Be Nice to Your Sheep Shearer
This article first appeared in The Working Border Collie, Inc. in May/June 1995
by Mike Neary
Extension Sheep Specialist
No question, shearing sheep is a physically demanding job. No wonder then that as sheep numbers have declined, so have the number of sheep shearers. So, if you are lucky enough to have a good shearer; keep him (or her). This article will outline several things; how to get a shearer, what you should expect of a shearer and what your shearer should expect of you.
Getting Someone to Shear
For people with small flocks or who live in an area with few sheep or shearers, just getting someone to shear can be a real problem. Many shearers cannot justify the time to travel and set-up their equipment to shear a small flock. Keep in mind a small flock (as defined by a shearer) would be less than 50 head. An experienced shearer, depending on conditions, can shear from 12 to 20 sheep per hour. Thus if you have 15 sheep to shear, you can't blame a shearer for not wanting to travel several hours round trip for one hour's worth of work and pay.
So what are some options for small flock owners to get their sheep shorn? There are several that should be considered and they include:
1) Hauling your sheep to a shearer's farm to have them shorn. This cuts down his travel and set-up time and makes it more worthwhile for him to shear small numbers of sheep.
2) Going together with other small flock owners in your area to schedule a "shearing day". This could either be at a central location, such as a fairgrounds or at each individual's farm. However, this does require some coordination, planning and organizing.
3) Pay your shearer extra to justify the travel and set-up costs. This could be a mileage fee, a set-up fee or a trip cost. Some shearers I know will charge a minimum fee just to come to the farm (for small flocks), plus a per head charge to shear.
4) Learn to shear. Not an option for the faint-of-heart or the weak-of-back. However, there are shearing schools held all over the country, either sponsored by sheep organizations or your extension service. We hold one annually at Purdue University in July.
Your Responsibilities at Shearing Time
Assuming you have successfully contracted a shearer to come to your farm, there are some common courtesies expected. Such as:
Be there at the agreed upon time.
Have the sheep up and ready to be shorn.
Make sure the sheep are dry (Put in a dry, unbedded barn the night before if it is dewy or looks like rain).
Have someone there to help. This may include catching sheep, sacking wool, sweeping the floor, running errands, etc.
DO NOT trim feet, worm sheep, etc. at shearing time unless agreed to in advance by the shearer. This is very time consuming and is rude to the shearer. Most shearers are there to shear and like to get on with the job. Some shearers will worm your sheep and trim feet at shearing time; for a fee. Ask in advance.
Call your shearer as soon as some unforeseen event happens toprevent shearing. Such as, your sheep get wet and cannot be shorn.
Keep dogs away from the shearing floor. If you use dogs to fill pens and move sheep, try to keep them out of sight of the actual sheep being shorn. They can cause that sheep to fight and kick more than usual. Your shearer may be too polite to say anything, but they will notbe pleased.
Periodically offer the shearer a beverage (esp. if hot) and lunch if it is appropriate.
Pay the shearer when the job is complete. He is a shearer, not a banker.
Good shearers can be hard to find. Especially, if you have a small flock. You may have to be a bit creative in contracting the services of a shearer. If you do have or get a good one, "Be Nice to Your Sheep Shearer". They will likely be willing to return to shear for you again.