Why do farmers shear their sheep?
We all get our hair cut occasionally. Whether it be to shorten our locks for the summer, change up our style to try something new, or simply to maintain our hair’s health. Shearing is when wool is cut and removed from sheep, similar to how our hair is cut. Farmers shear their sheep for a few reasons and what they can do with the resulting wool may surprise you.
Not all sheep need to be shorn regularly. There are some breeds of sheep that grow wool and need to be shorn regularly, usually once a year. There are also some breeds of sheep that grow hair- meaning that they don’t need to be shorn. Wool breeds need to be shorn on a regular basis for many reasons. Sheep can get too hot with excess wool, so this is one major reason sheep are shorn. Regular shearing can help sheep stay cool during the summer season. Additionally, shearing also helps the sheep stay clean. This is especially important for female sheep, or ewes, before they give birth. Shearing a female ewe before lambing season can help her stay clean both before, during, and after the birthing process, and can also make it easier for her lambs to find her teats to nurse. If there is a lot of wool hanging around the ewe’s udder, this can make it difficult for the lambs to find the teats. Increased cleanliness can also help with fly and other pest management. Shearing also allows for the collection of the wool fiber from the sheep. This wool can then be used for various purposes.
We have a lot of sheep in New York. According to the 2021 USDA NASS State Agriculture Overview, as of the first of this year, there were 80,000 adult sheep and lambs combined across the state. Now, even considering that some of these may be hair sheep, there are still many sheep that produce wool in the state. You may ask, what can be done with all of this wool? Farmers have different options when it comes to the wool left from shearing their sheep. New York has wool pools throughout the state. Sheep farmers can bring their excess wool to these pools and sell their wool to a buyer alongside other farmers. Sheep farmers may also be able to sell their wool directly, either to customers on-farm wanting it for spinning or knitting or to shops that may process or dye the fiber to sell. Some farmers even felt their wool to create decoration or gift items from the fiber. There are many beautiful items that can be made from wool.
Sheep are shorn primarily for animal management reasons. The practice itself helps to keep the sheep happy, healthy, and clean, and the leftover wool can be made into things we can use in our everyday lives. The next time you slip on a pair of wool socks or buy a wool-felted item, think of how the fiber got from the sheep to you!
By: Abigail Jantzi, Dairy & Livestock Specialist
Last updated July 11, 2022