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Shearing blades and their uses

Discussion in 'Everything Else Sheep' started by Southdown, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. Apr 22, 2012
    Southdown

    Southdown Overrun with beasties

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    We shear our own sheep (albeit we are far from being professionals, it's more of a git-r-done). :D I have an Oster Showmaster. It came with one cutter and one blade/comb. It worked fine overall, but I need to learn what the different blades are used for. Our blade that came with the unit worked good for the main torso of the animal, but it was not useful for the belly, legs, or face areas. The belly area is so close to the skin and is often tagged and gummy wool. It didn't cut through those areas (or else it would have cut). I trimmed a lot of the bellies with a scissors. Legs and faces were a lot of scissors also. So my question to all of you shearers is, what are the different blades and their respective uses? What blades will work best for bellies, legs, faces versus the upper bodies?

    I always look forward to how clean and nice the sheep look after shearing time, but boy I do dread the hard work of it all. It is so back breaking! :barnie
  2. Apr 22, 2012
    goodhors

    goodhors Overrun with beasties

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    Tell us what blades you have, that worked on some parts of your sheep.

    Have you seen sheep stands? They raise the height of the standing sheep,
    so there is much less bending over while shearing. I love ours, use it for
    shearing off the dog as well! You could make one if you don't want to
    purchase it.

    http://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail....shopping.com&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=28090

    I just can't take that bent-over position, used with sheep seated for shearing.

    Health wise, bending over at the waist to work using strength or lifting,
    is about the worst postion for your back, VERY easy to hurt yourself. Our
    Safety talks at work ALWAYS emphasized bending our knees to do anything
    that required getting lower in body position. One interesting film kept telling
    us "You are NOT A MECHANICAL CRANE, DON'T LEAN OVER. Don't try to use
    your body like a crane by lifting from the waist. Your lower back is the weakest
    supported part of your body, spine is only held in place with muscle." Always
    stoop down by bending your knees, then rising straight up to keep your back
    healthy. Once you hurt your back, it can hurt for a LONG TIME.

    I think the type of wool of the sheep you are shearing, can make a big difference
    in what blades, clipper head, are successful with your animals. We do market
    lambs, so they should be sheared as close to the skin as possible, smooth with
    no clipper marks. Other breeds, cross bred animals, need different kinds of blades
    to go thru gummy wool, soft fiber or that tough wool that feels like pan scrubbers!

    So starting with what works in blade choices, can help us give you suggestions for
    the other body parts. I think stomachs are always more greasy because the lanolin glands
    are down there.
  3. Apr 28, 2012
    Southdown

    Southdown Overrun with beasties

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    It came with a 20 tooth goat comb and 4 point cutter.
  4. Apr 29, 2012
    jhm47

    jhm47 Loving the herd life

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    Here is an article about the guy who used to shear our sheep. He's turning 90 this summer, and still shears a few:


    Rosholt, SD, sheep shearer Simonson quits wool buying at age 88
    ROSHOLT, S.D. ODonald Simonson, 88, of Rosholt, S.D., tells Agweek that he shipped his last load of wool to the warehouse in August.
    By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

    .
    ODonald Simonson, 88, of Rosholt, S.D., started shearing sheep in 1940. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek) ROSHOLT, S.D. ODonald Simonson, 88, of Rosholt, S.D., tells Agweek that he shipped his last load of wool to the warehouse in August.

    It was kind of hard for me to handle it, Simonson says. So many of our sheep have disappeared in this area. Theyve sold them all. Besides, it took too long to get a load. I sent out loads based on grade and yield, and consequently, it took a long time for (customers) to get their checks. Also, since I cant see, I cant write. I cant read. It was really time.

    Long career

    Simonson started shearing sheep in 1940 with a Model T Ford. The Roberts County (S.D.) Extension Service agent kept him out of the World War II draft because the country needed wool and the county already had lost several sheep shearers. In addition to shearing, Simonson started buying wool for another buyer in the 1950s and started buying wool on his own in 1985.

    Simonson and his wife, Maureen, were married in 1948. They raised 10 children at the farm. Hes not hanging up his shears entirely.

    I go out with the guys and shear a few, Simonson says. I sheared 41 in one day about a month ago now.
  5. Apr 29, 2012
    Southdown

    Southdown Overrun with beasties

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    Good Lord, I can't imagine that at my age, let alone 88. I certainly have respect for those professional shearers.
  6. Apr 29, 2012
    jhm47

    jhm47 Loving the herd life

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    Another article about my friend, Don Simonson. It's estimated that he's sheared a MILLION sheep over the years!

    DONNELLY, S.D. ODonald Don Simonson is the first to admit he cant actually see every detail on a sheep anymore.

