Sheep Shearing, Cumbira

Documenting Sheep Shearing in The Lyth Valley, Cumbria

Sheep Shearing season begins from May – August here in Cumbria, but it does all depend on the weather which can be unpredictable here in the Lake District. Typically an adult sheep is shorn once a year.

For those not sure shearing is the process of cutting or shaving the wool off a sheep, it’s the equivalent of having a haircut! It doesn’t hurt the sheep to have its wool shorn off occasionally if the sheep moves suddenly the shearer may just clip a tiny bit of the skin equivalent to a scratch on us.

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Anyone can attempt to shear a sheep, but not everyone will do a good job! Shearing requires skill so that the sheep is shorn efficiently and quickly without causing cuts or injury to the sheep or shearer. Most sheep are sheared with electric shears or shearing machines, which you can see hanging above the sheerer in my photograph below. The fleece is removed in one piece. Electric shears have three basic parts: the hand piece, the comb and the cutters. More teeth on a comb generally mean a cut closer to the skin.

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A skilled shearer can shear 200 per day; a really skilled shearer can do 400-500. A professional shearer can shear a sheep in less than 2 minutes. The fastest time to shear a single mature sheep is 37.90 seconds by Ivan Scott (From Ireland) he holds the current Guinness world Record after beating the previous record of 39.31 seconds which was set in Australia in 2010.

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Freshly shorn sheep need protection from the elements. It takes up to six weeks for the fleece to regrow sufficiently to provide effective insulation. This is why farmers will often consider when they shear and what the weather will be like, also they don’t want to be shearing wet wool!

Sheep grow wool continuously. If they are not sheared at least once a year, they become very stressed and uncomfortable, especially when it is hot and humid. Eventually, the wool will become matted, and difficult to remove.

There have been some cases of sheep with over grown wool, like Shrek the Merino Sheep from New Zealand. For 6 years Shrek’s escape proved successful after he got out of his enclosure, and made a break for it, spending his time hiding in local caves. Eventually, Shrek was discovered, although he looked nothing like when he first left!


Some breeds of sheep naturally shed their wool each year, but Merino sheep, typically raised for meat, never shed their fleece. In fact, after 6 years without any haircuts, Shrek had enough wool to produce 20 suits for men… large men! He was found with 6 times the average amount of Merino fleece. His fleece in total weighed around 28kg! A typical fleece weighs 1.5-10kg!

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Daniel and myself brought the next batch of sheep into the pens with his trusted companion Row.

Large flocks of sheep are usually sheared by shearing crews who bring a trailer that accommodates shearing, as well as fleece handling and packing. In this particular situation Daniel (The Farmer) had drafted in Isaac who does some sheep shearing locally for a range of farmers, also Matthew ,a 77 year old retired farmer, helped oversee the process and help wrap fleeces, who in his younger days used to clip sheep. Andrea (the fleece wrapper) is a young Austrian girl who is doing work experience in this country with Daniel, and seeing how we do farming here in Cumbria. They also used Daniels very own shearing trailer made by a local blacksmith which has two areas for two shearers although here we just had the one going.

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 © Louise Thompson Photography 2016, all rights reserved.