On a NZ sheep farm, the most important building is the WOOLSHED.
The woolshed is generally where all aspects of sheep-tendering takes place – it’s not only for shearing! There are pens and yards adjacent to the woolshed, and these are to ‘draft’ (sort) the sheep into different categories as there maybe lambs, older sheep, rams, etc. to separate when all the sheep are ‘mustered’ (gathered and brought in) off the farm.
During the summer months many farms suffer badly with fly-strike. This is where a fly will ‘blow’ (lay its eggs) on a sheep. This is a very annoying part of farming and it is very debilitating to sheep (who will die if left untreated, as the eggs hatch into blood-thirsty larvae and eat the sheep’s flesh causing a massive sore and often results in septicemia…yuck!). A daily check of the stock is a MUST during these months. Unfortunately, there is only one cure and that is to bring the sheep in, shear the infected area and douse the maggots with insecticide. There are about 2 other times per year when we have to bring the sheep to the woolshed and this is to ‘crutch’ (shear the bottom area) of the sheep; once just prior to shearing time, (for us shearing is in December/January), the other is just before lambing, (for us lambing is about late-July).
The wool from ALL of the shearing’s is used. It does not go ‘off’ if it is left for the year, so we store it (in a bale) and send it away to auction in early February, with our main shearing . Wool is not worth a lot of money these days…shearing is a job which has to be done.
During our main full shearing (in December/January), the woolshed is a VERY busy place…it virtually becomes a production line! Shearers are a dying breed these days (as no one wants to do the hot, dirty, and back-breaking work), so when you find a good shearer - go full-out to keep him!! Remember Mother’s saying that “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”?, well, the same applies to a Shearer, (and why I maintain that the second most important place on a NZ sheep farm is the Homestead kitchen!!!) No truly, a Shearer needs fuel to do this type of work…as it’s kind of like running a marathon!
So, first-up at shearing time, the sheep are pushed into the holding pens inside the woolshed. Usually we do this the evening before, (making certain the sheep are not too tightly packed and that the lights are kept on throughout the night). Many people think it cruel that the animal is without food or water for 24 hours; -but it is not. The sheep are required to ‘empty-out’ (fast), and as they are doubled-over in an uncomfortable position while they are being shorn, it is much kinder and safer to them to have an empty stomach, (much like when a person goes to hospital for an operation!)
Our woolshed was built in the 1930′s (and is still in originnal condition!). It can hold about 100 sheep at a time, and this is also good if it is likely to rain; you cannot shear wet sheep, because you cannot bale wet wool…it will combust spontaneously, (many woolsheds have burnt to the ground simply because the wool was baled when it was wet). The Shearer will drag a sheep (on its hind quarters) out onto the shearing ‘board’ to shear it. Here, there is a lot of sweeping away of wool, and you have to keep out of the Shearer’s way…he get’s paid for every sheep he shears, so he will be going as fast as he possibly can! We are fortunate that both of our daughter’s (Mary & Emma), help us at shearing-time. They ‘know the ropes’ and can practically run the shed by themselves…(mind you, they had good teachers!!)
After a sheep has been shorn, the fleece is thrown onto the sorting-table where any dirty pieces of wool are stripped away. (All wool can be used, it’s just a different grade). Remembering that the Shearer is continuing to shear, (hurry, hurry!!), the fleece on the sorting table is rolled-up and put into the wool-press, where, when about 60 fleeces have accumulated, the bale will be pressed. Since our farm is very small, only doing about 12 – 15 bales per year, we just have a manual wool-press, (bigger farms have electric presses).
And here’s a video of the whole baling process…
A bale of wool weighs about 180Kg (400lbs). We sell it at auction and that is the last we see of the wool.
The breed of sheep we have on our farm is Romney.
They are good all-round sheep, and the most common breed of sheep in NZ (50 – 60% of all NZ sheep are Romney’s). Their wool is generally used for carpets as it is strong and hard-wearing. (Too coarse for clothing…it would be very prickly and itchy next to your skin).
When you visit our farm during our Eco-tours, you will visit our woolshed where we have a display about wool and NZ sheep breeds.
All finished….for another year!
…The Coast to Coast AUCKLAND TOURS
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