Tag Archives: Putnam

Shearing time aka spa day for the sheep

Spring is SUPPOSED to be here which means shearing of the sheep here on the farm. We have had some crazy weather lately which means it has played havoc on our shearing schedule. Brandie likes to set aside a full week to shear the sheep so that there is no rush, take time, don’t stress ourselves or the sheep out. 5-10 a day is good. If you want to stop or something comes up you can. We took this stance after watching a commercial shearer butcher a bunch of animals by trying to do too many in a short amount of time. They really didn’t care if they took chunks of flesh off as it was not their animals. we do our darnedest to not nick any animals. Unfortunately sometimes it happens. Out of 35 animals only 3 were nicked and we felt worse than the sheep who really didn’t even notice. The nick is dressed immediately and doctored.

We have several reasons for shearing when we do. We like to do it before lambing. We lamb later than many other farmers we know. We have reasons for that too. Having a shown back end allows for less complications during delivery, less mess for bugs and possible infections. Having a shorn underbelly/udder makes it easier for lambs to find the teats. We have seen lambs trying to nurse on longer wool on the underbelly with little success. Lastly, we do it so the mothers experience the cooler temps. We lamb later so that it is warmer when they give birth, but also without all that fiber on the body to insulate them, moms have no idea it is getting colder or sometimes raining. The lambs have little wool in comparison, and not as much fat built up. So it the mothers are  cold, they seek shelter in one of the barns taking the lambs with them. We have heard stories about ewes who allowed their babies to freeze to death because they just weren’t aware how cold it was.

We also like to shear as close to The Greencastle Fiber Event. We have a booth here and sell our raw fleeces and products we make from our wool. This year the Fiber Event is Friday April 13th, and Saturday April 14th. Come out and see us. If you are into fiber arts and anything fiber related, then this may be the event for you.

We have a wide variety and diverse group of friends and followers. This year we invited some of them to come and observe how we shear the sheep. Some students from the local university came out, as well as one of the most critical people we could think of. She is a vegan by choice, and was a strong opponent to wool as a whole. After seeing how much care we took with the sheep, we didn’t change her mind, but she has a better insight. All of her knowledge came from the completely inaccurate PETA videos. She admitted it wasn’t what she was expecting but still wouldn’t wear wool. Baby steps…baby steps. From adamantly opposed to, “OK, it isn’t what I thought and not everyone is like that (PETA video)”.

Because of the weather we were not able to get everyone shorn. A few sheep who were not pregnant, so no lambing issues. We also still have to shear the alpacas.

Here are a few pictures from when we were shearing. We do not to the manual type or Australian shearing we use a stand. We believe it is easier on us and the sheep. We also use clippers. Similar to what a barber would use, but heavier duty, and thicker. Brandie had to do most of the shearing as I was on the injured list from not using safety equipment properly. While on the stand they get medical inspection, check pregnancy, hooves examined and trimmed if necessary, annual shot, and wormed. If any issues are found they are treated and documented. You could say the sheep get spa day during shearing. They get a hair trim, nails done, special treats to eat, massage, and wellness check.

Pixie on the stand getting ready. She likes face rubs and think she fell asleep.
Mocha at the barber getting his summer hair cut.
Brandie working on Lisa as Wee talks to her and gives treats.
We don’t shear to the skin, mainly because of fear from cutting them.
Brena waiting her turn.
Shears in action
Ramona getting her hair done.
What 400ish lbs of fiber looks like.

Not all fiber is wool part II Fiber Quality

This is probably where I am least familiar on wool, especially how to judge and rate quality. There are full time jobs of people doing noting but rating and grading wool. So, with that being said, much of my information is going to come from external sources and added references.

Some animals have a single coat, some dual an inner and outer layer. In some cases you use the inner layer, in some the outer, and depending on the animal it may be difficult to separate the inner and outer layers. Hair sheep are not shorn but their fiber naturally falls out for summer. That isn’t to say it cant be used, but it doesn’t exhibit much if any of the qualities in fiber production.

Use this glossary of terms if there is a term you are not familiar with and it already doesn’t have a link.

Fiber is graded by many qualities, and depending on the final use and some may be more in demand than others. Use is a whole different topic which we will cover in Part Four. The main ways fiber is graded is by length, staple, crimp, fiber diameter,  color, cleanliness, and yield. I will try to explain the best I can each.

Here are some ideas on sheep and fiber from Sheep 101. We have several of the breeds listed, check out our animals sheep page.

