Monday, 6 October 2014

Shearing time at Rookwood

fleeces of wool in sorted bins

Shearing of our merino sheep, takes place towards the end of September every year. In the earlier days when Meagan, Kevin and Joy were still at school, we used to utilize a shearing team (span) from the Hackney area near the Winterberg. Each one of the children learnt how to skirt, class and throw fleeces.  The ‘fun’ part was when the wool needed to be compacted in the sorting bins.  This was done by standing on the fleeces in the bin and pushing them down, almost a bit like pressing grapes.

Joy 'pressing' the fleeces in the bins

Shearing time is the highlight, apart from lambing, in the production cycle of wool sheep farming. It requires extra preparations to take place prior to the BKB shearers arriving. Rations have to be bought, the shearing shed has to be cleaned and the sheep have to be collected and brought closer to the shearing shed. This minimized the time needed to round them up to bring into the pens prior to shearing.

Penned shorn and unshorn sheep

On Sunday Swithan and Kevin go off to Tarkastad to collect the BKB shearing team of 10 who had just finished shearing at Barry King in the Winterberg area.


Lungisile Dyan driving sheep into pens

They arrive back in a fine persistent drizzle. This does not bode well as one cannot shear sheep with wet fleeces. We have put a group of sheep under shelter to keep them ‘dry’ for the shearers to start Monday morning.


 Monday morning greeted us with more mist and drizzle.  However, by midmorning Finish and his team could start shearing.  These guys are hand shearers and are quick.

BKB shearing team in action


Julius the classer

They have been shearing since the beginning of July on various farms in the Eastern Cape region.  Peter, the fleece thrower together with Julius, the classer have their work cut out for them and soon the fleeces start piling up.

Peter holding a fleece ready to be thrown on the sorting table

Peter throwing a fleece

Every night we put a group of sheep under shelter as the weather looks as if there will be moisture around. 

Tuesday the team can start fairly early, however, during the course of the day, the clouds seem to build up into dark blue clouds with the sound of thunder around.  The big question is does one continue shearing when heavy rains have been predicted, which would mean the sheep loose ‘their protection’ by removing their fleeces. 


Shorn sheep with the weather building upin the background.

They have just come through a very dry winter and their reserves are low, so one could loose a number of sheep due to exposure if the heavy cold rains do arrive. Luckily the dark blue clouds move on to Queenstown and deposit a huge amount of hail in the town itself and we breathe a sigh of relief.  We would love the moisture but do not need to loose stock.

The BKB team with Finish (top right) taking a break and sharpening their shears.

Wednesday comes and the end of this wool harvest time is in sight. We expect to finish shearing by the end of the day. The weather remains cold but the drizzle and mist have disappeared. The last sheep to be shorn are last year’s lambs, which always has an extra soft feel to their fleeces. While the shearers complete their job, the next procedure is already being done – the baling of the wool.

Throughout this period the Border Collies are so excited as this is what they are meant to do – work sheep. Scott, whose background we do not know, spent the entire period lying close to the shearing shed when not collecting or driving sheep.  He was on duty and thoroughly enjoying it.

Scott on duty!
Jack taking a quick nap between jobs

Oz keeping the sheep under control

Wool is classed into different lines depending on length and strength.  This means it could be an A length to C length (how long the wool has grown in a year) and then a fine to strong fibre.

Wool being put into wool press

pressed bales of AM wool

Most of Rookwood’s sheep are A length and fall into the medium category. These are considered your main lines with the outsources being the dirty and shorter types of wool pieces. Before a bale of wool can be pressed, it has to be weighed to fall within the required weights before pressing it (between 120 and 180kgs per bale).

Kevin marking bales
This is now Kevin’s job and he has to ensure that he bales all the wool in the right categories without having wool left over.  Baling in the earlier days at Rookwood was literally done manually by using a rather old fashioned baler. However, we have replaced this with a hydraulic one, which is much faster and can compress the wool far tighter to fit into a bale. Once baled the wool bales are marked accordingly. The last of the wool to be baled is the outsourced wool.  This wool is normally used to make felt or carpeting and does not carry a premium price.

On Thursday morning Lara Turner comes to fetch the team of shearers, who will now be shearing at Mountain Glen Farms, while we continue to finish up weighing and baling the wool.  At a later stage the wool bales will be loaded and sent to PE to be sold on the wool market in approximately a month’s time. The sheep have been returned to their various camps and we now look skyward for the much anticipated spring rains to come. This will help the sheep to grow their wool ready for the next cycle of shearing time at Rookwood.

A shorn sheep ready to 'grow' their next season's wool

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating to a city person, Katie!