The Complete Guide to Shearing a Sheep

Approx Reading Time: 19 minutes

Sheep shearing is an essential task for efficient flock management. If a good shearing technique is applied, it will add value to your sheep’s fleece. Proper handling and control of the sheep will relieve the shearer’s back from a lot of strain or injury. All sheep owners know that shearing not only helps you maintain a clean and healthy condition for your sheep, it also helps to prevent overheating. You can make extra cash by selling the wool from your flock. Now that several farmers find it difficult to source a shearer, many of them are having a go at clipping fleeces by themselves. However, shearing isn’t as easy as it sounds. This is why questions like “when should it be done– and more importantly, how it should be done” arise. It’s a bit complicated, but not as complicated as you might think.

To shear a sheep you should go through the following steps:

  1. Prepare Your Equipment
  2. Prepare the Shearing Area
  3. Position Your Sheep
  4. Start Sharing the Sheep from the Belly
  5. Shear the Inside of the Hind Legs and Crotch
  6. Switch Position and Shear the Left Hind Leg and Tail
  7. Switch Position and Shear the Chest, Neck, and Chin
  8. Shear the Left Shoulder
  9. Switch Position and Shear the Back
  10. Switch Position Again for Shearing the Right Side
  11. Shear the Right Leg and Hindquarter
  12. Finally, Skirt and Roll the Fleece
The Complete Guide to Shearing a Sheep 1
(CC BY 2.0) by -JvL-

Sheep shearing is very important for the health and comfort of your sheep. Many consider sheep sheering to be a sweaty, messy, and stressful job but it is also a highly rewarding job. This is why it is very important to have basic knowledge of sheep shearing, else you might end up destroying the wool of your sheep, or even injure the animal. Are you curious about sheep shearing? Do you need a guide to effortlessly shear your sheep? You’ve come to the right place. This article has been compiled to provide a step by step guide on how to shear a sheep effectively.

What Is Sheep Shearing?

Sheep shearing is a process in which the woolen fleece of a sheep is cut off. This is generally required about one to two times a year. Most times, the annual shearing takes place in a shearing shed (where hundreds of sheep or more are shorn daily). The main purpose of the shearing process is to ensure that your sheep are happy and healthy. Shearing reduces the chances of parasitic infection from manure and urine, helps the Sheep to regulate its body temperature and create a conducive environment for newborn to grow.

 It is usually recommended for you as a shearer to learn more about sheep shearing to increase your yields, while ultimately reducing stress as well as injuries to your animals. As you go further, you will see the reasons why shearing is important and learn the basic principles of sheep shearing.  Next, let us discuss what season is best to shear your animals.

When Is Sheep Shearing Season?

The right time for you to shear your sheep will vary depending on your flock as well as your management goals. If your main goal is to sell wool for profit, then you may want to shear frequently to make sure the wool is as clean and fresh as possible. Normally, most sheep only require shearing once in a year. Some breeds that have faster-growing wool will need to be sheared twice a year. It is also only ideal to shear a few months before lambing as it will not only keep the wool clean (when the wool gets dirty during lambing and when the sheep are confined in the barn), but it will also ensure that more ewes fit in the same space.

Now sheep shearing can be done in almost any season – it all depends on the climate, the availability of shearers as well as management purposes. That being said, the best time of the year to shear your sheep would be in early spring, right before the lambing season begins and before it gets too hot in the summer. For rams, shearing can be done at any time, but ewes should only be shorn right before lambing. Also, it is advisable to never shear your flocks before or during winter. During winter, the weather is often harsh and this may harm your sheep. 

The Complete Guide to Shearing a Sheep 2
(CC BY 2.0) by -JvL-

Next, there are certain things you need to put into consideration as a sheep shearer. For instance, a ewe with three inches of wool is going to be six inches wider than a shorn ewe – and that adds up when you have multiple sheep. In this case, it is important to shear your sheep before you keep them in for the winter. This way, you’ll also discover that your barn remains dryer. Wool is known to hold a surprising amount of moisture, so by shearing right before winter, you’ll find that your barn stays warmer and dryer as well.