    No worries.

    After 71 years as a professional in sheep shearing, Simonson, now age 87, has his cloven-hooved friends pretty much memorized.

    Awww yes! I know what they look like, a broad-smiling Simonson, 87, says on a Saturday in late March.

    It seemed a perfect day for Simonson.

    He and his companions Joe Reinart, a well driller from Beardsley, Minn., and Jason Madsen, a dairyman from Rosholt loaded up his home-built, hydraulic wool bagger on a flatbed trailer and took off in his pickup.

    The three-man crew was up and running at Rodney Gieses five-generation Oak Ridge Farm of Donnelly, Minn., by 8:30 a.m.

    The Gieses and their friends were enlisted as catchers, bringing sheep to the shearers and putting the sheep on their butts on makeshift plywood floors.

    Each shearer has his own pace and style, operating with choreographed efficiency.

    Self-styled Simonson first grabs the wool on the back of the neck, holding the animal until its in a position to shear first on the front leg, then up the neck to just under the ear, and out by by the eye. He then shears down the side, picks up the animal, turns her around to shear on the other side.

    The shears are similar to hair clippers and makes passes that are called swipes or blows. His friends shear in the more classical Australian style, which is faster but goes harder on the back.

    You always try and keep the sheep comfortable and she wont fight you, Simonson says.

    He shears down the other side and slowly lays the animal sheep down until its sheared around the rump. Through it all, the sheep occasionally will go limp, but quickly come to after the job scampering into the shorn corner of the shed.

    And on to the next, the next.

    And the next.

    Dinner is at noon in the house. The lunchtime conversations are colorful and lively, ranging from well drills to vehicles, to old shearing tales.

    Listen to em, Madsen says, rolling his eyes with amusement. Its always a good time.

    Theyre back at it again until about 4:30 p.m., when they were done. At the end of the last fleece, Simonson reached up to a clicker counting device. Hes done 40, while Jason and Joe have done 69 and 77, respectively.

    At the end, the men collect their pay for the shearing.

    Simonson is the wool buyer, so hes the one who jaws with Giese about how the group will get paid either a straight for cash or based on grade and yield, meaning the quality and cleanliness.

    Madsen and Simonson drive with about 20 bags. They place the bags in the warehouse, which holds today holds more than 37,000 pounds in all, ready for a truck from Groenewold Fur & Wool of Foreston, Ill.

    After that, its supper with Maureen, his wife of 62 years.

    Simonson says a day like this makes him dog tired, but its a good tired. I get out of shape unless Im shearing steady, he says.

    Same, but different

    The tools of the sheep shearing trade have changed little through the years.

    The so-called handpiece is nicer, but power shaft to it is much the same, fitting into a bayonet-style connection. The thing is driven with a shaft to the handpiece, turning like a tractor power take-off, with three synchronized joints, all powered by an electric motor.

    Prices have changed, of course.

    The handpiece cost about $12.50 when he started shearing in 1940. Back then, it came with two sets of knives. Today, the same tool costs more than $400 and the knives are extra $30 apiece.

    Now its electric, but it was a Briggs & Stratton gasoline motor into the 1950s before the REA (Rural Electrification Act) came in, Simonson says.

    The pay is better, of course.

    Simonson started out at 10 cents a head for shearing ewes, while farm workers were making $1 a day. Today, he gets $4 a head, while a good farm laborer may earn $15 an hour.

    Sheep have changed, too.

    In the 1940s, pregnant ewes were less than 100 pounds. Today, they often are 200 pounds, sometimes even 300 pounds.

    Im not a very big person, Simonson says. If they were as heavy back then as they are today, I wouldnt be shearing sheep.

    Simonson was 5 foot, 11 inches tall and about 140 pounds in his younger days. Today, hes about 165 pounds.

    Ive lost a lot of muscle since Ive slowed down.

    The shearing season has changed dramatically.

    In the early days, wed plant the corn first and then shear, he says. You didnt shear sheep in the wintertime. And at the end of the season, wed look at the rye field. We said, All right, when they cut the rye, were through shearing sheep.

    Norwegian Irish?

    In 1884, Simonsons grandparents came from Norway and settled in Benson, Minn. In 1896, Grandpa Jurgen Simonson moved the family 70 miles from Benson to Roberts County, S.D., in a covered wagon. Among the kids were Dons father, Oswald, then age 8.

    Oswald grew up and married Emily Christianson, who had emigrated with her family from Norway in 1902. This couple married in 1917 and farmed for a living.