Suggested categories for sorting and packaging wool
Wool breeds American Cormo, Booroola Merino, Debouillet, Delaine Merino, Rambouillet
Dual or general
purposes breeds
Columbia, Panama, Corriedale, Targhee, Finn cross, Polypay
Meat breeds:
white face
Cheviot, Dorset, Finnsheep, Gulf Coast Native, Montadale, North Country Cheviot, Texel
Meat breeds:
non-white face
Clun Forest, Hampshire, Oxford, Southdown, Tunis, Shropshire, Suffolk
Long wool
and carpet breeds
Blueface Leicester, Border Leicester, Coopworth, Cotswold, Lincoln, Perendale, Romney
Double-coated or hair sheep crosses Barbados Blackbelly, California Red, Icelandic, Karakul, Katahdin, Navajo Churro, Romanov, St. Croix
Black or naturally colored


Other animals are listed in the link on wikipedia.

Cleanliness is an important part especially for shearing. VM or vegetable matter is all the things that can get tangled into the fiber. Sticks, leaves, twigs, grains, etc. For the longest time when hearing people talk I always thought they were saying BM. When having kids in daycare the daily sheets would record bowl movements, BM, so I assumed they were talking about bowl matter i.e. how much poop is in the fiber. This is just grouped into the VM, as well as urine, sweat etc. A better term would be to call it Foreign Organic Materials as this would cover all the bases, and leave fiber and lanolin in tact for discussion. Having a variety of animals (see Our animals) we have come to appreciate low foreign organic material in the fiber. It is easier to shear, easier to clean, and takes a whole lot less time to process. We find all kinds of things from thorn bushes, to leaves, we have even found sprouting grains in the fiber where a sheep had feed grain on her back, it rained, then it started to sprout. Usually the other sheep smell the grains and pick it out like a walking lunch plate. To minimize foreign organic materials you can coat your animals. Yes, they wear a lightweight coat as long as the fiber is growing, and take at least three coats a season. Different animals have different lanolin content. Lanolin is an oil the animals produce, similar to oil in a persons hair. Some people have oily hair, some very dry, and it impacts the condition or quality of hair.  Using wool without cleaning the lanolin is called greasy wool, or wool in the grease. We will talk more about cleaning the fiber in Part Three about processing

The chart below came from Wikipedia

Common Name Part of Sheep Style of Wool
Fine Shoulder Fine uniform and very dense
Near Sides Fine uniform and strong
Downrights Neck Short and irregular, lower quality
Choice Back Shorter staple, open and less strong
Abb Haunches Longer, stronger large staples
Seconds Belly Short, tender, Matted and dirty
Top-not Head Stiff, very coarse, rough and kempy
Brokes Forelegs Short irregular and faulty
Cowtail Hindlegs Very strong, coarse and hairy
Britch Tail Very coarse, kempy and dirty

Length of the fiber is another part which may or may not be determined by the fiber grower (plant/animal). If it is an animal the shearer has a lot to do with the length of fiber, probably as much as the animal itself. On our first couple of sheep we sheared, we were so scared to cut the animal we left quite a bit of fiber on the animal making the usable fiber shorter. As we got more confident and experienced we were able to shear closer and closer without any injuries to the animals. Generally the longer the length of fiber the better. That isn’t to say short fiber is bad, but it can still be used but maybe not for spinning, or carpet/rugs, instead felting, which we talk about in Part Four using fiber.

The most important quality is fiber diameter, also called micrometer. Wool is not hollow. However, it can absorb 1/3 the fiber weight in water. Due to the lanolin on the fibers, it can also make wool water resistant.

Some examples of micrometer size of various animals (wikipedia)

Animal Fibre diameter
Vicuña 6–10
Alpaca (Suri) 10–15
Muskox (Qivlut) 11–13
Merino 12–20
Angora Rabbit 13
Cashmere 15–19
Yak Down 15–19
Alpaca (Huacaya) 15-29
Camel Down 16–25
Guanaco 16–18
Llama (Tapada) 20–30
Chinchilla 21
Mohair 25–45
Llama (Ccara) 30–40

Here is a sheep table of wool micrometer from Wild Fibers. 
Bradford cound is a new term for me which I learned from Wild Fibers.

