Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shearing Ouessant Sheep: Part 1. Welcome to anyone who’s come here via Renée’s Ouessant sheep forum for whom I promised I’d document our attempts at shearing our own sheep. We only put our little flock together last year and so luckily only had one to shear, the patient old ewe, which Renée helped us with using her dog clippers. They did the job but aren’t really the right tool, so we borrowed some proper electric shears (Heiniger) from Paul and Christiane, our pig-farming neighbours, who also have four Rouge de l’Ouest sheep (not woolly pigs). They warned me that the clippers didn’t cut that well, which we confirmed when we had a go at our ram.

I thought that our full-time sheep farming, part-time maire, Jean-Luc would be able to advise me. He looked at the shears and pronounced the comb the wrong type and recounted how, just a few days ago, the professional sheep-shearer visiting his farm had finished early and asked if there was anybody else in the neighbourhood who wanted their sheep sheared … doh! Nobody is going to turn out for just five sheep, so we were back to plan A, with Jean-Luc offering to find us the right comb and cutter for the borrowed shears. Looking in the catalogue at Paul’s, the cutters seemed to be the right thing for sheep, a fact I confirmed when I spoke to Susan, a technical adviser with CoxAgri, whose website is massively more detailed than Heiniger’s own.

Though they’re trade only, Susan, and her sales colleague Norma, were more than willing to help me out of a fix and despatched a “Farmer’s Pack” (a comb and two blades) immediately. The problem with always being a complete beginner (a position we all-too-frequently find ourselves occupying) is that we have nothing to compare something to. Should these blades cut better? are they sharp enough? Being able to compare the before and after, we discovered that the condition and sharpness of the cutter and comb are really important, as is the setting up of the two in relation to each other and the adjustment of the tensioning wheel. The cutters need lubricating and, on Val’s advice, again, halfway through shearing a sheep.

The video shows us practising on Dolly, the pretend sheep, a concept that anyone who’s done first aid or ante-natal classes would be familiar with. We printed off some excellent diagrams and advice from and had many practise runs before we attempted our second sheep. More on that on tomorrow’s blog. The photo shows me clipping sheepy toenails another of several jobs that we got done all at the one sitting. The photo also shows how the passing years have done for my own hair negating my personal need to be shorn!