Sheep shearing

Sheep shearing

Sheep shearing, shearing or clipping is the process by which the woollen fleece of a sheep is cut off. The person who removes the sheep's wool is called a "shearer". Typically each adult sheep is shorn once each year (a sheep may be said to have been "shorn" or "sheared", depending upon dialect). The annual shearing most often occurs in a shearing shed, a facility especially designed to process often hundreds and sometimes over 3,000 sheep per day.cite journal | journal=The Land | title=The Land | date=2008-03-13 | publisher= Rural Press | location=Richmond ] Sheep shearing is an essential part of sheep rearing in countries around the world.


Up until the 1870s Australian sheep were washed prior to shearing and in the later years this process included the use of hot water and soap. [cite encyclopedia
title = Chisholm, Alec H.
encyclopedia = The Australian Encyclopaedia
volume = 8
pages = 86
publisher = Halstead Press
location = Sydney
date = 1963
id = Shearing
accessdate = 2 October 2008
] Australia and New Zealand had had to discard the old methods of wool harvesting and evolve more efficient systems to cope with the huge numbers of sheep involved. By 1915 most large sheep station sheds in Australia had installed machines, driven by steam or later by internal combustion engines. Shearing tables were invented in the 1950's, but have not proved popular, although some are still used for crutching.

Modern shearing

Today, large flocks of sheep are shorn by professional shearing teams working eight hour days, most often in spring, by machine shearing. These contractor teams will consist of shearers, shed hands and a cook (in the more isolated areas). The shed staff working hours and wages are regulated by industry awards. A working day starts at 7.30 am and the day is divided into 4 “runs” of 2 hours each. “Smoko” breaks of a half hour each are at 9.30am and again at 3pm. The lunch break is taken at 12 midday for one hour. Most shearers are paid on a piece rate, i.e., per sheep. Shearers who “tally” more than 200 sheep per day are known as “gun shearers”. Typical mass shearing of sheep today follows a well-defined workflow: remove the wool, skirt the fleece, class the fleece, place it in the appropriate wool bin, press and store the wool until it is transported. In 1984 Australia became the last country in the world to permit the use of wide combs, due to previous Australian Workers Union rules.

Removing the wool

A sheep is caught by the shearer from the catching pen and taken to his “stand” on the shearing board. It is then shorn using mechanical handpiece (see "Shearing devices" below). The wool is removed by following an efficient set of movements, devised by Godfrey Bowen in c. 1950, (the "Bowen Technique" [cite web|url=|title=The Bowen Technique|accessdate=2008-08-26] ) or the "Tally-Hi" method. In 1963 the Tally-hi shearing system was developed by the Australian Wool Corporation and promoted using synchronised shearing demonstrations. Sheep struggle less using the Tally-Hi method, reducing strain on the shearer and there is a saving of about 30 seconds shearing each sheep. The shearer begins by removing the sheep's belly wool, which is separated from the main fleece by a rouseabout, while the sheep is still being shorn. A professional or "gun" shearer typically removes a fleece without badly marking or cutting the sheep in two to three minutes, depending on the size and condition of the sheep, or less than two in elite competitive shearing. The shorn sheep is moved from the board via a chute in the floor, or wall, to a counting out pen, efficiently removing it from the shed.

The CSIRO in Australia has developed a non-mechanical method of shearing sheep using an injected protein that creates a natural break in the wool fibres. After fitting a retaining net to enclose the wool, sheep are injected with the protein. When the net is removed after a week, the fleece has separated and is removed by hand. [cite web|url=|accessdate=2008-08-26|date=1998-06-26|publisher=CSIRO|author=Julian Cribb|title=CSIRO Media Release: REVOLUTIONARY WOOL HARVESTING TAKES OFF] In some breeds a similar process occurs naturally (see below).

kirting the fleece

Once the entire fleece has been removed from the sheep, the fleece is "thrown", clean side down, on to a wool table by a shed hand (commonly known in New Zealand and Australian sheds as a "rouseabout" or "roustie"). The wool table top consists of slats spaced approximately 12cm apart. This enables short pieces of wool, the "locks" and other debris, to gather beneath the table separately from the fleece. The fleece is then "skirted" by one or more wool rollers to remove the sweat fribs and other less desirable parts of the fleece. The removed pieces largely consist of shorter, seeded, burry or dusty wool etc. which is still useful in the industry. As such they are placed in separate containers and sold along with fleece wool. Other items removed from the fleece on the table, such as faeces, skin fragments or twigs and leaves, are discarded a short distance from the wool table so as not to contaminate the wool and fleece.