As mentioned above, shearing ewes before the lambing season approaches is a great idea. Not only will it help you keep them cleaner during lambing times, but it will also make it easier for the lambs to locate their mother’s teats for feeding. The sheared sheep will take up less space if kept in a barn. Shearing right before lambing season is also good because sheared ewes often eat more grass to produce more body heat. This provides them with the extra nutrition they need before they give birth. It is recommended for sheep owners to shear their sheep a month before the ewes give birth to their lambs. This will give the ewe enough time to get over the stress of lambing and the effect of shearing. Finally, if you own a breed of sheep that has fast-growing wool (such as the Icelandics and Lincolns), ensure to perform shearing in the late summer or early autumn. This is because the sheep will need at least six weeks to grow another set of wool before winter comes.

That being said, it is also important to know that your sheep will require more energy and warmth to maintain good body condition during winter. So you should try to avoid shearing if you know that they will be outside during the entire winter. If your sheep are going to remain outside until lambing, you may leave a bit more wool on them instead.

Importance of Sheep Shearing

The main purpose of practicing shearing is to foster hygiene and the safety of each animal. Unlike most animals, the sheep tend to shed off their fur. But if the flock go a long time without shearing, the herder is most likely to encounter some problems. The reason why shearing is done is to collect the sheep’s wool for sale, more importantly, to relieve the sheep of that heavy coat which can become a burden during summer as it may cause overheating. In fact, in certain parts of the world, sheep shearing is considered a sport.

The Complete Guide to Shearing a Sheep 3
(CC BY 2.0) by -JvL-

If sheep are not sheared as they should, they will become uncomfortable and are at high risk of health problems, because dirt can become matted up in their wool. So, ensure that your sheep are sheared at least once a year, even if you do not plan on selling the wool for profit. The warmth and the ease at which wool from some breeds can be spun into yarn makes them easy to pack. Wool from some breeds of sheep is quite a valuable commodity. When these animals are raised differently and fed with a special mineral-rich diet, it improves the quality of their wool, a single sheep can produce up to 10 pounds of wool, which is considered very profitable when measured.

Shearing Equipment’s Supplies Needed

  • Shearing cannot be done without the right equipment or tool. Whether you hire a professional or you decide to do the job yourself, you must get all your shearing supplies ready before you begin. More importantly, you need to have good, quality shearing equipment. Having the right supplies will make the whole process a lot easier and safer for the shearer and the sheep. Not so long ago, shearing was done with the use of hand shears. This method in itself is much more time-consuming, stressful, and leaves more wool on the sheep. However, in recent times, electric cutters have been developed and are used almost exclusively. It is easier to use since you can learn how to shear your sheep with a shearing machine, or manually use sheep shears. Learning how to perform this task using the different equipment will make you an even better shearer. Below are the equipment and supplies you need:
  • Large tarp to place on the ground that will catch the fleece when it falls
  • Plastic bags as temporary storage
  • Water for you
  • Animal treats
  • Shearing  Clippers
  • Extension cord for the shearing clippers
  • Broom- for gathering fleece between animals
  • Emergency kits like Blue-Kote and Cornstarch in case of accidental cuts or scratches
  • Scissors for sensitive regions like the ears, tail and other small areas

Shearing Clippers

Shearing clippers are essential for getting the shearing job done. However, it is important to know that the clippers used to shear sheep and other wool yielding animals are not the same as those clippers used on dogs or other pets. Sheep shearing equipment is usually quite expensive and requires good, proper maintenance practice before and after shearing. When searching or shopping for electric shears, always look out for shears with a high number of teeth on the comb, as they tend to cut close to the skin. You should also expect to pay an incredible sum of money for a good quality electric shears. Bear in mind that you’ll be getting value for your money.

Before purchasing a shearing clipper, it’s equally important to understand the kind of fleece your flock produces, then you can go ahead to buy the combs that most closely match your sheep’s fleece. It is also important to make sure that your cutters are sharp enough before you start shearing. This is because dull cutters will be difficult and stressful to use, and it can be dangerous for both you and the sheep. The good part of this is that you can easily replace your cutters at even cheaper rates.

