A shearing date

For nearly 15 years, our shearing date has been the Saturday of the last full weekend of January — that would be January 27th this year. Our shearing date has been carefully selected based on the seasons and the production stage of the flock — late enough in gestation to increase the birth weights of the coming lambs (making them more viable in Iowa’s cold winters) but early enough that we don’t risk late-term abortions. The date is determined by our lambing season — based on the well-being of the flock and Iowa’s typical weather patterns — and until now, our shearing date has been as predictable as the date of New Year’s Eve.

Because we need a team of about fifteen volunteers to help get our ewes sheared, I usually send out a mid- to late-December email so those who might be interested can be added to the team. Before that, however, I must confirm the date with our shearer — and that can be complicated. Shearers are well known for being difficult to contact. A good shearer (like ours) is hard to find and is in high demand. Any shepherd of wool sheep knows that you never do anything to make your shearer mad; much of the flock’s working capital is directly tied to the quality of the work he or she does.

I first tried to confirm the January 27th shearing date about a month ago. At that time, I was told that he thought it would work, but he’d have to check with his wife and then he’d get back to me. I sent out the occasional text to remind him that I was still waiting, but there was still time and I wasn’t too worried. As the holidays drew near, I began to get a bit concerned. Without his confirmation, I couldn’t set up my volunteers. My texts to him became more frequent, and I began to call too. We’d never had an issue with our shearing date before, but I didn’t like the long wait for confirmation.

Well, I was right to worry, since when he did finally contact me, he said that our usual date would not work for them; we needed to select another weekend this year. It might seem that this change is a simple one, but honestly, I’m in a bit of a panic. You see, we can’t shear any later than the end of January because we begin to get too close to those first due dates in mid-February. Our first ewes could deliver as early as February 10, and shearing so near full-term could bring on early labor — a risk I’m not willing to take. That means that we must shear earlier rather than later — and that, too, is a problem!

Shearing a week earlier would have been a lesser issue had I known about it in early December. I now have less than three weeks to prepare for shearing, and there is so much to do! Besides the reams of paperwork (fleece weight lists, vaccination lists, fiber testing submission forms and sample bags, fleece identification cards, etc.), I also need to line up our help. And those helpers have had January 27th on their calendars as our shearing date for nearly a year. Will these people be able to shift their schedules to the new date? And if not, will I be able to find other people to fill in so close to shearing? I don’t know, and that has me really stressed out!

I know that one way or another, our sheep will get sheared on January 20th — and the advantage of that date is that I will have an extra week to skirt the fleeces before the first lambs arrive. Yet at this point, the benefit of the extra week does not outweigh the forced acceleration of my shearing prep and the related stress that brings. As soon as I finish this blog, I’m off to write my shearing volunteer email, hoping that our helpers will all respond quickly. I have no idea what I will do if they don’t, or if they can’t come, or if they can only come for part of the day due to prior commitments. But I’m trying not to think about that right now. I have to keep focused on what I can control and hope for the best. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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