What You Must Know Before Shearing Your Sheep and Goats

What You Must Know Before Shearing Your Sheep and GoatsThe `go-down’ technique of shearing goats, which involves use of a head stall and shearing the goat in a standing position, has been fully described in a number of journals.

An illustrated guide can be found on this site too.

The Right Time to Shear

In some respects, however, timing of shearing is more important than technique. This is particularly true for cashmere goats.

Cashmere down is shed at a time when kidding is normally not far off, so cashmere has to be treated with considerable care. Otherwise the stress of shearing, coupled with the effect of cold, may induce the doe to abort.

The remedies have already been mentioned; the does should be in top condition and any that are low in condition should be allowed to miss the shearing, since their kid is worth more than their fleece. Secondly, ample high-protein feed  should be available for the does as soon as they have been shorn, and they should be put into an area that provides really effective shelter.

Another form of protection adopted by some is to shear the does well before kidding commences, so that they have time to recover — growing some down and put-ting on condition before kids are born. It has to be appreciated that early shearing will reduce the potential yield of cashmere, in which case some ferals may not be worth shearing at all. The shearing date can be brought back closer to kidding in subsequent seasons as does become more acclimatised to the farm situation and suffer less stress from the shearing routine.

The problems associated with shearing cashmere does so close to kidding, gives additional support to the suggestion being made by some farmers that wethers should not be treated as second-class goats, but looked on as the mainstay of the cashmere production flock. There is also a suggestion that the problem may be overcome by the development of a mechanical combing system.

The use of coats is another development being worked on. These would be used post-shearing, or to replace shearing by collecting the cashmere as it is shed.

Angora goats do not suffer from post-shearing stress to anything like the same extent. For one thing, they are farm-reared, and therefore less upset by the process. Secondly, because mohair grows all year round, and because processors do not want fleece longer than 120mm, Angoras are shorn in the early spring, and again in early autumn, before maximum kemp growth begins.

At both these times of the year the Angora is usually in good condition and severe weather conditions are less likely to occur. Despite this, care should be taken with Angoras at shearing time, just as much as with cashmere goats, ensuring that stress is kept to a minimum and that good feed and shelter is available in the event of a sudden spell of cold weather. Without such care Angoras are just as likely as ferals to get into trouble.

Prior to Shearing

Prior to shearing, goats should be run on clean pasture where their fleeces will not gather dirt and dust. It is also advisable to divide them up into color groups some 4-6 weeks before shearing. They must of course be dry for shearing, and brought quietly into the yards so that they do not stir up dust. If mixed-colour goats are held together in the yards there will be some transfer of fibres and, as will be explained later, this is highly undesirable.

Before shearing starts, the shearing and sorting area should be meticulously cleaned of all dirt and fibre; a broom simply will not do the job thoroughly enough, so a vacuum-cleaner needs to be on hand. It is also necessary to check over the catching pens, because fibre can get caught up on rough surfaces and transfer to goats being held for shearing.

One cannot be too fussy about this business of keeping fleeces of different colour apart. The fact is that one black fibre in a 10kg fadge of white can cause downgrading. It is for that reason that white goats should be shorn first, after a thorough cleaning of the whole area, then those classified grey, and finally the blacks.

The Shearing Procedure

As to the shearing procedure itself, for any newcomer there is nothing to equal the benefit of spending time in a neighbour’s shed when goats are being shorn, to see what is basically involved, how the experts tackle it, and where the problems occur.

Those not experienced in shearing methods will find the `go-down’ technique ideal; it is not too much to say that anybody can shear goats by this method, with a little knowledge and experience. The goat is kept in a standing position and is held firmly by the head. There are many types of head stalls, mostly of the do-it yourself variety, but it is worth noting that one which can be raised and lowered is a definite advantage, and the straps should be reasonably wide. Seat belts from cars have been used successfully.

For those with only small numbers of goats to shear, or who intend shearing small mobs at a time, the go-down system is easy and no great strain on the shearer — a fact the older age-group might bear in mind. For those with large numbers to put through, who are experienced in sheep shearing, it will be quicker to use the system outlined by Willie Buick, an established goat-farmer with wide experience of shearing sheep and Angoras and ferals.

Mr Buick himself does not suggest for one moment that this is the only way to shear goats, but his methods are simple and as they closely follow traditional shearing methods, will be most readily adopted by farmers with experience with sheep.

The goat is upended, rather as with a sheep, but with one important difference; a goat has a bony rump and, if set upright on its tail, will be uncomfortable and fight the shearer. The solution is to put the head back and straddle the goat — which has the additional benefit of getting those horns out of the way — and to allow it to sink back on to the shearer’s feet.

The following blows are then taken:

  • 1) down the belly, as with sheep;
  • 2) 2 blows on the first leg, bringing the head forward to the front of the legs;
  • 3) 2 blows, one each side of the backbone, going well up to the horns;
  • 4) step forward, as with a sheep, and run up the neck, taking the cheek off, followed by two more blows up the neck;
  • 5) 2 blows into the shoulder;
  • 6) lie the goat down on your leg (if the goat’s shoulder hits the ground it will struggle to rise) and take 2 blows along the flank;
  • 7) lift the head and take 2 good blows over the backbone right up to the right side cheek
  • 8 ) step back, starting the goat’s head back between the legs and finish off with 2 blows on the last leg. Blows on the last side must be made against the lie of the fibre (contrary to the system with sheep) as the comb may ride over the fleece.

A great deal has been written about the need to stand the hand piece in oil because it heats up to such an extent when shearing goats. Willie Buick considers this erroneous; the heating is caused by too much tension and a well-prepared hand-piece does not need much tension to cut properly.

Using conventional gear on a run of 70 goats he has used only a couple of drops of oil. But it is important to use a comb with good lead, 20 teeth (as against the 13 teeth of a normal comb), and bullnose pointed. The skin of a goat is very soft and the animal is very angular, so it is easy to cut them.

Willie Buick is also enthusiastic about an electric portable handpiece with a switch on the handpiece itself, which he has used with considerable success. Because there is no point in shearing the belly of cashmere goats, the `go-down’ technique has some advantage, although Willie Buick finds he can shear a feral conventionally in about 20 seconds, whereas it takes him that amount of time to get the animal into the head stall.

The object with the go-down system is to hold the tail of the goat in the left hand so that the animal is more or less kept stretched out, and to start with a blow up the hock and along the backbone. This is the area likely to contain hairy fibre and it should be tossed aside. Follow up with four or five blows along the flank and then clean the shoulder out. Change hands to hold the tail with the right and do the same on the other side.

One of the most important things when shearing goats is to take the handpiece up¬wards or across the fibre, never in the direction in which it lies. Other experts on shearing state that a flexible, rather than a jointed, down-tube, is preferable with traditional shearing gear, and suggest the handpiece should be stood in a 2:1 mixture of kerosene and light oil, between animals. They suggest that the gear should be slowed to run at about half normal rate. One major manufacturer of shearing machines has now come onto the market with a conver¬sion kit for their machines.

Preparation of combs for goats is fairly important but those specially designed for goats, having 20 teeth and extra lead, are worth the extra outlay. It is important too that second cuts do not occur. Length of fibre is important in the processing of goat fibre, so second cuts are not simply a waste, but a positive nuisance, to buyers.