Wool classing

Following the skirting of the fleece, it is folded, rolled and examined for its quality in a process known as wool classing, which is performed by a registered and qualified wool classer. Based on its type, the fleece is placed into the relevant wool bin ready to be pressed (mechanically compressed) when there is sufficient wool to make a wool bale.

hearing devices

Blade shears

Blade shears consist of two blades arranged similarly to scissors except that the hinge is at the end farthest from the point (not in the middle). The cutting edges pass each other as the shearer squeezes them together and shear the wool close to the animal's skin. Blade shears are still used today but in a more limited way. Blade shears leave some wool on a sheep and this is more suitable for cold climates where the sheep needs some protection from the elements. For those areas where no powered-machinery is available blade shears are the only option. Blades are more commonly used to shear stud rams.

Machine shears

Machine shears, known as handpieces, operate in a similar manner to human hair-clippers in that a power-driven toothed blade, known as a cutter, is driven back and forth over the surface of a comb and the wool is cut from the animal. The original machine shears were powered by a fixed hand-crank linked to the handpiece by a shaft with only two universal joints, which afforded a very limited range of motion. Later models have more joints to allow easier positioning of the handpiece on the animal. Electric motors on each stand have generally replaced overhead gear for driving the handpieces. The jointed arm is replaced in many instances with a flexible shaft. Smaller motors allowed the production of shears in which the motor is in the handpiece; these are generally not used by professional shearers as the weight and heat of the motor becomes bothersome with long use.

Shearing in Australasian culture

A culture has evolved out of the practice of sheep shearing, especially in post-colonial Australia and New Zealand. "Shearing the Rams", a painting by Australian impressionist painter Tom Roberts is considered to be iconic of the livestock-growing culture or "life on the land" in Australia.

For an inversion, Michael Leunig's "Ramming the Shears" can be seen as a sign of the shifts in Australian culture, and the extent to which the dominant rural culture is being eroded by an increasingly urban population.

The expression that Australia's wealth rode on "the sheep’s back" in parts of the twentieth century no longer has the currency it once had.

Many stations across Australia no longer carry sheep due to lower wool prices, drought and other disasters, but their shearing sheds remain, in a wide variety of materials and styles, and have been the subject of books and documentation for heritage authorities. Some farmers are reluctant to remove either the equipment or the sheds, and many unused sheds remain intact.


Sheep shearing and shed-handing competitions are held regularly in parts of the world, particularly Ireland, the UK, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. [cite news|url=|title=Shearer sets records|date=2007-03-06|accessdate=2008-08-26|publisher=ABC News Online] As sheep shearing is an arduous task, speed shearers, for all types of equipment and sheep, are usually very fit and well trained. In Wales a sheep shearing contest is one of the events of the Royal Welsh Show, the country's premier agricultural show held near Builth Wells.


In some primitive sheep (for example in many Shetlands), there is a natural break in the growth of the wool in spring. By late spring this causes the fleece to begin to peel away from the body, and it may then be plucked by hand without cutting – this is known as "rooing". Individual sheep may reach this stage at slightly different times.


In 2001, Mandy Francis of Hardy's Bay, NSW constructed a Blackbutt seat for the Street Furniture Project at Walcha, New South Wales. This seat was inspired by the combs, cutters, wool tables and grating associated with the craft and industry of shearing.

ee also

* Shearing shed
* Sheep shearer
* Wool
* Wool bale
* Micron (wool)
* Wool classing
* Shrek (sheep)


External links

* [ Golden Shears]
* [ World Championship shearing]
* [ Walter Bowen]
* [ Wool Production] (corporate site)

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Look at other dictionaries:

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