Skip to main content


We're supposed to shear our sheep this Saturday.  Since we lamb in the spring, we shear a bit later than most California sheep producers - we try to wait until the youngest lambs are 5-6 weeks old.  Newly lactating ewes don't shear as easily, but there's a trade-off - especially in an early grass year like this one.  As the grass dries out, we can get more stickers in the wool.  And so the first weekend in May is usually when we shear.

As a pasture based operation, we don't have many options when it comes to shearing facilities.  My long-term dream is to build a shearing shed; in the meantime, we shear in our horse barn or in one of the horse barns near our rented pastures.  Even with our reduced numbers, we find it difficult to house all of the ewes overnight prior to shearing.  When the weather is dry, this isn't a problem - the ewes are penned on a dry lot overnight.  When the weather turns wet, however, we have to be flexible.

This year, we've been planning to haul all of the sheep home for the weekend to shear in our own barn.  Despite the added work of hauling home, this is a better facility for shearing.  We use one stall as a holding pen, and the other as the "bull pen" where the shearing happens.  We sort off 8 ewes at a time into the bull pen, where one of the crew catches the ewes for the shearer.  Once the 8 ewes are shorn, they go out the barn alley into a pasture we've saved and rejoin their lambs.  Each fleece comes out of the shearing pen onto a skirting table (where soiled wool is removed and the fleece is rolled).  The rolled fleeces then go into a 6-foot high burlap wool sack in our hay barn, where one of us stomps it down (each sack can hold 30-35 of our fleeces).  On the day after shearing, we haul the flock back to our rented pasture.

The only downside of this arrangement (besides the trailer ride for the sheep) is the lack of under-cover pen space.  If it rains, the sheep get wet!  And wet wool spoils.  So we have to be flexible!

From the standpoint of pasture quality, I love this forecast!
Nature will be doing my irrigating!  From the standpoint
of shearing our sheep, this weather is problematic.
One option is to shear the sheep in a barn near our leased pasture.  The advantages are that we can walk the sheep here rather than haul them.  And, we will have enough space to house them overnight under cover (which means they'll be dry when we shear them starting on Saturday morning).  We can also keep our skirting table and wool sack under cover - in other words, it's an all weather facility.  The downside is that the shearing pen is not as level as our home facility (which makes the shearing job more difficult).  We also have to impose on the folks who own and lease the horse facilities.

Looking ahead at the forecast for the rest of the week, the likelihood of rain on Friday and Saturday seems to be increasing.  We'll either need to shear close to the ranch, or wait until the following weekend.  In other words, we'll have to be flexible!  Much like the rest of the year....


  1. Looks like we'll be waiting to shear until next weekend! Seems sacrilegious to curse the rain after four years of drought, but I always get anxious about getting the wool off the ewes this time of year!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Trade Offs

As we were building fence for the soon-to-be-lambing ewes this morning, someone drove by and asked my partner Roger how long it took to set up the electro-net fencing we use for the sheep. Roger replied, "It's not too bad," to which the driver said, "Seems like a lot of work." Roger's answer - which both of us use with some frequency, was, "Yeah - but this way we don't have to feed any hay!" The driver, who obviously wasn't a rancher, didn't understand - and I suspect even some of my rancher friends don't understand the trade off we're making. Building electric fence is a lot of work - wouldn't it be easier just to feed hay?

The paddock that Roger and I built this morning encloses about 5.75 acres of high quality forage. Since the ewes are on the verge of lambing, their forage demand is peaking. They're eating nearly twice as much grass now as they need in the late summer - after all, many of them eating for three (and p…

No Easy Answers Part 2

In mid October, some friends who graze their cattle in the mountains of western Lassen County (less than 200 miles from our home), became the first ranchers to have cattle “officially” killed by wolves in California in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the Lassen pack killed a 600-pound heifer; four more heifers died (and were partially eaten by wolves), but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) couldn’t confirm the cause of death. While I learned about the depredations shortly after they happened through the rancher grapevine, news of my friends’ losses weren’t made public until the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a joint press release this week. The October 28 edition of the Sacramento Bee ran the story.
If you’ve read my previous blogs about wolves, you’ll probably know that I’ve frequently been frustrated with the Bee’s coverage. The paper has run guest opinions disguised as news articles, and appar…

Humbled and Excited

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA). After two internships, I'd been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I'd been promoted to assistant vice president - pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn't grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn't right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) - I'd been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office - Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake - suggested that I consider getting a master's degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the id…