Shearing Sheep in Sweden

Our guest author/artist today is Zara Tuulikki Rooke.  She shared with me the fact that April was time for shearing her sheep.  So, I invited her to write about it so that we can all experience it since most of us don’t have the opportunity to see it first hand.

Winter is finally giving way to spring, also in the north of Sweden. Or at least, we hope so. Yesterday all the snow almost melted away, and today it has snowed heavily all day… It´s what we call typical April-weather. In any case, the lambs are expected in about four weeks, which means it´s time for shearing. Apart from getting rid of the thick winter fleece before summer, it´s good to shear the sheep before the lambing starts. It makes it a lot easier to see what condition the sheep are in and to follow the lambing in case there are any complications. It is also more hygienic and easier for the lambs to suckle. We only have one ram and four ewes, of which three are expecting lambs and one was born here last spring (you can see the family resemblance between mother and daughter below). But we synchronize our shearing with a neighbour and bring in a professional shearer (Carina Jälkentalo). And that is what this post is about.

Photo 1

In Sweden it´s common to use what is called a “shearing stool.” It´s a platform that can be easily raised with a contraption where the sheep´s head is secured. First you shear the head and neck, then the front and shoulders, and then along the back of the sheep. After that, the platform is raised (to a better working-level), and you continue shearing each side, and finally the belly and legs. The model below is Citronella, the most social of my ewes, and she just calmly stood there during the whole process.

Photo 2

Citronella even got a kiss on her muzzle for being such a good sheep. That´s what I really like about Carina – she always takes the time to talk to and interact with the animals, which is reassuring for both sheep and sheep-owners. And after the shearing they also get a manicure (hoof-clipping), which is often needed after spending much of the winter on a soft straw bed. Citronella´s daughter Stjärna (which means Star) does not like being separated from her mother, but was given some extra attention by one of my daughters.

And who wouldn’t give a little bleat if you got your private parts sheared…?!

Photo 3

Next up was Brittis, my shy sheep with shiny, white locks. All my ewes are cross-breeds, and the three older ones are half-sisters by the same Gotland ram. Citronella looks like a typical Gotland, white Brittis got her looks from her cross-breed mother. This year she managed to stay quite clean until shearing – I guess there are some benefits to having more snow than bare ground and mud in their outdoor enclosure.

Photo 4

The last of my ewes is Lisen, once black but now turning grey. In the photos below you can see the difference in the fleece from the different parts of the animal. The neck and front often has nice locks, but is also where they collect a lot of scraps of hay during winter. The top of their backs can be matted from snow and rain, while the sides are usually nicer on a winter fleece. Lower down on the sides and on the belly, the fleece is often too dirty and matted or even felted to use for anything sensible.

Photo 5

Finally, we sheared our ram Teddy. He seemed really pleased with all the attention, and considering what a mess his fleece was (it felts really easily) I am sure he was glad to get rid of it. But I did save it, with plans to lay it out in my vegetable garden. That should provide some nutrients, keep the soil moist and weeds at bay, and I have heard that slugs don´t like crawling over wool. On the other hand, I have also heard that slugs thrive under wool. Hmmm. I´ll just have to try and see. In any case, I now have a ram that looks like a small mountain goat.

Photo 6

All the sheep got a little extra attention (and pellets) after the shearing. Their appetite increases when you shear their wool, which is beneficial also for the lambs they are carrying. Now we are ready for warmer weather and lambing next month.

Photo 7

Next in turn was our neighbour, or rather, our neighbour´s sheep. Their ewes are mostly white cross-breeds, also including meat-breeds, and most of them are much larger than ours. Their grey ram Edwin is of an old breed called Åsen, the same as our ram. One of the younger ewes was black with a small white patch on one side, but you can clearly see how the fleece has turned grey half way. So from underneath all that black wool, a little grey sheep came out.

Photo 8

The winter fleece is generally of lower quality than the summer fleece. But even with bits of hay in it I couldn’t resist the temptation of accepting my neighbours offer to take care of some of it. The thick winter fleece holds together and does not fall apart into separate locks like the summer fleece. This makes it suitable for felting entire fleeces. As my neighbour doesn’t use the wool herself, I ended up packing the best parts of 9 fleeces in my car. Needless to say, my stash of raw wool is getting quite large, and I am hoping for a warm summer with plenty of time for large, outdoor felting projects.

Photo 9

 

Thanks Zara for letting us come along on the shearing process.  Stay tuned for lambing! And let us know how the fleece works to keep the slugs away!

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36 Responses to Shearing Sheep in Sweden

  1. Lyn says:

    The method of shearing looks very kind to the animal – very different from the way I’ve seen before where the sheep is manhandled to the floor between the shearer’s legs – and It must be better for the shearer’s back too.

    Your sheep are lovely and those locks in the box are gorgeous!

    I’m looking forward to seeing your lambs.

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  3. luvswool says:

    What a fascinating process, and you explained the science behind it so well. I really feel like I learned something important, and what a pleasure to see the beautiful and well-behaved sheep
    looking pounds lighter. Thanks so much for sharing the sheep-shearing event!

