Question: When is the best time to shear sheep?
There is no ideal time that applies to every farm, and the decision depends on a number of factors. Other farm activities such as ploughing, sowing or reaping crops. These will interfere with shearing, where the farmer’s attention should be, as this is wool harvesting time. Make sure that there are no clashes.
AVAILABILITY OF LABOUR, OR SHEARING TEAMS
- Properly trained shearers are needed to shear the sheep well and quickly.
- If there are many sheep, the best solution would be to hire a team which would have to be booked in well in advance.
- Using your own labour force for smaller numbers would be acceptable if they are well trained and not required to do other tasks that would interfere with shearing.
SEASON AND WEATHER
- Changeable weather can be dangerous for newly shorn sheep, especially cold accompanied by wind and rain.
- If this is known to be a risk, the specific time is best avoided.
- The farmer has to be ready, in any case, to house the newly shorn sheep in shelters if there’s an unexpected cold snap.
- After 2 weeks the sheep are far less prone to getting a chill.
- It’s preferable for wool sheep to be shorn before the onset of the blowfly season, which starts in November in the summer rainfall areas.
- Other risks include fleece rot, bolo disease and lumpy wool disease.
REPRODUCTIVE STATUS OF THE SHEEP
- It’s best to shear rams before they are mated, provided this is done at least 6 weeks before they are put with the ewes.
- Shearing ewes 4 to 6 weeks before mating can be beneficial as they eat more and will ovulate better, resulting in better pregnancy rates.
- Do not shear ewes immediately after mating, as this can result in significant loss of embryos.
- Alternatively, shear them 6 to 8 weeks before the onset of the lambing season.
- Heavily pregnant ewes, especially those carrying twins, can become cast if they’re also carrying 12 months of wool.
- They could flip over on to their backs when they lie down and be unable to right themselves, and will bloat and die.
- Removing the fleece stimulates them to eat more, and this results in bigger, stronger lambs that are more likely to survive.
- Udders will be bigger and have more milk for the lambs, and the lambs will find the teats more easily.
- Finally, ewes are more sensitive to cold and will protect the lambs better.
- Shearing closer to the date of first lambing can be dangerous as the ewes are susceptible to diseases such as
- Pregnancy Toxaemia and Hypocalcaemia (milk fever).
- Avoid shearing lactating ewes until the lambs are weaned.
- The farmer often does not get extra money for wool on the sheep, so it may be best to shear them before selling them.
- For the same reason, but also because sheep are inclined to eat more after being shorn, sheep entering a feedlot are best shorn first.
- Wool sale prices fluctuate, and shearing is sometimes synchronised with expected peaks in prices, but this doesn’t always work out.
- Another option is to hold the wool until the price is right, but this can cause cash flow problems.
Many farmers shear annually, but others prefer to shear every 8 months, which puts extra demands on management and the setting dates.
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- This article was written by Prof. Gareth Bath and first appeared in Farming SA.