Shearing is an essential part of successful flock management. It keeps sheep cool in the summer and protects them from mites, lice, ticks, and maggots that cause fly strike. Shearing can also positively impact flock productivity. As a sheep farmer, you may wonder when is the best time to shear your sheep? Should you shear before lambing? Here’s everything you need to know.
Reasons To Shear Before Lambing
There are many benefits to shearing sheep before lambing. If you intend to shear before lambing, experts recommend shearing them 4–6 weeks before the expected lambing date. Below is why this is the perfect time to shear your sheep flock.
To Keep the Barn Warmer and Drier for the Lambs
Shearing before lambing creates a healthier environment for the mother and the lamb. Even if you keep your sheep indoors, their wool can absorb much moisture under humid conditions.
The moisture retention capacity of full fleece results in a relatively damp microclimate conducive for bacteria and pathogens to proliferate. These conditions are not ideal for newborn lambs. Shearing before lambing creates a drier, healthier environment for the ewes and the lambs.
To Create a Cleaner Environment for the New Born Lambs
In addition to moisture, wool can hold onto manure, mud, and other forms of dirt. Wool can also soak up fluids from the birth process. All these can harbor pathogens and bacteria, putting newborn lambs at risk.
Shearing pregnant ewes before lambing creates a cleaner environment for the lambs and ewes alike. Short fleece reduces the risk of pathogens, giving the lambs better chances for survival.
To Produce Healthier, More Productive Lambs
Shearing before lambing also produces healthier, more productive lambs. Studies have shown that shearing pregnant ewes at mid or late pregnancy may improve blood flow to the unborn lamb. More blood flow increases lamb birth weight.
The observed increase in birth weight is significant, ranging from 15-25%. While it can occur in singleton births, the improvement in lamb weight at birth due to shearing is more evident in ewes with multiple births.
To Ensure Safer Births
Shearing pregnant ewes a few weeks before the anticipated lambing date also leads to safer births. Long, dense fleece can obscure birthing problems in sheep. With a freshly shorn ewe, it’s easier to notice any issues in birthing.
It’s also easier to observe a shorn ewe’s health and nutritional status, both of which can contribute to birthing problems. As a farmer, you can also tell when a ewe is about to lamb more quickly if they have short fleece.
To Protect the Lambs from the Elements
As a farmer, you may hesitate to shear before lambing because of weather concerns. But if you have adequate shelter for your sheep, that shouldn’t be a cause for concern. A shorn ewe will seek warmth in the barn if it’s cold outside.
The newborn lamb will follow the mother to the shelter. In contrast, a ewe with a thick layer of fleece is less likely to be bothered by the cold. She will remain outside, to the detriment of her newborn lamb —likely to become hypothermic.
To Increase Ewes’ Feed Intake
Living things generate heat from the food they eat. Shearing removes the insulative property of the sheep’s fleece. As a result, a shorn ewe will require more feed to compensate for heat loss due to shearing.
In other words, a shorn ewe must eat more to maintain normal body temperature. The increased feed intake will help meet the ewe’s growing nutrient demands in late pregnancy and after birth. The outcome is stronger, healthier lambs.
To Provide Easy Access to the Udder Area
Shearing your pregnant ewes before their anticipated lambing time is also a good practice to provide newborn lambs with easy access to milk. If a ewe has long fleece hanging down the belly, the lambs may have difficulty accessing the udder area.
Shearing your ewes before lambing means the lambs don’t have to such on dirty wool tags after failing to locate the teats. It also helps keep the lambs healthy by reducing their chances of ingesting germs.
To Improve Wool Quality
A shear before lambing improves wool quality in a couple of ways. Firstly, it prevents wool from the metabolic stress the ewes experience in late pregnancy and early lactation. Higher cortisol levels at this stage weaken the wool, compromising quality.
Secondly, shearing prior to lambing reduces vegetative matter in the wool. Sheep fleece is prone to entanglement with burr and grass seeds, and this vegetative matter lowers wool quality. Moving ewes into the barn for shearing before lambing helps prevent contamination.
Pregnant Ewes Are Easier To Shear
Last but not least, pregnant ewes with only a few weeks to their expected lambing date are easier to shear. Big and chubby, pregnant ewes don’t want to move around; hence easier to move into shearing positions.
On the other hand, lactating ewes are often bursting with protective energy and less cooperative. After about a month of lactating, their lanolin becomes hard and sticky. Their fleece turns a sticky mess that’s too hard to get through with shears.
As a farmer, 4–6 weeks prior to the anticipated lambing date is the best time to shear your ewes. But if you really don’t like the idea of a shear before lambing, we recommend waiting 6–8 weeks to schedule shearing after lambing.
Pre-Lambing Shearing: Key Considerations
Shearing before to lambing is a common practice in sheep farming. It’s a simple way for farmers to capitalize on the best lamb and wool markets while improving the welfare of their flock. However, there are important considerations to keep in mind for effective pre-lambing shearing.
As with anything to do with farming, timing — relative to birth — is critical when shearing before lambing. So, what’s the best time for pre-lambing shearing?
Ideally, ewes due to lamb should be scheduled for shearing 4–6 weeks before the anticipated lambing date. Anything closer than four weeks will be too much stress on the ewe, as lamb growth is highest after this point.
Next, think about the protection for your ewes post-shearing. Your ewes will need help staying warm after pre-lambing shearing. Shearing removes the ewe’s insulation from inclement weather, increasing the risk of cold exposure.
What kind of shelter do you have in place for the shorn ewes? Ensure your ewes can find a well-protected area to seek warmth and protection when it’s cold outside. Pre-lambing shearing is probably not a good idea if you don’t have a barn.
Health and Nutrition
You also need to consider your pregnant ewes’ health and nutritional status before removing their fleece. A sheep suffering from illness or malnutrition is much more likely to suffer cold exposure after shearing.
Check the animal’s health status before shearing. Also, shearing before lambing will increase the ewe’s caloric needs due to increased heat production. Increase their feed post-shearing to help them maintain a healthy body temperature.
Shearing before lambing boosts productivity and improves the welfare of your flock. However, you need to ensure your ewes have access to warm shelter and good feed post-shearing. The timing relative to lambing is also vital for effective pre-lambing shearing.
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