Did You Know? - Sheep Shearing Facts

Did You Know? - Sheep Shearing Facts

There is a common misconception that shearing sheep is harmful or hurtful to the animals, but that is actually far from true.

sheep shortly after being shorn

Recently shorn sheep in paddock - photo courtesy of Sandy Millar

"Shearing is a management practice which must be performed routinely for the health of the animals and to maintain the high quality of the wool," says the American Society of Animal Science.

According to the American Sheep Industry Association, "as long as there are sheep, shearing must be practiced for the health and hygiene of each individual animal. Unlike other animals, most sheep are unable to shed. If a sheep goes too long without being shorn, a number of problems occur."

Sheep being shorn
A sheep being shorn - photo courtesy of Qamma Farm

The health and wellbeing of the animals is the top priority. Shearing is meant to help against the following:

- Excess wool impedes the ability of sheep to regulate their body temperatures. This can cause sheep to overheat and die.

- Urine, waste and other foreign matter become trapped in the wool, attracting flies, maggots and other pests. This causes irritation and infections and endangers the health of the animal.

- Sheep with large amounts of wool can become immobilized by physical obstacles in their path, are less likely to be able to get up after a fall, and are more susceptible to predator attacks. 

There have been many reports of rescued sheep found with record breaking amounts of wool, due to neglect and overgrown coats. 

In 2015, Chris the sheep was found in Australia, and set the record for most neglected sheep, with a whopping 89lbs! It took shearers 42 minutes to remove his fleece and rescuers say he could barely walk when he was found! According to the article, "Chris was partially blinded by the wool covering his eyes, his hooves were damaged from carrying extra weight and he had skin burns from urine trapped in his fleece."

Chris the sheep, with 89lbs of wool!

Chris after he was rescued - photo courtesy of RSPCA/Australian Capital Territory

In 2021, Baarack was discovered in the forest with an overgrown fleece. He didn't quite beat Chris's record, but Baarack's fleece weighed in at more than 75lbs!

Baarack the Sheep before being shorn after rescuers found him

Baarack before he was shorn - photo courtesy of Edgar's Mission Inc.

Both of these sheep are just an example of what happens and could happen if sheep are not routinely shorn. Read more information about sheep sheering practices through the other resources below.

Other resources:

Sheep Care Guide

the IWTO Guidelines for Wool Sheep Welfare

International Wool Textile Organization Wool Roadmap

Written by Meaghan Ruby for Minus33. Featured image provided by Kjell-Jostein Sivertsen.