Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shearing Day

Well it's been 6 months since the girls were sheared and they looked like miniature Woolly Mammoths. Their wool is about 4 inches long and beautifully curly. It always amazes me how clean it stays underneath the outer layer. I'll watch them from the house rolling in the dirt, and think, "that's right girls, get good and dirty, and I'll be hand washing that out of your fleece come September." But I love them dirty or not, and it always makes me laugh to see them kicking their legs in the air. Goofballs! 

Angora Goats are the fastest fiber producing animals in the world. They are sheared twice a year, as opposed to once a year with sheep, alpaca, llama etc. We shear in March and September, March after the frost so they have time to grow another coat before fall, and September so they grow enough to keep them warm in the winter. Oddly enough, they grow a heavier coat in the summer because it takes a lot of energy to produce all that fleece, and with the energy they expend in the cold to keep warm, it actually stunts their coat. This is also why you can't dual purpose fiber goats as a dairy goat, they don't have enough energy to produce fiber and enough milk for a kid plus extra.

We start by cleaning the garage floor thoroughly, then we lead up one goat at a time by the leash and collar to be sheared. Zach wears knee pads for protection because he has more strength than I do and he usually is the one who holds, while I shear.

He keeps their head locked between his knee and his toe. There is a triangle that their heads wedge into. He puts no pressure on the goats neck, but because they have horns, they can't pull their heads through.

We use electric clippers designed specifically for shearing, keep them oiled and clean, and I've heard they'll last for ages.

When we shear we start at the belly and go in upward stroke to the spine moving in the opposite direction that the wool grows. You get less second cuts this way. A second cut is a short re-cut that gets mixed into the wool. It's not long enough to spin, and is hard to separate once the fleece gets washed and mixed up. We always take special car to find their nipples, as I've read horror stories on-line about people shearing one off.

The girls are almost two now and are getting slightly Kemp at their spine. Kemp is a term used to describe wool that grows somewhat hollow. It is more brittle and doesn't spin as nicely. As a goat gets older their wool becomes more Kemp, usually starting at the spine then working it's way down. We discard this strip of wool.

We are very slow shearers, mostly because we are afraid of nicking them. A lot of people can do what we do alone, and much faster. But the girls are getting better and so are we, each time it's a little easier as everyone's confidence levels rise. The hard part is that their skin is so loose. If you tug at the fiber to see where the clippers are going, their skin stretches like a rubber band and you can easily nick it. So it's a repeated motion of pulling the skin tight against the goat, run the clippers parallel to the skin, pull the cut fiber back and repeat, little by little. Eventually the fleece gets heavy enough where it starts to fall itself, but it comes off in one big sheet.

Each goat has it's difficulties, Knit is a squirmer, she's not as patient as her sister, but Purl's coat is extremely dense and the clippers have a hard time getting through all that wool. We go inch by pain staking inch on Purl. But she's a good girl. We give them a rest between sides, and reward with lots of treats.

Over all, it's hard work, but in the end I can't wait to get my hands on all that fiber and start spinning and dying. We got around 13 pound this shear. It's a great day with our girls. They always scamper and run about after they've been sheared. Sometimes at night they get chilly as the cool fall air creeps in. We have quilted coats that we strap on them to keep the chill off until their wool comes in. A week ago we sheared them down to their pink skin, and already they're completely white and the curls are starting to form ringlets.


Jamie said...

I love your blog,we use to have angora goats but now just lots of chickens.I am hopping over from the homestead blog hop
Please feel free to come on over for a visit

odiie said...

We raise angoras and it's nice to find others that do also. I have a shearing stand and use hand clippers, but mostly because I have to do them myself. We have five now, but are breeding four does for next spring.
Nice to meet you.
From Glory Farm

Jennifer Sartell said...

I would love to pick your brain on breeding. Trying to join your blog, but I keep getting a weird message. Great site!

Shanda Smith said...

I have a pygmy/Nigerian dwarf that has tons of fiber, some long and coarse and some short and soft like cashmere. I've never attempted to sheer him, nor have I ever worked with fiber and spinning. Can his fiber be used for spinning just like the angora goats? I'm really interested in learning this craft.

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