Bradford Count
Bradford or English Spinning Count System is the number of hanks of yarn, each of 560 yards in length that can be spun from one pound of clean wool. The finer the fibre is, the more hanks that can be obtained from one pound of wool. The higher the number, the finer the wool, and therefore 64 is finer than 48.
Fibre Microns Bradford Count
Merino 18-24 80-60
Rambouillet 18-24 80-60
Icelandic 22-28 (55-65 outer) 70-46
Blue-faced Leicester 22-25 60-56
Southdown 23-29 60-54
Finnish Landrace 23-31 60-50
Shetland 20-33 60-50
Shropshire 24-33 60-48
Leicester Longwool 37-46 60-40
Ryeland 25-28 58-56
Corriedale 25-31 58-50
Clun Forest 25-33 58-48
Suffolk 25-33 58-48
Dorset 27-33 58-46
Hampshire 25-33 58-46
Black Welsh Mountain 28-35 56-48
Cheviot 27-33 56-48
Jacob 28-39 56-44
Manx Loghtan 27-33 54-46
Castlemilk Morrit 33-35 50-48
Oxford 30-34 50-46
Soay 50-44
Wensleydale 33-35 48-44
Romney 31-38 48-40
Border Leicester 30-38 46-40
Karakul 44-36
Scottish Blackface 44-36
Cotswold 36-40 40-36
Lincoln 36-40 40-36


Crimp is another critical criteria for fiber. Hand spinners, like to have higher crimp. Fibers with a fine crimp have many bends and usually have a small diameter. So think of a corrugated roof tin or the inside of cardboard. The waves back and forth. Such fibers can be spun into fine yarns, with great lengths of yarn for a given weight of wool, and higher market value. The crimp allows the fibers to interlock with each other. If there is little to no crimp the fibers wont grab each other.

Below are some examples of sheep for comparison.

This is Ramona a Rambouillet ewe who has dense fine wool with nice crimp. This is the equivalent to merino wool.

This is a picture from Pixie one of our Finn ewes who has high crimp but not as dense or fine fiber

Below is Olaf a Shetland ram who had medium crimp, dense fibers but a larger diameter

This is Scotchie who is a Scottish Blackface and has little crimp but long coarse fiber. She is also double coated.

These are just examples of sheep and they can be blended together for the final intended purpose. More on use of fiber in the next article. But you wouldn’t use a fine wool with good crimp to make carpets, it would be a waste and wouldn’t hold up compared to a coarse larger diameter fiber. This link and associated article from Northwest Alpacas has more information than you ever wanted to know about crimp. Initially I thought there was no, light, medium and heavy crimp. I was way wrong.

Wool staple is a naturally formed cluster or lock of wool fibres and not a single fibre. Very many staples together form a fleece. The cluster of wool fibres is made by a cluster of follicles. The natural cluster of wool is held together because individual fibres have the ability to attach to each other so that they stay together

Lastly color. Color can ultimately be tied to what you want to do with it. Personally, I find white fiber to be more desirable, as you can color it easier. There is a downside, that it shows dirt and foreign organic material much easier and thus must be cleaned more thoroughly. If you were to get a colored fleece, then again, personally I would want it uniformed in color, because there is less blending needed to be done to get a uniform color. This is my personal preference, BUT, having a fleece with varying colors and used int eh right way, can give some amazing looks to hand crafted items. Because multi colored fleeces are unique, then the shearing, cleaning, carding, spinning, and use of the material will never be able to be duplicated, you can have something truly unique. In the end what one person things of as poor quality, another my find high because of the end use. You can see some of the color patterns of our animals on the Our Animals page.

Part Three will be on fiber processing. I thought I knew the process, but more like I knew the 10,000 foot view of it. I will give you the 10,000 foot view and maybe 1,000 foot. There is a LOT to processing. When you realize what goes into the fiber, to get it from animal to what you wear/use you would be shocked.


Expect the unexpected

Never has these words been more true than life on the farm. Back in my days in pharmaceuticals and engineering your week was structured by set mandatory meetings and what’s available in the cafeteria. Monday may be change control reviews and tacos in the cafeteria. Tuesday is immediate staff meeting, and deviation review, along with BBQ in the lunch room. Wednesday…well you get the idea. For the most part the day was structured, start at 8 am, and leave at 4, set meetings where you had to be, and then some filler time in between to get stuff done. It was a routine, you knew what was coming and what was expected, structure, order, timetables.

Life on the farm couldn’t be more different. You never know what tomorrow brings. You may wake up at 2 am because Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) are on alert. You may be fixing electric fence because a tree fell, or sheep knocked off some insulators. You may be chasing goats down the road, because they escaped….again. You may be dealing with a sick animal, or hurt animal. It may be repairing vehicles, or equipment. Then there is feeding, water, stall cleanouts, dishes, homeschool, and meals as filler. Ha, meals, you never know when you are gonna eat. If it is an early morning to tend to a sick, or new baby animal you may eat at 5 am, it may be 11 am before breakfast or it may be none at all and just eat at lunch, Lunch can be from 11 am to 3 pm. Just depends on what the day unfolds. Not like in the middle of helping birth a lamb, or chasing goats…again, that you can say “hold on everyone, it is 11 am, my designated lunch break can we continue tomorrow”. Then there is the weather. You may PLAN on working on new pasture fence Monday to be done Wednesday, but showers show up. Some days it is hour by hour on what the weather holds. You plan to work inside because of rain, and then no rain, and you are a day behind. You want to hay, but need at least 4 full days of dry weather. HA, HA good luck on planning that.  You pretty much just roll with it, expect the unexpected, and try to plan, but know, plans never work out 100% of the time.

