. Feeder lambs are sometimes sheared to make them more comfortable during the summer. Shearing prior to lambing results in a cleaner environment for baby lambs. It also keeps the fleeces cleaner.

  • Skirting
    High quality fleeces should be skirted. Skirting is when the undesirable parts of the fleece are removed from the rest of the fleece. Undesirables include bellies, top knots, and tags.

  • New technologies
    Because sheep shearing is so labor-intensive, other technologies are often being explored for more efficient wool removal. Australian scientists created a chemical method of shearing called "bio-clip." With bio-clip, the sheep are injected with a natural protein that causes the wool follicle to break and the fleece to drop off on its own.

    Scientists have developed a shearing table so the shearer doesn't have to hold the sheep. They have also developed a "robot" for shearing.

  • Freshly shorn sheep
    Freshly shorn sheep need protection from the elements. It takes up to six weeks for the fleece to regrow sufficiently to provide effective insulation. Sheared sheep also require more feed to maintain their body temperatures, especially during the winter.

  • Continuous growth
    Sheep grow wool continuously. If they are not sheared at least once a year, they become very stressed and uncomfortable, especially when it is hot and humid. Eventually, the wool will become matted and more difficult to remove.

  • Hair sheep
    Hair sheep do not require shearing because they lack sufficient wool fibers or because their coats naturally shed. However, crosses between hair sheep and wooled breeds need to be sheared. Their fleeces are not desirable because they contain a mixture of hair and wool fibers. The fleeces should be disgarded. It takes anywhere from 1 to 3 generations of crossing to eliminate the need for shearing.

Last updated 27-Jan-2010
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