Sheep shearing photos: blow by blow

The following is a series of photos and information gathered at the 2004 Maryland-Delaware Sheep Shearing School for beginners, held March 26-27 at the Ridgely and Harvey Thompson Farm in Westminster, MD.

Brief observation: Sheep shearing is a difficult skill which requires both good body strength and flexibility as well as a knowledge of sheep anatomy! Sheep, however, are such wonderful good sports, they’re so grateful to have their hot sweater removed for the summer, and their wool is so beautiful, that it makes the effort worthwhile!

These are my notes – if they contain inaccuracies, I’m sure the expert shearers won’t hesitate to let me know so I can correct them!

Prepare for shearing:

  1. Bring the sheep out (hold by the head and tail, do not hang onto the wool).
  2. Turn the head around towards the back of the body, whilst keeping your opposite leg firm against the backside, pushing down. The sheep (supposedly!) goes down to the ground without resistance.

We were taught the New Zealand method, which has five basic positions (described for right-handers):

  1. Hold the sheep in a sitting position between your knees. You’re already exhausted from walking the sheep to position so you’ll want to rest a bit.
  2. Move 90 degrees to the right with your right foot just under the udder and your left foot under the tailbone.
  3. Move your right foot in between the two sets of legs and bring your left foot forward a bit.
  4. Let the body drop horizontal to the ground – keep your left foot braced under the sheep’s right shoulder with the legs slightly up in the air. (I forget where the right foot is supposed to be)
  5. Swing your right foot around the back of the sheep so your feet are parallel, and bring the sheep’s head up towards your legs, taking baby steps backwards as you shear down the body.

The strokes for each step (enlarge each photo by clicking on it):

(Thanks to John, fellow student, who learned a lot more quickly than we did, who shows the process very well in these photos.)

Do 1-2 strokes down the brisket. Do a stroke down the side of the belly, extending along the outside of the flank. Do horizontal strokes across the belly starting from the brisket. Stop when you get close to the teats, and go very slowly, holding them down out of the way with your fingers. Shear down the top and slight outside of the right leg. Shear around the crotch area from right to left, holding onto the teats and watching carefully for the vulva.
Check that the tops of the legs and inside of the crotch are clean. Notes: Sometimes the belly is really sticky, and there are a lot of dingleberries (e.g. large pieces of manure) attached to the wool near the vulva area. Also the legs can have long strands of manure clinging to the short wool and it’s really difficult to shear these parts because the clippers will stick.
Shear down the left leg. Push the leg down at the top in order to get her to straighten it (don’t grab the leg or she will fight you). Shear along the side towards the back. Do the entire flank.
Catch anything from the bottom that you missed from the first step. In step 2, step around from the back of the sheep to her right side with your left foot behind her butt. s
Start from the brisket and go upwards towards the neck. Shear up to the right cheek. Trim the head hair.
Hold down the ear so as not to cut it. Shear around the back of the head. Shear the right front leg (hold it straight out.) Shear the left front leg.
Clean up the brisket area. Prepare the sides. Step with your right foot in between the sheep’s hind legs.
Shear along the sheep from bottom to top in a straight line. Keep going line by line until you are one line past the backbone. Lay the sheep down on her right side. Put your left foot under her shoulder and your right foot in front of her back legs.
Shear around the neck. Shear from right to left always moving down a line.
The sheep’s head is between your legs and you have almost the entire skirt off. Finish off any remaining bits on the butt area.
From Step 4 where the sheep is lying on her side, you step around so that your right foot is over the other side – so you are straddling her body. You pick up the head and gradually take baby steps backwards as you pull the sheep’s head and body towards you, shearing down.