How to Shear a Sheep

Knowing how to shear a sheep requires constant practice and time. Sometimes, it may be very difficult to find a perfect person for your sheep shearing job. However, you can consider doing the job by yourself. If you have not shared sheep before, here is an easy step-by-step guide to shearing sheep. Follow the instructions carefully and you will be fine:

Step 1: Prepare Your Equipment

Start by putting together all the equipment you will need. Having high-quality sheep shearing equipment is very essential in sheep shearing. Your equipment is the first thing you’ll need to consider. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge or how little your experience is, one thing that matters is having high-quality equipment to make this process much easier and safer for you and your sheep. As I said, almost every shearer uses electric clippers these days. Of course, you’ll have to pay a little extra for this, but don’t forget to look for shears that have more teeth on the comb. Your shear also needs to be sharp enough before you start cutting.  Dull equipment will only make it difficult for you to use and can be dangerous for you and your sheep. So make sure you have all your supplies ready and in place before you begin.

Step 2: Prepare the Shearing Area

Next, carefully prepare the area where you plan to shear your sheep. The shearing area should be as dry as possible and should be located in a short of a confined area. If you have loading chutes, that is perfect, but if you don’t, don’t worry- a pen will be good enough. Also, make sure your sheep are not wet before you begin. This is because wet wool is not accepted on the market, and the sheep involved can even get an electric shock. Finally, make sure you don’t feed them during the shearing time to reduce the amount of waste produced. Always keep the shearing floor clean and dry before you start shearing.

Step 3: Position Your Sheep

The next step in this process is to position your sheep appropriately. There are usually five main positions that you can use to ensure that you reach all areas on the sheep. First, you tip the sheep on their back. Gently prop them up on their shoulders between your knees for extra support. Next, expose the belly of the sheep while the four legs are up in the air. While doing this, ensure that the sheep are very comfortable to reduce the struggle while shearing. This particular position is the most appropriate as it gives you the time to shear the sheep easily and with less struggle.

Step 4: Start Sharing the Sheep from the Belly

It is always advisable to start shearing the sheep from the belly because the belly wool is the dirtiest and the least marketable. Hence, this is the best place to begin shaving your animal. Ensure to use long strokes, while shearing the wool from the breastbone to the flank area.

Your first pass or blow should be on the right-hand side, while the second on your left. Next, you’ll scoop up the rest of the wool in between. To achieve a better outcome, make sure the first and the second belly is wide set apart. If done correctly, the process of moving down the line while shearing will be a lot faster and less difficult.

Step 5: Shear the Inside of the Hind Legs and Crotch

After shearing the belly, the next step is to shear the inside of the hind legs and the crotch. Firmly hold the sheep between the knees, then bring the shears up along the inside of the right leg.  Next,  bring the shears across to remove the wool around the crotch. This should be done repeatedly to ensure that all the wool is removed completely.

Run the shears down the inside of the right leg. When shaving a ewe, beware of the teats. To prevent accidentally shaving the teats off, it is advisable to cover the teats with one hand while you use the other to shear the sheep.

Step 6: Switch Position and Shear the Left Hind Leg and Tail

After shearing the right hind leg, change your position. You will need to turn approximately 90 degrees so that your right knee is in front of the brisket and the sheep’s right foreleg is in between your legs, the left side exposed. Shear the wool from the sheep’s left hind leg, starting with the toe and working your way up towards the hindquarters, then finish on the near side of the backbone.

Move your right leg a little backward to gain better access to the sheep’s tail, then position the comb of the shears in a way that it will enter the wool at the top of the tail. Make a blow from the top of the tail upwards along the backbone, repeat the process once or twice until you have cleared the wool from this area completely.

Step 7: Switch Position and Shear the Chest, Neck, and Chin

Next, change your position by placing your right foot in between the sheep’s hind legs and your left foot at the base of its spine, while holding its body firmly between your knees. Then use your left hand to grab the sheep below the chin and gently pull it’s head backward.

Move the clippers from the brisket towards the neck, then end your blow just below the sheep’s chin. Continue to make long parallel blows along the left side of the sheep’s neck, ending first beneath the eye and then beneath the ear.  Don’t forget to hold the sheep’s ear back to avoid injury.

