Why shear?

  • Sheep grow wool continuously, so it is important to shear them at least once a year.
  • Shearing is generally carried out in spring, so that sheep don’t get overheated during summer.
  • If a sheep is not shorn, its fleece becomes so bulky that it has difficulty moving around.
  • If its fleece gets water logged, it can become cast and unable to right itself.
  • A long fleece is particularly likely to get very daggy and soiled, making the sheep very susceptible to flystrike.
  • It is important for the welfare of the sheep to shear it or have it shorn at least once a year, preferably in spring.
  • In very hot weather, sheep carrying too much wool will get heat stressed, and this is even more likely if the sheep is very fat.

Preparation for shearing

  • Don’t use any non-approved non-scourable marking crayons or colour sprays in the weeks leading to shearing. Wool processors don’t like it.
  • Don’t use any insecticide chemicals on the fleece for 6 weeks before shearing. When using chemicals on the wool, check the withholding times.
  • If sheep are dirty, prepare for shearing by having them crutched and dagged (ie remove dirty wool from the belly, and from below and around the tail).
  • Try to prevent fleeces becoming contaminated by vegetable matter (hayseeds, leaves) in the weeks leading up to shearing.
  • Make sure sheep are completely dry before shearing, otherwise cuts are more likely to become infected and the damp wool will heat and get mouldy when stored.
  • Shearers will refuse to shear wet sheep as it can cause skin infections and boils.
  • Remove collars from pet sheep!
  • Also check ewes for bearing retainers and foreign material (like bits of barbed wire) stuck in the wool.
  • To prevent damage to the shears and the sheep’s ears, warn the shearers if the sheep have large ear tags (plastic or brass).
  • To prevent accidental pizzle damage, warn them if there is a wether or two among the ewes!


  • Shearing sheep requires skill so they are shorn efficiently and quickly without cuts or injury to the sheep (or shearer).
  • Shearing is stressful for the sheep, especially if it is not carried out skillfully.
  • Hire skilled shearers (eg shearing contractors) to shear your sheep.
  • Keep your sheep in yards overnight, preferably under cover to that their stomachs and intestines empty out a bit (this makes it more comfortable for them while they are being shorn) and so that they remain dry even if it rains in the night.
  • Don’t pack them in too tightly or they will dung on each other’s wool causing ‘pen stain’.
  • If you don’t have good shelter for your shorn sheep, or if you are shearing them in winter, ask the shearer to use winter combs (sometimes called lifter or cover combs) (see below).

Preparation of the fleece

  • When the shorn fleece is on the ground, remove the poorer quality wool from it before putting the good stuff into the wool pack.
  • Remove
    • All dags (if the sheep haven’t already been crutched and dagged).
    • Belly wool.
    • Wool from around the crutch and from the lower legs.
    • All raddled (paint marked) wool (only approved scourable marking products should have been used).
    • All wool stained by faeces (pen stain).
    • Topknot and cheek wool.
    • Any fibs (the sweat locks around the crutch and under the front legs).
    • Any bits of string or other foreign material.

Care of sheep after shearing

  • Because newly shorn sheep feel the cold, put them in paddocks with windbreaks and plenty of pasture.
    It may take 6 weeks for the fleece to regrow sufficiently to provide effective insulation.
  • If there is insufficient pasture (eg if shearing in winter), step up the supplementary feed (hay or concentrates) taking the appropriate precautions when introducing new feed (see ‘Supplementary feeding in winter’).
  • The best time to apply louse and flystrike prevention treatments is after shearing, while the wool is short.
  • Check the instructions on the packet.

Sheep coats/covers and winter combs

  • Individual sheep coats or covers are a good option on small farms if the weather is cold or wet.
  • Coats help ensure that the newly shorn sheep is at least partly protected from wind and rain until there is enough wool growth to be effective.
  • They can be well worth the cost for the peace of mind they bring - no need to worry about newly shorn sheep shivering in the wind and rain.
  • Another good way of reducing cold stress after shearing is by use of winter combs. These leave a short layer of wool to help protect the ewes from cold weather.

Prelamb shearing

  • Winter shearing of ewes is becoming more popular, ie shearing pregnant ewes in mid or late winter.
  • The reasons for this are that prelamb shearing increases the ewes’ metabolic rate and they eat more.
  • This can mean increased newborn lamb body weights, less ‘sleepy sickness’ in ewes before lambing and fewer newborn lamb deaths in bad weather.
  • These benefits only follow if shorn ewes are provided with extra feed and good shelter.
  • If ewes are in light body condition or if they are on tight feed or if there is no effective shelter, they should not be shorn in winter.