A common question among the spectators was "Why shear so early in the season when it is still so cold outside?" It turns out there are many reasons to shear before lambing (from A-Z Farm's website):
It keeps the wool clean of straw and manure.
The ewes stay in the warmer areas of the barn for their comfort and that helps the newborn lambs keep warm.
There is no long wool getting in the way for the birth of lambs.
It is easier for the lambs to find their first meal.
If a ewe has long wool and lies down on a lamb, she may not feel it under her, but she would feel the lamb if she does not have the long wool.
It is easier to see the condition of the ewe and increase her feed if needed.
The barn is less humid after shearing.
It is easier to see when she is starting to give birth to her lambs.
Most of the sheep were amazingly calm about the process. Kier explained that careful positioning and working quickly to keep the sheep moving through the various positions keeps them comfortable and minimizes struggling. In fact, it usually took him only a couple minutes to shear one sheep.
Another interesting thing was the clothing worn by Kier. He dressed in layers of cotton and wool to accomadate a variety of temperatures and shearing conditions. His pants were wool army pants, worn not only for warmth and protection, but also to increase friction between his legs and the sheep, reducing the amount of strength needed to manipulate the sheep into various positions. On his feet he wore slipper-like sheepskin shoes.
After being removed from the sheep, the fleece, which weighs from 5 to 10 lbs., was taken to another area of the barn where it was skirted. Any really dirty parts were removed from the edges of each fleece, generally from the area that would have been under the sheep's rear and on the belly. The fleece was then bagged and labeled with the sheep's number. The farm has several different breeds of sheep. Some were more friendly than others.
Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to purchase a couple skeins of yarn spun at a local mill from the farm's wool fleece. We also got some farm fresh eggs in assorted colors.
So despite blizzard conditions, it was a fun and informative outing. Stay tuned next month, as we hope to visit the farm again for lambing!