Adam Henson, from the BBC's Countryfile, on the art of shearing
10:21 30 May 2012
A year ago, no one had heard of the Schmallenberg Virus.This horrible, insect borne disease which causes birth defects and miscarriages in livestock first emerged in northern Europe in 2011.
By this spring, hundreds of British farms had been affected and the issue was on the radio, TV and in print. Despite the media debate, no one can say for certain what effect the virus will have in the months to come. But if anything positive can be salvaged from the outbreak its that the general publics appreciation and understanding of sheep farming has increased. That applies to shearing almost as much as it did to lambing earlier in the year. On my farm in the Cotswolds, well soon be shearing our flock of 900 sheep but its not necessarily the case everywhere. Shearing follows the weather, so it takes place earlier in Devon and Cornwall than it does in the Midlands, who are then ahead of Northumbria and Scotland.
The majority of commercial work is done by gangs of experienced shearers who travel across the country working from place to place. Most of them are Australians and New Zealanders who seem to have a natural aptitude for this repetitive, back-breaking work and I suppose the large sums of money they can earn in the UK is a bit of a draw too. These hard-working young men (and the occasional woman) herd the sheep into handling pens with the aim of getting the entire fleece off each sheep in one piece so that it can be rolled and bagged intact. A top notch shearer can get through up to 300 animals in a day, driven on by the need for the gang to complete a whole flock before nightfall so they can move on to their next farm. By contrast, exhibition shearing is a much slower process. Visitors to agricultural shows, country fairs and farm parks want to see what happens and hear about the art of shearing. So the work is staggered with just a few sheep sheared daily and time for a lot more conversation than you would expect from the Aussies! The white fleeces are sold to the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) which runs a centralised system to help get the best possible profit.
Most of our coloured wool is bought by spinners and weavers at a premium due to the lovely natural shades. Nationally, lots of coloured wool still goes to the BWMB albeit at a lower price due to the fact that it cant be dyed. And the great news is that, for the first time in years, the price the farmer gets for his wool is more than the cost of having it shorn in the first place. Happy days.
Living in the clouds
The Woolly Shepherd, which was featured on Countryfile this spring, has developed a competitive range of Natural Acoustics. They are made from wool that is often wasted as it is not valuable enough to ship and store. They hang like fluffy clouds in dining areas and help to cut down clatter and echo.