On a NZ sheep farm, the most important building is the WOOLSHED.
The woolshed is generally where all aspects of sheep-tendering takes place – it’s not only for shearing! There are pens and yards adjacent to the woolshed, and these are to ‘draft’ (sort) the sheep into different categories as there maybe lambs, older sheep, rams, etc. to separate when all the sheep are ‘mustered’ (gathered and brought in) off the farm.
During the summer months many farms suffer badly with fly-strike. This is where a fly will ‘blow’ (lay its eggs) on a sheep. This is a very annoying part of farming and it is very debilitating to sheep (who will die if left untreated, as the eggs hatch into blood-thirsty larvae and eat the sheep’s flesh causing a massive sore and often results in septicemia…yuck!). A daily check of the stock is a MUST during these months. Unfortunately, there is only one cure and that is to bring the sheep in, shear the affected area and douse the maggots with insecticide. There are about 2 other times per year when we have to bring the sheep to the woolshed and this is to ‘crutch’ (shear the bottom area) of the sheep; once just prior to shearing time, and the other time is just before lambing, in the Springtime.
The wool from ALL of the shearing’s is used. It does not go ‘off’ if it is left for a time. Unfortunately, wool is pretty much worthless these days, (unless done on a massive scale…many thousands of sheep!)…shearing is a job which has to be done.
But, what happens if you don’t shear a sheep? Well, the animal can get stressed, and the wool starts coming off in chunks (not all in one piece). This is not good for the animal.
During a main full shearing (that is sheep that are only shorn once per year), the woolshed is a VERY busy place…it virtually becomes a production line! Shearers are a dying breed these days (as no one wants to do the hot, dirty, and back-breaking work), so when you find a good shearer – go full-out to keep him!! Remember Mother’s saying that “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”?, well, the same applies to a Shearer, (and why it is often regarded that the second most important place on a NZ sheep farm is the Homestead kitchen!!!) No truly, a Shearer needs fuel to do this type of work…as it’s kind of like running a marathon!
So, first-up at shearing time, the sheep are pushed into the holding pens inside the woolshed. Usually this is done the evening before, (making certain the sheep are not too tightly packed). Many people think it’s cruel that the animal is without food or water for 24 hours; -but it is not. The sheep are required to ’empty-out’ (fasting). As the sheep are doubled-over in an uncomfortable position while they are being shorn, it is much kinder and safer to them to have an empty stomach, (much like when a person goes into hospital for an operation!)
You cannot shear wet sheep, because you cannot bale wet wool…it will spontaneously combust because it has built up heat under the intense pressure inside the bale. Many woolsheds have burnt to the ground simply because the wool was baled when it was wet! The Shearer will drag a sheep (on its hind quarters) out onto the shearing ‘board’ to shear it. The sheep is always kept sitting on its rump area because this is a relaxing position for them. During the shearing there is a lot of grading and sweeping away of wool from the “fleeco” (person who handles the wool), as the shearer cuts it off the animal.
You also have to keep out of the Shearer’s way…he gets paid for every sheep he shears, so he will be going as fast as he possibly can!
After a sheep has been shorn, the fleece is thrown onto the sorting-table where any dirty pieces of wool are stripped away. (All wool can be used, it’s just a different grade). Remembering that the shearer is continuing to shear, (hurry, hurry!!), the fleece on the sorting table is rolled-up and put into the wool-press, where, when about 60 fleeces have accumulated, the bale will be pressed.
And here’s a video of the whole baling process…
A bale of wool weighs about 180Kg (400lbs). The wool is sold at auction and that is usually the last that a farm has to do with the wool.
The wool then starts the long (and expensive) process to be cleaned and washed called scouring.
At this stage the dirt and oil (lanolin) is extracted. The dirt is processed to become compost/fertiliser, and the lanolin skimmed off and sold to pharmaceutical companies to be used in beauty products!
Virtually nothing is wasted from the sheep fleece…it is just a shame that these days, the farmer does not make any money from it.
The most commonest sheep breed in New Zealand is the Romney – (50 – 60% of all NZ sheep).
They are good all-round sheep, but their wool is generally used for carpets as it is strong and hard-wearing. (Too coarse for clothing…it would be very prickly and itchy next to your skin).
All finished….for another year!