    ODonald was born June 10, 1922, the middle of three sons. An older brother died at age 13. (And no, ODonald isnt Irish, but hes glad you asked because he loves to deliver a standard joke line: I think some Irishman must have chased my mother over the hill one time.)

    Don graduated from West Central School of Agriculture in Morris, Minn., in 1940. He aspired to go to veterinary school at Iowa State University in Ames, but there was no money for it.

    There were some wool buyers from Wheaton, Minn., who said, Why dont you get a shearing machine and learn how to shear sheep? Thats what I did, he says. I bought a little Model T Ford with a box on the back. I suppose it was a pickup. I went down the road, shearing sheep, and Im telling you I was pretty proud.

    There was no cab on the Model T, and Id get working, sweating, and the weather was cold and there was a wind blowing. Id have to get in that vehicle and drive it home. And Id get cramps. Id get cramps in my hands, and it was horribly painful. Id have to stop and quit driving.

    He taught himself to shear, but he learned what he could from others. (Most people learn the Australian today.) In the 1940s, the country was just starting to come out of the Depression. Farms were small, averaging about 160 acres.

    Initially, sheep shearing was a crowded field. In the immediate four-township area, there were seven shearers, but World War II changed all of that.

    I was talking to the county ag agent one day, and he said, By the way, how do you stand in the draft? I said I think Im I-A draft classification, which meant hed likely be drafted into the military soon.

    The county agent said, Theyre not going to take you. We need sheep shearers and weve lost several of our sheep shearers now, Simonson recalls. He went to the draft board file and found my page and said, Ill take care of that. He wouldnt let me go to war. They call that a deferment.

    Simonson says he wouldnt have minded going to war, but realized shearing sheep was important, too.

    If I had a job to do, I feel that I was needed here. At the time, I was still living at home. My dad had quite few milking cows, and at the time, we had 300 laying hens. All of those things were needed in the war effort. I thought if thats what I was to do, I said, OK, Ill do it.

    The wonder years

    During the season, Simonson got so hed shear every day.

    I would try to shear 100 sheep every day. There were days when Id shear up around 150, he says.

    In the 1950s, farms started getting bigger and more specialized. Simonson tried farming himself but got disillusioned by three dry years and decided to stick with shearing and heavy equipment operation.

    In those days, Simonson traveled 10 to 15 miles from home. Shearing season shifted more heavily to wintertime and construction was in the summer. The market for wool was good, paying as much as $1.65 a pound.

    People learned that it was best for the market if they had those lambs beginning Jan. 1, and so between that and April is still my heavy shearing time, he says.

    The idea was to get the thick wool off of the ewes before lambing.

    They get more active and it takes a lot less feeding space with the wool off. They get more active and they gain faster, he says.

    After the ewes are shorn, shearing turns to the feeder lambs, which then run through about May 15.

    In the 1960s, farms increased to two and three quarters of land, and became much more specialized. The trend toward shearing ewes in the winters and lambs in the summer became more pronounced.

    Especially when the heat came, those lambs gained so much better if they had the wool off, Simonson says. They were more comfortable and werent laying there puffing.

    Many of the flocks easily were more than 200 ewes at this time, and one notable flock in the Britton area was 8,700 ewes.

    That was the Ray Jarret family the biggest flock I ever sheared, he says, remembering he was sometimes one of nine shearers.

    Wed shear three times a year in a season, he says. We started about Jan. 20 and would probably sheer 2,000 to 3,000, and then on Feb. 20, wed shear about that many again, and on March 20, wed shear the bucks and the ewe lambs that theyd saved back from the year before for replacements. Last time I sheered for them was 1968. At the time, they had 250 quarters of land.

    Meanwhile, the wool industry lost market share as synthetic fabrics started to replace wool. The new fabrics were lighter, softer and could be washed without shrinking, but they werent always as warm when wet.

    Meanwhile, Simonson was working on pipelines for crude oil and natural gas in Minnesota and North Dakota. He had an opportunity to work on the Alaskan Pipeline.

    That was big news back then, he says. They were advertising for people, especially for people in the Northwest who lived in the cold climates. Youd work nine weeks and were eligible for two weeks R and R, he says.

    He worked five years in Alaska, running heavy equipment and then coming home in the winter to shear sheep. He worked on the pipeline in 1975 and 1976, in the oilfields for two years after that and one year in the gold mines.

    Twice I worked 16 weeks without a day off, he recalls. For the season, I averaged 10 hours a day. Many weeks we put in over 100 hours. But the wages were good.

    Very good.

    In the 1970s, farming becomes more specialized, although the pothole region from Rosholt to the Canadian line and south to Watertown, S.D., remains well suited to livestock.

    People had to have more sheep to make it a paying proposition, he says.