    • zararooke says:

      You’re welcome! Our ram is not usually very well-behaved (after all, he is a ram…), but even he stood still during the shearing. 😉

  4. zararooke says:

    And anyone curious about what I mean by “felting an entire fleece” can have a look at what I did with the wool from Edwin (the neighbour’s ram) last year:
    http://zararooke.com/2014/05/01/en-tovad-fall-fran-baggen-edwin/

  5. Leonor says:

    Zara, I’m hoping you usually write your posts bilingually, because after such a lovely post I just had to follow your blog! Your sheep are just lovely, and I really enjoyed learning a bit more about the shearing process in Sweden. Your fluffy ones seemed to be very relaxed for the whole process, which was a joy to see.
    Can’t wait to see the little ones, and… I have a major fleece envy now 😀

  6. ruthlane says:

    Thank you Zara – that was a wonderful post. It is great to see the entire process. We are all wishing we had 9 fleeces in the back of our cars 🙂

  7. What a great post Zara, the half black half gray sheep was very interesting. Our Suffolk are sometimes born black but just under the tips they are cream coloured. I have a stand like this and warm going to try using it this year. The sheep don’t seem to mind being sheared the other way. They are always calm when you sit them on their bums. But my back doesn’t like it much anymore.

    • zararooke says:

      I’m sure the stand is a back-saver compared to tipping over sheep, even if you do have the right technique. Gotland are always born black and turn grey, but I had never seen such a distinct and abrupt change in colour (and yes, I did keep that fleece). Interesting to hear that also suffolk can be born black.

  8. nvukadinovic@gmail.com says:

    Thank you Zara for showing us how you shear your sheep. Very interesting. I haven’t seen people here using a stand – very interesting and sheep and back -friendly. You will have a lot of work washing this wool but you can be proud of this lovely stash.

    • zararooke says:

      The good thing about felting entire fleeces (which I plan to do with some of these), is that you can use the raw wool and it gets washed during the felting process. But it is an outdoor project – I would not recommend trying it on the kitchen table. 😉

  9. Sally says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It was lovely to see sheep.being handled with such care and attention.

  10. marquet virginie says:

    bonjour zara, vous nous avez montrer un beau reportage
    j’ai un troupeau de chèvres angora et de moutons wensleydale et nous faisons aussi la tonte debout , où avez vous acheter votre table qui est très pratique pour tondre ?
    merci d’avance
    virginie

    • zararooke says:

      Bonjour Virginie! I do understand a bit of French, but I will reply in English. 🙂 I am very envious of your angora goats! I would love to have a couple of those too. The shearing stand is very practicle, especially as you can raise it easily with a lever to get a good working height. There are several companies that sell these in Sweden (e.g. http://www.knarrhult.se/produkt.php?ID=25), but none seem to have any information in English. Shipping cost from Sweden for something this big and heavy would probably also be very high. You may have more luck searching for milking stands for sheep/goats, which are similar in construction. I also know of people who build stands themselves from wood – a platform with a ramp the animal can walk up on, and some sort of construction to secure the animals neck.
      All the best,
      Zara

  11. zedster66 says:

    Great post and excellent photos! Thanks, Zara 🙂
    If Carina ever needs an assistant, I’ll work for wool!

    • zararooke says:

      Thanks Zed! Your comment gave me a good laugh! You’re welcome to Sweden anytime! There is always work to be done around here and we have plenty of dirty, raw wool! 😉

  12. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Thanks again Zara! I felt like I was right there watching. It’s nice to see such a loving way they are handled during the process. They looked happy! I can’t wait to see the lambs and what you do with these fleeces. There’s a lot of felting in your future. 🙂

    • zararooke says:

      Thank you for inviting me to write this piece Marilyn! I really enjoyed putting it together and it gave me a good excuse to take loads of photos of my sheep. 🙂

    • Marilyn Nelson says:

      You’re welcome Zara. It’s always a pleasure working with you and going along on your fiber adventures!

  13. Judy says:

    It seems I am always the last to see the postings but I was truly thrill to see the shearing process. Loved it… I have never seen the contraption the shearer used.. But is looks like a very good ergonomic tool so the shearer back is less stressed, along with the sheep.. How neat to have heaps of wool to play with.. I would have no clue what to do with a whole fleece so I look forward to see how you use it. Hopefully maybe you will give us a tutorial.. Smile.

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  15. Judy says:

    Hello Zara, what a wonderful posting about shearing day on your farm… Thanks for sharing your wonderful day with us all… Sorry for being so late…

  16. When we are in Sweden again, I would like to buy some of your wonderful fleeces!

  17. Marieke says:

    I love your fleece!
    I have worked with godland cross mix fleece and loved it. But they are hard to find in the Netherlands. Can you maybe help me to a adress were i can buy good quality (cross mix) Gotland (summer) fleeces?
    I got a tip to look for people who only sheer once a year…

    • zararooke says:

      Thanks Marieke! 🙂 There are some websites where you can buy washed fleece from different Swedish breeds, but they seem only to sell to Swedish customers (no info in English on their websites). If you are looking for raw (unwashed) fleeces, these are usually bought directly from the sheep owners. I think most Swedish sheep owners shear their sheep twice a year, in the spring and then again in the autumn (when the sheep are let back into the barn for winter). If they are only sheared once a year, I assume that will be in the spring. So that would be a full-year fleece, but shorn in the spring before summer. I buy Gotland fleeces (summer fleeces shorn in the autumn) from a sheep farm in a neighbouring village. If you send me an e-mail (zara.rookeATgmail.com) I may be able to help you further.

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