From Sheep to Skein
The creation of a wool yarn
The lambs are born in late spring, and spend the first few months of their lives with their Mothers, they are then weaned in the Autumn of their first year, by which time they have started to grow a dense thick fleece to keep them warm through the harsh weather we experience during the winter months. After the turn of the year the lambs then become hoggs, different parts of the country may use another name for them, but we call them hoggs, the hoggs are clipped in their second summer, this hogg fleece will be the very best fleece that sheep will ever grow as it is very dense and long and will also usually be the softest, the rest of the flock are clipped the same time as the hoggs.
The photo shows four hoggs with the grey one at the front being a ewe, her fleece is not as dense or as long as the hogg fleeces.
Sorting the fleece
The first gathering occurs in November. This is considered to be the beginning of the shepherd’s year. When the sheep are rounded up, they are provided with some medicinal treatments to keep them healthy and happy. This includes vitamins, and mineral supplements. After, the ewe lambs that have been running with their mothers are taken away. The mothers are then split into breeding groups, ready for the tups (rams) to be introduced. After the first gathering, the flock stays close to home, I gather them together everyday during this time, this is to ensure that the tups are mating with the ewes. Their stay lasts for just over 4 weeks, after which I remove the tups and release the ewes back onto the open hills.
The sheep are next gathered in mid-to-late March. At this time, they are provided with a vaccination to protect them and their unborn lambs from clostridia, a bacterium that can be fatal to sheep. The sheep also have their routine doses of wormer, vitamins, and minerals. After this, the sheep are turned out into what are known as the hill parks.
These are large, fenced-in areas of highland measuring roughly 200 acres each. When the sheep are within a couple of weeks from the first due date, they are brought in from the hill parks. Their udders are checked and those sheep which are closest to lambing are brought into the fields closer to the farm. The rest are released back into the hill parks. As the sheep in the fields lamb, the lambs are ear-tagged and then castrated if they are male lambs, finally their parentage is logged. Following this, they are released to the hill parks and more sheep close to lambing are brought into the fields. This process continues until all lambing is finished – usually in the middle or end of May, after which they are returned to the hill.
The next gathering is for clipping, which may take place any time between the end of June and the middle of July – depending on the weather. Clipping or shearing the sheep is an essential task that needs to be done once a year for the welfare of the sheep. It in no way harms the sheep and the team we use to do the shearing are very skilled at what they do. Unclipped sheep are at risk of overheating should the weather become hot, but worse than that, they become very susceptible to fly strike, this happens when blowflies lay their eggs in the fleece, once the eggs hatch the maggots then start to feed on the flesh of the sheep and if not treated swiftly, the sheep will die.
At this point, the lambs receive their first dose of wormer. Once the ewes have been clipped, they stay in the hill parks for a couple of weeks while they grow a covering of fleece. Then, every sheep receives a pour-on treatment to protect them from blowflies and ticks. At this stage, any unusable bits of fleece are taken away. The remaining fleece is rolled up and placed into wool bags, ready to be sorted thoroughly at a later date. Again, the ewes and lambs are released back onto the open hills.
Sorting the flock
The last routine gather is at the end of August, this is the time we separate the lambs from their mothers. First we sort through the ewes, and take out the oldest ewes, ours will be 6 years old, these ewes will be sold to someone that has lowland ground, as although our sheep are extremely hardy, the older girls deserve to live out their latter years somewhere that isn’t as harsh, they will still be capable of producing lambs for another 4 or 5 years. Next we sort out the lambs into male and female groups.
The female lambs will be registered with the relevant breed society, but there may be some that do not meet the breed standards so these will be put in with the male sheep and turned out into a hill park, to be sold at a later date.
The female lambs that we are retaining for breeding, have the tag numbers recorded, so we can fill in the registration papers for their pedigree certificates. They are then turned back out onto the hill with their Mothers until November, when the shepherds year begins again.