    He retired from heavy equipment operation in 1985. He then was able to concentrate on sheep.

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the price of a shorn lamb recovered.

    The later years

    In the 1990s, Simonson remembers getting a phone call from Dion VanWell of Watertown. Today, VanWell is among the regions largest sheep operators, but back then, he was primarily into shearing.

    Simonson would stay at VanWells place during the week and the two would travel far and wide in a little Toyota pickup and a trailer. They went to Wyndmere, N.D., to Iowa, to several feedlots near Olivia, Minn. VanWell had his own feedlot of 3,200 lambs.

    It wasnt a bit uncommon to drive 100 miles in the morning before Id start shearing sometimes more, Simonson says. More than once Id get up and go to Watertown, and then wed go to Hoven, out by the Missouri River. Wed do that several times a year. All summer long we sheared. Didnt make any difference how hot it was because the two of us couldnt keep up.

    Today, VanWell isnt in the shearing business, per se, so Simonson is back, more on his own, working things out with his own clients. Hes never advertised. He doesnt drive any more, so he shears in company with Madsen and Reinart. In a typical season, he still goes to about 50 places.

    He used to do 12 sheep an hour one every five minutes.

    If you do that, you dont have any trouble shearing 100 in a day. I think Im doing pretty good if I can average maybe seven or eight an hour, he says.

    If he ever was competitive, he isnt anymore. Someone whos sheared perhaps a million sheep in his life doesnt have to be.

    Now, he takes it easy to avoid nicking the sheep. He carries a needle and thread in the pickup to repair any major injury, but he says its rare. A crew might have to use the needle a few times a season, but he cant remember the last time that was necessary.

    Anyone can have an accident, he acknowledges. Anyone thats ever sheared sheep has had an accident, but its not normal. Were talking many thousands of sheep.

    Don and Maureen were married April 3, 1948. Shearing is how hes raised his family.

    They had 10 children six daughters and four sons now scattered across the country and world.

    My wife and I are very fortunate, he says.

    Their children helped with livestock on the home place some had cattle and a few hogs but none learned to shear, he says.

    All of them, their academics were quite high. The two older boys tried shearing, but when dad came home, he was all dirty and he stunk. I suppose that had something to do with it, he says.

    Simonson says shearing is becoming something of a lost art.

    Its hard work and its a dirty job, he says.

    Ive started two people, he says. Both of them are very good shearers, but so many of our small flocks have gone out of business that theyre almost putting me out to pasture.
  7. Apr 29, 2012
    Southdown

    Southdown Overrun with beasties

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    Interesting how times change. I'm from MN myself. It seems most skills are a lost art nowadays. We're learning to shear ourselves via trial and error. ;) I'm not sure where you can technically learn to do it anyways. I don't know anyone in sheep. Regardless, we manage to get it done. I would like to learn about the different blades though. Maybe I should ask someone at a county fair with show sheep.
  8. Apr 29, 2012
    Four Winds Ranch

    Four Winds Ranch Loving the herd life

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    We use the Heiniger shearing machine, and haven't had a problem. It is nice because you can get about 20 different combs and 10 or so different cutters that fit on it! We always use the same cutter/comb for the entire sheep (body, belly, legs, and face). On average, the same cutter can be used to shear anywhere from 10 to 25 sheep depending how dirty the wool is, and if the tention is set right on the shearing head. :thumbsup
    For beginners or those with limited experince, the less agressive combs would probably be the best bet as there is less chance of cutting the sheep, which can happen in a big hurry! Lol, whatever you do, don't pull the wool as you shear, just let it hang and fall on its own.
    I don't know if it will help or not, but this it the website of the company that supplies use with the combs and cutters. I believe it also carries Oster supplies as well. I think they still give a descripion of what kinds of wool and situations the different combs are used for. It is a Canadian company, hopefully it will be of help!

    www.wool.ca
    ;)
  9. Apr 30, 2012
    goodhors

    goodhors Overrun with beasties

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    Wow, thanks for the stories and the Canadian Wool Link. On the Wool link,
    I didn't locate anything specific about blades for shearing. Can you check
    to see if I missed it? I did enjoy reading the many details of shearing, packing,
    wool specifics.
  10. Apr 30, 2012
    Four Winds Ranch

    Four Winds Ranch Loving the herd life

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    Once you click on the Canadian wool link, go to the "Supplies Store", it is on the right side of the screen and is a square box, I believe second down from the top. Click on shearing supplies. Combs, cutters, shearing machines, and everything one might need for shearing will come up. Under each pic, click on "See more...." or "More info..." and it should give a fairly detailed decription on the uses.
    I hope it is useful, I found it very much so when I first tried to figure it all out!

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