No – in fact, shearing is such an essential element of good animal husbandry, if you don’t do it, the sheep will die a miserable, painful death.
Sheep grow thick wool fleeces – fact. These fleeces attract blow flies especially in summer – another unavoidable fact. These flies burrow down into the wool where they lay their eggs. Maggots then hatch about 3 days later and begin eating the sheep alive – literally – and a third, revolting, fact. Untreated, these maggots can kill a sheep in 36 hours – a harsh reality.
So to pre-empt seeing our sheep suffer this awful fate, we shear in late May. Timing is perfect. We will have finished our April lambing and given the ewes and lambs time to bond well into their ewe-nique relationship. Then, as the weather warms up and flies become an issue, we shear. With the ewes sporting a neat back and both sides clip, there is nowhere for the flies to burrow and do their worst. This means the ewes are protected for about 4-6 weeks while they enjoy the late spring warmth, free of their heavy winter coats. After that, the wool begins to grow so we lightly spray with an insecticide which give the ewes protection from fly strike throughout the rest of the summer. Job done, sheep safe.
Folk who won’t wear wool believing it to be cruel to shear sheep are not only missing out on the health benefits of a lovely natural fibre, they are also being a little woolly-headed and if they ever faced a ewe smitten with fly strike, they would think again. Just the smell of fly strike is enough to convince anyone that shearing is the right and only way to go.
But is the actual act of shearing cruel? No, not if your shearer handles the ewe decisively and with respect. The shearer also needs to be experienced, being able to take the fleece off all in one. A good shearer is a joy to watch and I have mighty respect for them, knowing the huge physical strain shearing puts on their backs and knees. Yes, of course there are some cowboys and speedsters in the industry – there is always bad element in any profession. Sadly and very unfairly they tarnish the whole industry. The good shepherds know their shearers and we won’t allow anyone onto our farms let alone near our sheep if we am not convinced about their integrity. And the industry then becomes self-regulating, a bad shearer gets a reputation just as much as a good one.