Well, things are going easier with the sheep shearing this year. Last year it took me more than an hour to shear each sheep. This year it’s taking me between 20 to 40 minutes per sheep! Why’s that, you ask? Well, I’m a beginner and there are a lot of different factors that go into shearing, but the issues that have been mattering most to me have been sharpness of combs and cutters and the shearing moves (how you hold the sheep against your body to keep the skin taught and make sure they feel secure to minimize them struggling). My hand technique is okay, but I’ve really been having a hard time with the aforementioned issues.
I purchased combs and cutters from Premier 1 prior to the 2016 shearing season, and when I went to shear the sheep, it was arduous. I thought it was just because I didn’t know what I was doing, which I didn’t. I sheared all the sheep before the April shearing workshop because I needed to get the wool off. (It was so hot!) When I got to the workshop, the shearer found that my combs and cutters were dull – he even tried them on his machine – and that they were dull before I even sheared my sheep that year. I also learned that I could shear a sheep in under 15 minutes, learning as I went.
Let Operation “Comb and Cutter Sharpening” commence. Around lambing season this year, I sent the combs and cutters back off to Premier 1 for a double grind on their lapping machine. When I got them back, same problem; wouldn’t cut the fine wool of my flock.
Enter nice, retired gentleman from Ocala who had never sharpened combs and cutters, but was used to sharpening clipper blades and knives. We had a good discussion about the shortcomings of lapping machines and agreed that some metal needed to come off of the combs and cutters on his grinding wheel. Anyways, to make a long story short, the pilgrimage back and forth between Ocala twice in one week paid off and the combs and cutters sliced through our wool like melted butter. We will have only this gentleman sharpen our combs and cutters in the future. He did a fabulous job!
I know a good shearer should be able to shear an entire sheep in around two to five minutes, but this skill takes TIME to learn, and I’ve only got nine sheep to learn on this year. I also don’t have the strength of an experienced shearer, nor the stamina. If I could get it down to a regular 15 minutes per sheep, I will say I have succeeded as a shearer/shepherdess.
The best part of this saga is that my husband’s PTSD from shearing last year has been replaced with comments ranging from “I guess you can keep the sheep”, to “I guess you could breed again in a couple of years”, to “turns out I AM available to help you shear now that it is averaging out to 15 to 30 minutes per sheep”. I was almost sure my shepherdess days were over! Thank God for sharp combs and cutters!