Care of sheep - shear hard work
Thursday, 15 December 2011
By Rebecca Glover
After years in the doldrums, suddenly sheep are flavour du jour again. Although not currently a large proportion of a sheep’s worth, wool does keep growing, and removing it is a necessary evil, as Rebecca Glover found out.
| Keep sheep shorn, ideally twice a year. |
It’s a hectic time of year for shearers, and calls coming in thick and fast keep Jan Mayall busy scheduling visits for husband Cecil – aka Mr Clip.
Jan is the organisational genius behind Mr Clip, a mobile shearing service for lifestyle blocks from Kaiwaka to Bombay.
Summers are flat out for the Mayalls. Jan elaborates: “Most sheep are shorn before Christmas, then we do the lambs and crutch the ewes.
“Lambs yield only about a kilo of wool each, but shearing them seems to make them grow better as well as avoiding fly strike.”
Christmas Day provides a welcome break for the Mayalls and is generally their only day off over summer.
You would expect Cecil could look forward to a winter holiday – but no, during our winter he’s off to the United Kingdom for more shearing. After 35 years around sheep he’s amassed a wealth of knowledge, which he’s happy to pass on to clients.
“A lot of our time is spent educating people, showing why certain things need to be done,” says Jan. “Pre-lamb shearing, for instance, includes removing belly wool from ewes so that newborn lambs can find the udder easily.”
Jan says sheep should be shorn twice yearly. Generally the shearer takes the wool from small flocks as it is worth little. Jan discourages any notion of leaving fleeces on sheep to increase the yield.
“The Shrek thing saw some people leaving their sheep unshorn for over a year. It’s a welfare issue when sheep have to carry round a heavy, hot fleece.”
Mr Clip will also trim hooves and advise on basic health care. “Vaccinating lambs against tetanus at tailing is vital, particularly as so many lifestylers have horses,” says Jan.
The organism causing the deadly disease often inhabits soil where horses graze.
Each breed of sheep has its own character, says Jan. Many lifestylers favour the striking black faced Suffolk, but these can grow very large and unwieldy for the shearer. They can also jump rather too well. Even more athletic are Arapawas, which are better contained in high cattle yards than sheep pens.
Having yards at all on some small blocks can be a bonus, although any yards are only useful when gates are firmly latched.
“Putting the wrong mix of sheep together, like wethers in with ewes with lambs, can lead to insecure gates being knocked open during squabbles. Then a lot of time is wasted rounding up the mob into the yards again,” Jan says.
Some of the most difficult sheep can be ex-pet lambs. They often have little respect for humans, and if left as rams can be downright dangerous.
Occasionally Cecil arrives at a job only to find the owner hasn’t bothered to have the animals waiting in the yards – “although most of our regulars are trained,” says Jan.
She explains that after being on pasture, sheep need to be penned for at least two hours to empty out.
“It’s extremely stressful for sheep to be bent over for shearing on a full stomach – they can even suffer a heart attack, especially if they’ve been chased around the paddock into yards just before shearing. “How would you like it if you had to run around the block after a big meal and then bend over?”