Where the fleece was flying: A recap of Arlington’s Beginning Sheep Shearing School

Fleece was flying at the annual Beginning Sheep Shearing School held at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station Sheep Unit on December 1-2, 2012. A total of 16 students from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan participated in the school, and over 160 sheep were sheared.

The lead instructor was Joe Huber, a professional sheep shearer from Wisconsin Dells, who has taught the school for several years. He was assisted in instruction by his two sons, Josh and Jordan, as well as Arlington Sheep Unit manager Todd Taylor and CALS animal sciences professor Dave Thomas.

Instructor Joe Huber demonstrating the proper shearing technique.

The shearing method taught was originally developed in New Zealand and allows an experienced shearing to remove the wool from a sheep in 40 to 50 “strokes” or “blows” with the shearing machine. In addition, students are provided instruction in the different types of shearing machines and how to properly set-up and maintain the machine for optimum cutting of the wool. Each student was provided a large notebook of printed information and a DVD on shearing methods, machine maintenance, and proper handling of wool provided by the American Sheep Industry Association.

Wisconsin ranks 16th among U.S. states in total sheep numbers but 9th for number of sheep operations. Therefore, Wisconsin flocks are relatively small, averaging about 25 breeding sheep per flock. Professional shearing crews are reluctant to come onto a farm to shear a small number of sheep, and when they do, the cost per sheep is much greater than for larger flocks.  The shearing school provides these small flock owners with the training they need to effectively shear their own sheep. Many students of these schools will further develop their shearing skills, offering their services to their neighbors and, in a few cases, going on to professional shearing.

Students getting started on their first sheep.

The Beginning Sheep Shearing School is co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative, CALS’ Department of Animal Sciences and the Arlington Agricultural Research Station.