When you shear a sheep or a goat, you remove its weather-proofing. After all, a fleece is warm when it's cold, it prevents sunburn on clear sunny days and it's windproof and water-proof. So shearing leaves sheep and goats very vulnerable to the elements.
Here's some advice on how to keep your stock happy after shearing.
- Provide sheep with up to 50% more feed after shearing to provide the energy they need to keep warm. If they have food in their bellies, the food generates heat as it is digested.
- Make sure they have access to effective shelter, and at their level, ie thick low hedges or dense low scrub like flax bushes. This can significantly lessen the effect of wind chill.
- Consider using 'winter' or 'cover' combs when shearing. These lift the blades off the skin leaving a short length of wool to provide some insulation.
- Remember that it takes sheep up to 6 weeks for sufficient wool to grow to provide effective protection from the elements.
Goats are particularly susceptible to cold stress because unlike sheep, they don't have oily waterproof hair and they have very little fat under the skin. They really suffer in cold weather especially if it's wet or windy. It's not uncommon for goats to die of cold stress after shearing and of course while the deaths are the most obvious sign of cold stress there is bound to be a great deal of cold stress in the rest of the mob.
Angora type goats grow their fibre continuously, like sheep. However feral type goats have a particular problem when it comes to shearing – they are seasonal fibre producers. This means the protective layer of cashmere grows only during late summer and autumn and it is cast in spring. It doesn't start to regrow until after the longest day in December. Unfortunately many farmed feral goats are shorn in mid-winter, as early as July, just when they need good insulation most and well before any significant regrowth can occur!
You should consider whether or not it's worthwhile shearing your feral-type or cashmere goats. The returns per goat may be very small, there is considerable effort involved in trying to minimise cold stress and deaths and no matter what you do there is a real risk that the goats will be miserably cold for a long time after shearing.
- If you do shear, try to delay it as long as is practicable.
- Provide effective shelter and extra feed after shearing. This is even more important for feral goats than for sheep and the good shelter and extra feed need to be available for much longer than for sheep – until December when natural regrowth kicks in.
Sheds and huts
There is a legal as well as a moral requirement to provide effective shelter for all domestic animals including goats. The best way of ensuring this for goats of all types is to provide covered sheds or huts that the goats can access at any time.