Following these simple steps will prepare you and your sheep for the best shearing experience.
All year long
Use straw for bedding. Hay is a feed and not absorbent enough to do the job as bedding. Shavings are always a no-no, in fact, the spinneries won't touch your fleece if there is contamination from sawdust or shavings. Straw is always the best choice.
Put the feed right into the feeder. We've all had the long, hard day of work where it seems like it would just be easier to toss the flakes of hay across the pen into the feeder. But each time you do that, chaf from the hay drops down onto the sheep and gets stuck in the fleece. That makes it a bear (and really expensive!) to clean.
Book your shearing date early! I know, spring gets very busy and before you know it, the summer-like weather is here. But shearing is best done in the cooler spring weather, not in the hot summer weather. It's much better for the sheep and for the shearer. Plus, those who book early get first choice of appointments!
About a week before your shearing appointment
Keep an eye on the weather. The sheep need to be dry for shearing, and that means DRY. If they get rained on and you bring them inside, they will not dry in a day or two. One of wool's most impressive features is that it can absorb and hold ten times its weight in water! So, that may mean they need to spend a few nights (and days) inside if the weather looks iffy. The most important thing you can do is bring the sheep in before it rains!
The night before shearing
Bring the sheep inside (if you haven't already). They should be in a small pen and easy to catch. (For example, a 'small pen' is the size of a 10' x 10' box stall, not an outdoor paddock.) This will make sure they're already calm and situated for shearing. We do not and cannot chase sheep. Keeping the sheep inside also protects the fleeces from the dew the next morning, or weather.
Prepare the site. What makes a good shearing spot? It's clean, dry, level, well-lit, and at least 8' x 10'. You'll need to put down a clean 4' x 8' sheet of plywood upon which the shearing will be done. The site should be near where the sheep are penned, so it's easy to move them, and it should be near the electricity.
On Shearing Day
No feed until after they're shorn. Most of us don't like to do sit-ups, especially on a full stomach. Sheep are no different! And they will be fine for the few hours without feed, hay, or grass (so no grazing, either). Just make sure, as always, that they have clean water.
Shearing first! We're happy to trim hooves, or help hold sheep while you deworm. One thing at a time, though--and shearing comes first.
Keep the fleeces clean. The best way to keep your fleeces clean during shearing is to keep them this way! That means we don't want to add any dust, dirt, or vegetable matter (hay or straw or grass) contamination. Sweep--and I mean clean!--the plywood well before each sheep.
Be ready to skirt the fleece right after it's shorn. Leaving tags and belly wool in the bag is detrimental to the fleece. Make sure to discard anything that's contaminated with vegetable matter as well. Fleeces should be stored in containers that breathe until it's time to send them to the mill. Ideal: tie with paper twine and wrap in a cloth sheet. Also okay: burlap bags. If you must use plastic bags, poke holes all over so the fleece can breathe. Always a no-no: woven plastic feed bags.
Thanks for reading! Now you know what to do to have the best fleece harvest. And even if you don't plan to do anything special with your wool right now, the good shearing is just as important as the good product.