Shearing day

Last week I presented the wool from the Swedish conservation breed Gestrike sheep. All the Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia Dillmann’s flock. I was invited to Claudia a couple of weeks ago on shearing day.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

Rules and practice

Before I take you to the shearing day I want to give you a very basic overview of shearing in Sweden. This is my understanding and I may be wrong and off on several points.

The animal welfare law in Sweden states that sheep should be shorn when needed but with no more than one year in between shearings. However, most sheep in Sweden are shorn twice every year, usually in the early spring and in the fall.

Many ewes are pregnant during the winter, with estimated lambing in the spring. Much of the nutrition goes to the fetus and the wool isn’t in it’s best shape (for those of you who have ever been pregnant, you may know what I’m talking about). There is no access to fresh greens and the cold weather increases the lanolin production. A lot of sheep are stabled during the winter. Depending on the design of feeding tables among other things the fleece can have quite a bit of straw in their fleeces. The spring shearing is therefore usually of lesser quality, with more vegetable matter, more dirt and a higher lanolin content than the fall shearing.

In the late spring the sheep get access to fresh grass in the pastures. Some energy goes to milk, but only for a limited time. The fleece grows healthily over the summer and has a more balanced lanolin production. For spinners the fall shearing is more attractive than the spring shearing. This is of course generally speaking – I have spun a couple of spring shorn fleeces that have been of excellent quality.

Meet the flock

Claudia has 12 sheep in her flock at the moment – nine Gestrike ewes, one Gestrike wether and two Värmland ewes. A ram serves the sheep every second year and this year there were no lambs. The youngest sheep are around 18 months old. The wether Sylverster’s task is to keep order among any young rams. Claudia hoped he would also be a good lookout for predators, but he isn’t a very good guard dog. He is very nice, though, and goes with the ewes in the pastures. When there are young rams he does a very good job keeping them out of trouble.

The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.
The sheep are in the pen, reluctantly ready for shearing day.

Shearing day chain of action

When I got to Claudia’s place on shearing day the sheep were already in the pen, ready for shearing. Elin Esperi, professional shearer, had already arrived and was getting her equipment in order when I came. Claudia was there, of course, and her partner Roger. We all had important tasks to make the whole operation as smooth as possible.

  • Roger made sure Elin had a sheep to shear. He took them out of the pen one by one as soon as Elin was ready.
  • Elin’s task is obvious, she shore the sheep. Belly, crotch and legs first. After having removed this wool she shore the rest.
  • When Elin had finished with a sheep, Claudia carefully gathered the precious wool and came out to me, told me the name of the sheep and put the fleece on a grid for me to sort.
  • I wrote the name of the sheep on a paper bag and started to remove dirt, vegetable matter and second cuts from the fleece until I got the next fleece. Then I put the just sorted fleece in its paper bag and went on with the next one.

Shearing station

Since I was outside the shed and the others inside it I didn’t see much of the shearing. I did watch as Elin shore the first sheep, though, Sylvester the wether. She was very quick (she has come in fourth place in the Swedish shearing championships) and did an excellent job.

Although reluctant to leave the pen to be shorn, the sheep seemed happy and content and skipped out into the pasture after shearing. No butting, no grudging. They did seem a bit confused, but surprisingly calm.

The shearing corner is clean and free from straw. A wooden board has been placed on the ground between the pen and the shearing corner to make sure as little straw as possible enters Elin’s work station. Full daylight comes in from behind the photographer (me) and Elin has lots of space to work in.

At the sorting grid

At my outdoor station I got to go through all the fleeces, which of course was a lovely job. But since Elin was so fast I didn’t have much time with each fleece. From start to finish Elin shore 11 sheep in 30 minutes. So I got less than 3 minutes with each fleece. Each time I heard the shearing machine turn off I knew I would be getting a new fleece on my table and I needed to quickly gather the current fleece and put it in the paper bag.

I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces.
I only had a couple of minutes with each fleece at my sorting station, but I did go through all the 11 lovely Gestrike and Värmland fleeces. The fleece on the table, the last one for this shearing day, is Greta’s.

Eventhough I only got to spend a few minutes with every sheep I got the opportunity to see and feel the difference between nine fleeces of the same breed (plus the two Värmland fleeces). And the differences was truly intriguing.

The diversity of the fleeces is fascinating. Some white, some solid grey or brown, some spotted. A few of the fleeces are quite consistent in their fiber type – mostly cone shaped, airy staples with around 50 % of undercoat and outercoat, or more dense staples with clearly defined waves. Some have a little white or black kemp. All of the fleeces are remarkably clean.

A longitudinal study

A while back I introduced an idea I had of a longitudinal study of the fleece from one sheep during its lifetime. I contacted Claudia and got the opportunity to subscribe to the fleece of her Gestrike ewe Gunvor. I got her first fleece (shorn in October 2020 when she was around six months old) and her spring shearing from April 2021. On the shearing day the plan was to get access to her third shearing.

Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep
Gunvor the Gestrike ewe who was my longitudinal fleece study sheep

Claudia did however discover two hereditary diseases in Gunvor. Diseases that would be painful for both Gunvor and her future lambs. They would also be detrimental for the development of the breed in general. So the sad but only possible choice was to let Gunvor go to greener pastures. So, as there are 12 sheep in the flock only 11 were shorn this shearing day.

The longitudinal study has ended. I did get the fleeces from her lifetime. It will only have been very short. Thank you Gunvor for allowing me to discover your lovely wool. It has been a joy and pleasure.

Fleece chat

When the shearing was over Claudia invited Elin and me to lunch in her greenhouse. She served the best tomato soup I have ever had, together with a delicious bread. We talked about shearing, sheep and breeds. I asked Elin if there was a particular breed she preferred to shear or disliked. While admitted that the Dorpers and the Swedish Leicester had a tendency to butt her, she said that there were no breeds in general that she liked or disliked. The condition of the fleece was more crucial.

A tight fleece, felted parts or lots of lanolin are not enjoyable for her. Airiness makes the shears dance through the fleece. The spring shearing at Claudia’s place happened unusually late this year, in late April or early May. At this time the lanolin production was at its peak and the fleece was tough to shear. As I got Gunvor’s spring shearing I could see clotted lanolin between the fibers. So it seems like the shearer and the spinner typically like and dislike the same things in a fleece.

Fleece for sale!

Claudia has fleeces for sale! Eight Four Gestrike fleeces and two Värmland fleeces. They are remarkably clean and of high quality. Crotch and belly wool has been removed and also any poopy bits and visible vegetable matter that can be found in under three minutes.

The fleeces come as they are, raw. The lanolin content in the Swedish landrace and heritage breed is quite low and they can be washed in water only.

Again, all the four Gestrike fleeces I have come from Claudia’s flock and I have seen all the shorn fleeces she is selling now. I would buy them all if I had the time and the space.

If you want to buy a fleece from Claudia’s flock you can email her: claudia (at) saxensorter dot se

The sale of the fleeces brings in money to keep the sheep happy and fed during the winter.

As a thank you for helping out with the spring Claudia offered me a fleece. I chose one that was the same age as Gunvor: The grey beauty Elsa.

Thank you Claudia for your generosity with your flock, your knowledge and your heavenly soup.

There is still time to register for today’s breed study webinar on Gestrike wool!

Happy spinning!

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6 Replies to “Shearing day”

  1. Thank you, Josefin, for this excellent post. It was a lovely and informative read. I am so sorry for the loss of Gunvor – may her greener pastures be blessed.
    Be well,

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