It's that time of year again, which means that last week saw the big annual haircut (aka sheep shearing) taking place here at the Sparrowholding, with HunterGatherer wielding a pair of old-fashioned hand sheep shears – no fancy electric clippers for him, as we don’t have enough sheep to justify them.
In the olden days, all the wool collected annually during sheep shearing formed a small, but significant, part of the sheep farmer's "harvest", with the fleeces being rolled up after shearing (there is a technique, of course!) and piled into large wool sacks before being collected by the ‘Wool Marketing Board’.
Eventually a cheque, which varied in amount according to the weight of wool, would wing its way to the grateful farmer. However, in the 21st century, the advent of myriad modern synthetic materials such as Lycra, Acrylic and Polyester has gradually depressed the price paid to farmers for fleeces, and in most cases the wool cheque amount no longer forms a significant part of a farm's income.
Nowadays, the cost of sheep shearing in time, money and effort can almost outweigh the value of the wool on some sheep farms, but the job still has to be done for welfare reasons. If the fleeces are not removed, bothersome blowflies can lay their eggs in the wool and the maggots hatch out in these cosy climes and start tucking into the sheep’s flesh. Not a sight you’d ever want to see, I can assure you. So off come the fleeces around the middle of June every year!
With just 15 adult Shetland sheep here on The Sparrowholding, we wouldn’t have enough wool to fill even one of Wool Marketing’s giant wool bags, so we keep our fleeces and use them during the rest of the year for various tasks around the garden, e.g. lining the base of planters to keep moisture in or acting as ‘blanket’ of weed protection between (rows of) plants in the summer, plus keeping plants snug and warm in their pots in the wintertime.
Wool is also very handy for various crafting activities, such as rug or card-making and spinning, so we tend to set the best fleeces aside in our trusty little ‘wool’ shed and sell whole or part fleeces to keen crafters, who love Shetland fleeces because of the 30+ different official 'colourways' they come in (ranging from white through to dark chocolate).
Talking of sheds (please note seamless link here!), you may remember that the Square Sparrow blog was one of the finalists in the Waltons’ smallholder blog competition some months ago. Now Waltons have asked us to be involved in their current competition to win a 5x3 ft mower (or any other garden stuff!) store. The details of their competition appear below, and the closing date is 28th June, so get your entries in soon to be in with a chance of winning yourself a handy garden store. Good luck!