Shearing in the Rain

Keeping that sheep dry!

Argh, the rain!

It’s spring.  It’s raining. Your fiber animals are outside and wet.  You ask the shearer: “Can you shear them wet?  Can you shear when it’s raining out?”

Easy answers:  (1) Would you run your lawnmower over the grass when it’s wet?  (2) Would you plug in your toaster oven and make breakfast outside when it’s raining?

So … no.

The grey area is when your animals are “damp”.  If they are damp on top but not wet to the skin, they can be shorn, but you will need to get your hands on a random sample of animals and make sure that they are not wet to the skin.  That said, shearing damp animals means:

  1. You cannot bag your fleece as it will get moldy.
  2. Your shearer will get wet and risks catching a cold, or worse (See:  Shearing Wet Sheep, A Doctor’s Opinion)
  3. A damp sheep is a slippery sheep – this increases risk of injury to both sheep and shearer.
  4. Your shearer will likely be quite grumpy.

The short shearing season

Let’s back up a bit and talk about the shearing season in general.  Spring shearing is a short season – a few months, at best. We shearers schedule our jobs tightly packed, like a medical clinic during a flu outbreak. Time is of the essence.  We want to be done before the summer heat sets in, both for the animals’ and for our own sakes.

There are many models of shearing crews.

  • Some shearers do a “run” from south to north or east to west.  They start in one location and just keep on going. If it’s raining and your animals are wet, they pass you by and you are left wondering how to get your animals done.
  • Some shearers are “weekend warriors” – they have day jobs, and may have more flexibility in scheduling than those who shear thousands of animals every season.
  • Some shearers work in a 3-4 hour radius from home base, as I do, but will group trips together so as to service as many farms and animals possible in one given trip.  If it’s raining and your animals are wet, the entire trip may need to be cancelled, punishing the people whose animals ARE dry but are unlucky enough to be on that route.

What do all these shearers have in common?  They won’t shear in the rain.

What you can do

Of course, we cannot control the weather.  But what CAN fiber animal owners do to ensure their flocks are sheared in a timely manner and they are not passed by or rescheduled to the heat of summer?  Here are a few common sense suggestions to help you and your animals and your shearer:

  • Watch the weather forecast.  If it even hints of rain, lock your animals into a stall or shed.  They will be fine.
  • If you only have an open run-in shed, buy yerself a gate and make sure you have a good latch on it.  Now, some people use cattle panels or wire fencing.  Cattle panels can work, but they make lousy gates and always snag animal fiber and human clothing. Wire fencing can be bent or busted through by determined animals. Have you seen the face of shearer as he/she watches the unshorn flock make their mad escape?  Get a gate.
  • Provide an area for the shearer that is dry and under cover, flat and sufficiently large to do shearing. (sheep shearers need less space; alpaca shearers will need at least a 15’x8′ space with strong posts or rings to hook ropes to).
  • Think and plan creatively. Do you have a horse trailer?  How about a garage?  If your flock is small, these might work in a pinch to keep them dry.  If it rained the day before and the shearing area is wet, get a large heavy-duty tarp or put down plywood. It is dangerous to shear on wet ground.
  • Give your shearer adequate notice if you cannot keep animals dry.  If you’ve worked with your shearer before, you will know if he/she has a long drive to your farm, or if he/she lives around the corner.  As the season progresses, and more and more farms pile up needing to be rescheduled, the stress mounts quite a bit. Don’t wait till the last minute to cancel.
  • Don’t make your shearer have to contact you to ask “are your animals dry?” The shearer should be able to assume everything is in order to shear unless you notify him/her.  You can make your shearer extra happy by a quick text saying, “everyone is dry”.  That way there is no doubt.
  • Understand that there is a domino effect to cancellations: unless you have a large flock and yours is the only one of the day, chances are good that a few farms with wet animals will result in cancellations for everyone for the day if the trip to that area is a long one.  We book a full 12 hour day when we travel.  Backtracking is time consuming, tiring, and expensive (remember that most shearers are also paying an assistant whose wage depends on the number of animals shorn).
  • Don’t expect a new date next week.  It is not your fault that it rained. However, it is your responsibility to have animals kept dry and prepared on the shearing date. If it’s missed, then the rescheduling module kicks in and this is different for every shearer.

About rescheduling

Please contact your shearer to find out his/her policy on rescheduling. It is usually both difficult and inconvenient to reschedule because rescheduling one farm almost always affects multiple farms and requires quite a lot of communication and re-coordinating multiple people’s lives.  But the sooner you can predict a problem with rain and can communicate this, the better!

Here is a random sample of what I’ve heard from other shearers:

  • For some shearers who travel through an area, it’s a one-shot deal. If you miss the appointment, you’ll need to find someone else.
  • Some shearers will charge a cancellation fee or increase the charge for the return trip.
  • Some shearers will try to squeeze you in on the next available date, if it makes sense logistically.
  • Some shearers automatically put you in the “June” pile because their schedule is so tightly booked, they have no room for rain dates.
  • Some shearers are simply not servicing farms anymore which cannot promise to keep animals dry.
  • My current policy is to try to re-fit you in IF I am making a run in your general direction. However, if there are multiple farms in the same area with the same weather-dependency, I have no choice but to schedule you in later June when risk of rain goes down and after the farms with shelter have been done.

The moral of the story

Shearers will love you if you prepare for the possibility of rain, keep your animals dry, and provide a nice, dry, flat, clean and well-lit space for you to shear in.

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