Recently, I have been dismayed to hear people claiming that shearing is cruel. These people, I assume with the best intentions, want us to stop using wool to spare sheep this supposedly cruel process. A certain animal rights organization has posted photos on Facebook showing a grotesquely mangled lamb, which they claim is the result of shearing. My blog post here shows how we shear sheep, and I think it is quite typical of shearing on small farms.
My friends Sharon and Will (River Run Weaving) asked our spinning group to help with the shearing of their small flock (12) of sheep on April 14. Leroy was the shearer. He has been shearing for many years, and he does a fine job of it.
Above are two images of Leroy shearing a sheep. Because these are stills, you can't see that this sheep is completely cooperating with Leroy. She is resting quietly in whatever position Leroy wants to put her in so he can get the right angle on the shears. In the lower photo, she is just lying there, Leroy is hardly touching her. Some sheep are less cooperative than this one, but this one is typical.
What you can see is that there is no blood, no gore, just a cleanly sheared sheep. Yes, the sheep get nicked or cut sometimes, but not much and they heal up quickly.
The two images below show what the sheep do minutes after shearing. Yep, they stand around and baa and wait for lunch. These sheep are standing within 20-30 feet of the sheep shearing shed, yet they have 10+ acres available to them. Sheep might not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they know enough to run if they are in danger. Do you see any blood or gore on any of these newly shorn sheep?
After the fleece is off the sheep, Laura hauled it over to the sorting table.
I was part of the sorting team, and we quickly removed the parts that weren't suitable for spinning, and then bagged the fleece.
Meanwhile, before the sheep is released from shearing, she gets an injection of selenium and vitamin E, and an oral wormer. Shepherds like to keep their sheep healthy.
The sheep spent the night before shearing under shelter in a pen so their fleeces would be dry at shearing. The sheep are removed from the pen one at a time to be sheared. The sheep below was the last one in the pen, and as a flock animal, she was distressed to be all alone. John and his wife Susan, experienced shepherds, held her close so she wouldn't hurt herself while waiting her turn.
Our spinning group responded so enthusiastically to the call to help shear, that we outnumbered the sheep. But we had a wonderful time, enjoying the company, our hands in fleece, the skilled shearing, and a delicious meal afterwards, provided by Sharon and Will.
Special thanks to Margie L. for the great photos!
I am aware that shearing at large sheep ranches with hundreds of sheep is different from our experience. However, the sheep are the livelihood of the shepherd, and it is in the shepherd's self interest to treat her/his sheep well and keep them healthy and fit. Are there sometimes abuses? Most likely, and they should be prevented and prosecuted. But is that a reason to not buy wool?? Hardly!