A few weeks ago we unexpectedly went to the dollar movie, as we don’t typically go to movies, it was unexpected. Part of the previews if for a new Disney movie Ferdinand. After the movie Sr. Farm Boss aka Brandie tells us of a story with her grandfather who had a bull named Ferdinand and how he would go out and wrestle and play with this big bull in the pasture. I never heard of the book so she explained the significance. Last week doing maintenance on the wood boiler I had to order parts. There were add on items and I needed $4 more to make it free shipping. Brandie added the book Ferdinand for Wee aka Jr Farm Boss and thought it would be fitting for her collection, we wanted to see the movie, and a memory from Brandie’s childhood.

Where am I going with all this? This last Monday was for the most part, usual farm day, we tried to have plans of building a loom for wool projects, regular chores, maybe cut firewood. Then I get a call from the feed store. My 1st thought is there is a problem with our feed or account. Because feed store doesn’t typically call us, we call them. “Ms. Connected” into everything and everyone Jessica asks if we are interested in a bottle bull calf. Stating mom, had rejected and farmer wasn’t able to bottle feed it. And because she knows us said “I know you will have to check with Sr. Farm Boss so call me back.” An immediate yes from Sr., and I got the number of the farmer from Jessica and made arrangements to go get milk replacer, and check out this bottle baby. Arriving at his farm, we saw an older gentleman, who greeted us, and was as friendly as he could be. He reminded me of my wife’s other grandfather who I had the pleasure of getting to know, Grampa Wolf. He gave me the quote “You have a moral obligation to screw the government every chance you can.”  And that coming from a WWII vet.

This older gentleman greeted me and Wee and you could tell he had a love for kids, because he engaged her more than me. Made sure she was included in conversation and things to look at and out for in his barn. He kept apologizing that due to his age he would love to care for this bottle calf but just can’t and was upset with himself because if he had known there were twins and cow was that close would have tied her up and gotten both calves to latch on.  I felt bad, because you could see the love he had for his animals, and at 83, still managing 1800 lb beef cows is no small task. Wee immediately went over and started to talk to and pet the calf, while he was explaining the genetics and history of this calf. He was tickled pink that this little girl would be loving on this calf and do her best to give it a second chance at life. He whispered to me that it may not go the way we want, and not to get up hope. I explained she is a farm girl and knows this is part of farm life. She had to give her own take that “we do the best we can, give them the best life we can, and sometimes they don’ survive, and that is OK, because that is farm life”. At 6 I think she is gonna be OK with this whole death and life thing. We informed him we would be following up in a few days to let him know how the calf was doing. We loaded up the calf in the back of the Explorer and take him home, utilizing all the advice from Jessica who was once a vet tech, the farmer, and all the research of rehabbing a baby calf Brandie had done since I first called her 2 hrs earlier. Yes, all this happened in under two hours. We get him back, settled into a stall (had to kick a few goats out, who were not happy about it). He is now in a stall, protected from elements, and wind, with lots of hay under his feet, and heat lamp for added warmth.

Ferdinand as he is now being called, see the coincidence, it was fate, is doing better, and we see more improvements each time we visit with him. Wee has to not only check every 2 hrs, but has to go and put her head on his chest to listen for a heartbeat. He is still not out of the woods yet, but we are seeing improvements which is a good sign. Just another non-typical day here on the farm.

A few weeks ago, we took in five sheep that needed a new home. Their previous owners loved them dearly, but wasn’t home enough to spend the quality time she would like to. It was at that point Brandie made the comment that we should change the name from Wolf-Beach Farms to Wolf-Beach Animal Rescue. It wasn’t until Ferdinand that I realized the majority of our animal have been rescue/rehomes. All 8 alpaca and both llamas are rescue/rehome. All 6 of our cats, yes, we have 6, are rehome/rescue. 2 of the 4 dogs are rehome/rescue.  19 of our 33 goats were rescue/rehome.  At least 10 of the 32 sheep have been rescue/rehome. 6 of the 12 pigs have been rescue/rehome and 1 bull calf. At least 54 animals here are rescue/rehome. This is not including any of the poultry…She may not be far off from saying we are running a rescue vs farm some days.