Sheep shearing here at Treshnish takes place at two different times. The first occasion is usually in the middle of June when the hoggs (last year’s ewe lambs). the tups (rams) and the eild (barren) ewes are shorn. The second occasion is the milk clip which is when the ewes that are rearing lambs are shorn, and it has to be warmer to avoid affecting the milk yield. If the milk clip is done too early, when the weather is cooler, it is thought that the ewes lose their milk, which will affect the growth in the lambs.
Today was the milk clip. Farmer had been thinking and planning it since we started our journey back from our family holiday last weekend. It is weather dependant as the fleeces need to be dry.
In the first photograph you can see the shearing trailer – it is a two stand trailer, meaning that there are two slots for the shearers to use. The structure on the left is called the race. The ewes are gathered in a pen at the bottom of the race and pushed up the ramp. When the shearer wants to start on another ewe, they push down on the ‘door’, which drops away revealing the unsuspecting ewe, and grab it from the race. Before shearing became common practice, and hand shearing was still being done, there would have been helpers in the pens catching the ewes and presenting them to the men sitting on their clipping stools for them to clip. Because hand shearing was slower there was time for the ‘crutchers’ to catch the ewes for those clipping. Machine shearing is so much faster, so these shearing trailers are worth their weight in gold!
The atmosphere in the shearing shed is calm, and the shearers are careful with each animal, and as I was watching them I could see the methodical gentleness with which each ewe was handled.
All in all, the two shearers did about 450 ewes today. One at a time, steadily from 7am, with a break for breakfast and a break for lunch while Farmer gathered in the 80 or so Cheviot and Zwartble ewes once the Blackface were done. One at a time, at the rate of one every minute. Hard work.
It is a huge relief to know that the sheep shearing is done with for another year – apart from a handful of escapees, who managed not to be gathered in off the hill yesterday – they will be done by hand next time they come in. Farmer had judged the weather forecast correctly and did the gathering and sorting out of the lambs in good time for the arrival of the shearing trailer this morning! There is a mountain of fleece in the shed – we have more wool than wool bags to put it all in, so there is a bit of a wool mountain until we can get more bags.