Saturday, 12 November 2011

Shearing 2011

The main shearing for 2011 on Ochre Arch was completed Monday through Wednesday of this week. Once again Heathcote Shearing Contractors provided the team of workers, with our role being primarily to have the sheep ready each day. We also help out in the shed and are available to assist as and when appropriate.

This year we decided to have ALL of the sheep (ewes, lambs, ewe hoggets and rams) shorn during the period given:

  • Experience last year with some lamb losses due to the impact of seed burden from the native Corkscrew Grass. These plants are currently seeding. This year we are managing the grazing plan differently to (hopefully) avoid a repeat and have been assured by many that shearing the lambs (not done at this time last year) will help.
  • Forecast for a relatively wet summer (although not as wet as lat year) which can mean ideal fly strike conditions. Having the wool short should help. That said, our sheep have been bred to minimise the risk of fly strike - plain bodied (less wrinkles to trap moisture) and more 'open' wool (able to dry out faster after rain)
  • Shearing the lot at once means that all the animals are aligned and we thus minimise the number of times  we have to arrange for shearing each year - hopefully to just the once. We do have them crutched on a needs basis.
Our shearing this year was more complex because of the constant threat of rain and our desire to make sure that lambs were not away from their mothers for more than 24 hours at a time - much easier said than done, but preferred given the lambs are not yet weaned i.e. they are still sourcing milk from their mothers.

On Sunday we drafted off sufficient ewes for a full days shearing and shedded them overnight - with some in the shearing shed and the balance in the solar shed which we'd fenced on a temporary basis specifically for this purpose. We are pleased to know that we can now shed enough sheep for a full day's shearing. Here you can see some of the ewes in the solar shed.
The team of workers for Monday comprised Howard (wool classer - lives locally), Nicole (roustabout - from Germany currently 2 months into a 12 month working holiday), Belle (trainee roustabout - originally from Gilgandra), Eddie (shearer - based at Dubbo and originally from New Zealand) and Tim (shearer - lives locally). In the following photo you can see from left to right: Tim, Eddie, Howard, Belle and Nicole.

On Tuesday Tim was replaced by another local shearer, Michael.

For Belle, Monday was only the second day she'd been in a shearing shed or near sheep with the first having been on Sunday when she spent half a day helping by sweeping the board for the shearers. Sheds like ours are ideal for learners as the pace is less hectic. We quite like the idea of having learners on our place as there is a great need for more people in the shearing industry and they have to learn somewhere. The new skill Belle worked on acquiring during Monday was how to 'throw' a fleece onto the wool table. This is not at all easy and we gave her full credit for trying hard, staying focused and willingly seeking coaching all day. Here is a photo of one of her early attempts. One of the trickiest aspects is to hold the fleece together and get the whole thing onto the table. In this shot the neck area didn't quite clear the edge of the table ... but almost!
A critical part of the shed work is preparing the wool for sale. The wool classer is the key player in this respect. That said, we are also fortunate in that our wool broker (Rowan from Jemalong Wool at Forbes) takes a very active role as well and comes out to see the condition of the wool on the first day of shearing and to give guidance to the wool classer where appropriate. If the wool is classed the way the buyers like it then this does translate into a better price for us. Here you can see both Howard and Rowan skirting one of the fleeces on the wool table whilst discussing what the wool was like and agreeing the classing criteria. Not all wool classers are open to suggestions from wool brokers - no problems at all with Howard though, who takes considerable care and attention in performing his role. 

In this photo you can see some of the shorn sheep waiting to be returned to the paddock as well as some of those who were soon to enter the shed. Quite a contrast!

In days gone by it was the role of the farmer to have available equipment in the shed enabling the nominated 'expert' or in some cases the shearers to sharpen the combs and cutters used in the hand pieces. Times have changed and it is now the case (there are some exceptions) that all shearers have their own grinders, with most sharpening taking place after hours. Eddie asked if it would be OK if he set up his grinder in the shed and did the sharpening during lunch. Fine by us. Here's a photo of him 'in action' on the sharpening. We hope that he doesn't one day learn the hard way the benefit of wearing safety glasses!

In the interest of work efficiency the wool classer has to quite early on determine the type of wool that is to become the 'main line'. It is these fleeces that go directly into the wool press to avoid double handling. The remaining lines are stored in 'bins' until either there is enough stored in one to create a complete bale or the end of the shearing. The following photo was taken at around 9.00 am on day 2 (Tuesday) and shows what by that point had been stored in the bins.

We hire our woolpress and this year sourced one from Young Shearing Supplies and Woolpress Hire. All went well in this regard.

The ewe hoggets were shorn after the ewes. It was then on to the lambs. Whilst our lambing percentage was down on prior years we are very pleased with the growth and condition of the lambs we do have. Here you can see a group of them in the yards just after we drafted them from their mothers.
Only a few of the lambs were shorn on Tuesday. Thus almost all of Wednesday was devoted to lamb shearing. It was not necessary due to the shortness of the lambs wool to have a wool classer at hand and the roustabout workload was also much less. Thus the team on Wednesday was just Michael, Eddie and Belle with us taking the main role in penning up the lambs. Shearing the lambs makes them look like 'real sheep'. Here's some post shearing.

Earlier this year we changed ram supplier. Some of the rams have genetics from the Konsortium Merino group in South Africa. One of our ewe lambs for some reason stands out as having something special about her - assessed in terms of growth rate, wool growth, absolutely no wrinkles and fine features. She was the only one to have grown sufficient wool within a maximum of 10 weeks such that the fleece could potentially have been thrown onto the table. At marking about a month ago she literally hurdled two fences in the sheep yards and we at that time named her 'Springbok' reflecting the country of her genetics. Given Belle is still a bit anxious about sheep having not worked with them we caught Springbok and got her to hold her for a while. Thus this photo:

After the lambs were shorn it was then time for the rams. You can see in this photo that the are very substantial animals with horns to match. We had hoped to trim the horns but decided to defer this for the time being.

Arrangements are in place to have the wool bales collected this coming week and most of it will be sold at auction shortly thereafter.

Our remote power supply system once again handled the power demands of the shearing effort. It was overcast on Monday and Tuesday which did mean that the diesel generator kicked in late Tuesday. This did create a tad more 'excitement' than we'd planned. We had the lambs penned up in the solar shed at the time. They were spooked by the noise and all rushed into the temporary fence breaking the wire. By the time we got to them about half had escaped and we ended up placing those that had escaped in the shearing shed. Such is life! Being on remote power does at times have its advantages. On Monday due to a lightning strike a fair chunk of New South Wales was blacked out during the day ... including our area ... and we motored on totally unaffected.

In closing ... a big thank you goes to Jan's sister Ros who was a great help with the sheep work in the paddock.

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