Lesley Prior on Harvesting Wool…
You may remember that we heard from Lesley earlier this WOVEMBER, talking about growing wool on the Devon Fine FibresFarm? Today we have a couple more snippets from Lesley, this time relating to Harvesting Wool. The first piece talks about some of the specific aspects of shearing Bowmont Merino sheep, and the second is about closing the gaps between WOOLGROWERS and HANDSPINNERS! WOVEMBER have included this second segment for a couple of reasons; firstly, it is a superb example of how important it is for people involved in WOOL to talk to one another, and secondly, it sets the scene for tonight’s piece from Lydia Hill just perfectly!
January 25, 2012 – My Harvest
Bowmont Merino Fleece
Not all farmers harvest in July and August with a combine and on Monday, we here started our own particular version. Raymond came to shear the Bowmonts.
Fortunately the weather is mild at the moment so its easier on all of us. We know the sheep are going to be comfortable without their woolly coats for a week or two until some grows back. Nonetheless we had prepared well by strawing up two fresh pens with a huge bed of barley straw for them to go into after they were shorn.
Bowmonts waiting to be sheared
Raymond is a man of tradition and when I suggested to him that he might like to try a new comb this year, specially designed for shearing Merinos, he was sceptical in a way that only Devon farmers can be! But, he was happy to try it, so good for him! For those of you whose life experience has not taken them into the mysteries of shearing equipment I should explain that a sheep shearing comb and a cutter are the two small but crucial bits of metal that sit at the front of the hand piece and do the job. Think about the hair dresser using electric clippers on human hair and you will know what I mean. Sheep kit is far bigger and more robust as you can imagine. These pictures show you a standard comb and cutter as used on most British sheep and then the Heiniger Wicked comb. The Wicked has a convcave bevel and much longer, narrower teeth that throw the fleece outwards as the shear enters it.
Standard sheep shearing combs, image taken from Horner Shearing
Heiniger sheep shearing comb and packaging, images taken from Heiniger.co.uk
Raymond started by shearing one sheep using the conventional comb, shown above. Then he switched to the new Wicked. The difference was unbelievable. He was astonished and so was I! My Australian friends who advised me on the choice were absolutely right. It just flows through the wool as if it was butter! No more effort to actually break into that incredibly dense, fine wool. Raymond was completely converted and it’s the Heiniger Wicked for now on for him! I was mightily relieved as it took some nerve for me to offer it to him. He has shorn THOUSANDS of sheep in his lifetime and I’ve kept these amazing beasts for only 7 years. Grandmothers and sucking eggs come to mind!
Raymond shearing the Bowmonts with the Heiniger Wicked!
Whatever equipment we use here the welfare of our sheep at shearing is paramount. Speed is secondary to care. As you can imagine, with equipment like this, unless you take GREAT care you can lose ears, teats, and more male “bits” than I care to think about. Raymond always locates relevant anatomical features and places a finger carefully over each little delicate piece before shearing round it. Not a particularly pleasant business even for a tough sheep farmer, but it does ensure the sheep’s safety which has to be our priority.
June 24th, 2008 – Fleece Fair and the problem with spinning
I went to the Somerset Guild’s Fleece Fair on Saturday with all my offerings. There were about 12 vendors filling the hall with piles of fleece of all shapes and sizes. Everything from Alpaca to Mohair was on offer with a heavy emphasis on Shetland and Jacob wool as far as I could see.
There were not many visitors and one Alpaca seller left after an hour or two. I tend to regard these things as opportunities to meet people rather than big sales days but did ok with my mohair and Bowmont.
There were a couple of sheep farmers there and when I say sheep farmers I mean JUST sheep farmers, not spinners or fleece people. They brought some ordinary mule fleece and a few quite nice Bluefaced Leicester fleeces. None were well presented for handspinners and I felt quite sorry for them.
I spent time talking to one of them who was my neighbour, trying to explain what a handspinner is looking for in their fleece since they had no idea at all. They have spent all their lives throwing fleeces at the Wool Marketing Board and getting peanuts in return, so have never learned about the handspinners market. By the end, the wife was keen to take up spinning in order to learn more. The first step I think to understanding what people really want in any fleece. I wish them well!