Most farmers think of shearing as being exclusively a spring activity. Contemplating the heat of summer, they (hopefully) call their shearer in late winter/early spring, well in advance to arrange a time in that sometimes elusive sweet spot of time between “too cold” and “beastly hot” to get the animals naked.
Many animals, however, not only benefit from a fall shearing but really require it. Amongst these are Lincoln Longwool and other long wooled sheep, and Angora goats.
How can you determine if your animal needs a 6-month shearing? Most people make this decision based on staple length and fiber fineness; Angora goats grow their hair at an amazing rate, between 3 and 6 inches in a six month period. Moreover the fineness of their fiber gives it a tendency to felt (stick) together if left unshorn for too long; a very wet season can also accelerate the felting process. Similarly fast-growing finewool sheep will need to be shorn in the fall to avoid the wool felting and not only becoming unusable, but quite uncomfortable for the animal.
There are some “in between” breeds, like Romneys – I’ve heard people say that one should shear a Romney every 9 months, and while that makes sense if you look at the fiber growth, it makes for a very awkward shearing schedule and, depending on where those 9 months fall, a very chilly sheep.
Many owners of Shetland and Icelandic sheep also like to shear in the fall; these primitive breeds not only grow their wool fast, but they engage in a most inconvenient (for the shearer) process in the spring called “rooing” where their fiber felts not from the top down, as with other sheep, but from the skin up. It is their natural way of trying to shed out their fleece and it’s devilishly hard to shear. A fall shearing can (but does not necessarily) avert this process.
Bellying out, crutching, pizzle trimming, and other niceties
It’s really not necessary to do a full body shear on most sheep breeds twice a year, and most certainly one does not want to shear camelids more than once in the spring; however, there are some “touch ups” that are very nice both for owners and animals.
Bellying out is a lovely thing to do for sheep mid-summer when a full-out shear would expose them to sunburn and remove their insulation (yes, their wool actually helps them regulate temperature even in heat). By shearing the belly you allow them to feel the cool of the ground when they lie down, and get a bit of a breeze on their underside. It also cleans out any manure tags that may have started to accumulate, and for rams and wethers, it opens up the pizzle area so that urine burn is avoided.
Crutching involves shearing the lower portion of the belly wool around the teats, and around the behind of the sheep. This is primarily done for ewes who are due to lamb (if the owner does not want to do a full-out pre-lambing shear); however, it’s an excellent practice to keep sheep bottoms clean and clear of manure tags. It also means a cleaner fleece at spring shearing.
Pizzle trimming is a “nice to have” on many animals, and an essential action on heavily wooled sheep and Angora goats. Often fiber grows right up against the prepuce or “pizzle”, and as urine flows out, the hairs gather up the fluid, and then lay against the skin where they cause urine burn (much like diaper rash). I’ve seen bloody sores as a result of this. Looks painful! It’s a 20 second procedure and makes your boys happy and clean.
Finally, I personally like to do a cleanup and checkup on my animals mid-year because it gives me a chance to look them over while they’re upside down, check that there are no bumps or lumps, and take care of hoof trims at the same time. Wool hides a multitude of evils, and by doing a quick exam and cleanup, you can head problems off at the pass.