Step 8: Shear the Left Shoulder

To have better access to the left shoulder of your sheep, shift your weight, and turn the sheep slightly. 

Use your left hand to pull the skin taut, this is because the skin on the shoulders can be quite wrinkled. Shear upwards towards the sheep’s left shoulder starting from the left knee, using two blows for clearing the wool completely. You can also use this opportunity to clear the wool from the inside of the sheep’s left foreleg.

Step 9: Switch Position and Shear the Back

Next, move to the fourth position, slide the sheep down along your shin. When the sheep is laid on its right side, keep your right foot between the hind legs and your left foot under the shoulder. This particular position is for longer blows that will extend throughout the sheep’s back. 

Position the shears at the tail of the sheep, then make a long and straight blow. Make sure the blow goes all the way to the head of the sheep while remaining parallel to its spine. Keep making these blows along the back until the entire left side of the sheep is cleared of wool.

Step 10: Switch Position Again for Shearing the Right Side

You’ll need to change the shearing position of the sheep again to shear along the right side of the sheep. This position is the 5th and final position. Here you’ll need to swing your right leg around so that you are standing upright with the sheep’s nose is between your knees.

Next, shear along the right side of its head, neck, and shoulders. For these, you’ll need to use about 3 or 4 blows. Shear the wool from the right foreleg of the sheep starting from the shoulder to the toe, making sure the neck and shoulder are also sheared and cleared of all the wool. Then make several diagonal blows along the flank of the sheep to clear the wool from this area.

Step 11: Shear the Right Leg and Hindquarter

Shearing, the right leg and hind quarter is the last step. Here, you’ll shear the wool from the right leg of the sheep to the hindquarters. Move your right foot forward slightly so that you can have space on your left-hand side, and the right flank of the sheep to apply firm pressure.  This will ensure that the sheep keep it’s leg straight while also stretching the skin. You’ll need to shear in a curved motion from the flank of the sheep to its right hind leg, then make the final few blows to clear the last of the wool from its hindquarters. And you’re done! You have successfully sheared your sheep. 

Finally, Skirt and Roll the Fleece

Once your sheep have been sheared, you’ll have to skirt and roll the fleece. Skirting means removing any dirty or ‘incidental’ wool that is not valuable. To do this, place the fleece on a flat surface.

Carefully spread out the fleece so it forms a single layer. Then look for any dirty or contaminated wool and remove from the outside of the fleece. Make sure you remove any off-colored wool, tags, or matted wool. After skirting, you can then roll the fleece. Fold the long sides of the fleece towards the center, then roll the fleece from one end to the other so that the flesh-side is facing outwards.

Tips for Shearing

Here are some important tips to follow when you are shearing your sheep.

  1. If you’re new to shearing, make long and confident blows. Being confident with your blows is one of the most important parts of becoming a good shearer. Don’t doubt yourself as this will only increase your chances of making a mistake. Also, make sure you develop a particular rhythm as you shear, it will help you move easily from one section to another.
  • Avoid making second cuts. When you make second cuts, you are more likely to injure your sheep. Sometimes when a blow is made wrongly, you will need to make a second blow to remove the remaining wool. Now those small bits of fleece that result from this second blow are called second cuts. Second cuts cannot be included in the rolled fleece, nobody wants it. This is because they make yarn weaker and cause it to pull easily. So try to be confident with your blows.
  • Make use of your left or non-dominant hand to keep the skin pulled tautly. Your shears will move easily and you’ll be able to take a closer cut when the sheep’s skin is pulled taut. So it is important to keep using your hand to stretch the skin you are about to shear. For sheep with finer wool, this is very important since their skin tends to be more wrinkled and harder to see through.

Finally, one of the most important tips to keep in mind before shearing is knowing when you should do it yourself and when to call the professionals for help. 

Final remarks

When you shear sheep without any experience, it can be dangerous for both you and your sheep. Although, knowing how to do it can save you a lot of money. But try to be honest with yourself and your capabilities and know when to involve professionals. You can also go through the process of learning it or developing your skills. We hope that this article was enlightening. Good luck!