After returning from vacation a few months ago, Wayne and I had the pleasure of attending a sheep shearing at Rising Meadow Farm in Liberty, NC.
The farm itself is gorgeous. We pulled in, parked, and walked toward one of the barns. You see fields on both sides with a house on the hill to your left. Just past the house is this pasture and barn:
And everywhere you turn, there are animals grazing. So peaceful and serene.
The barn closest to the house was the home of the shearing. It was all being handled quite quickly in stages.
First, the sheep had been moved into the barn to await shearing. You could tell they were a bit restless, but no one looked distressed at all.
The sheep were pulled out one at a time to be sheared. Two shearers (is that an actual word?) were working simultaneously while we were there. I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that the sheep didn't seem to be bothered at all by the process. The person shearing would just lay them down and begin. The sheep seemed resigned and completely calm. Honestly, it seemed most uncomfortable for the shearer whose back must be unbelievably sore after the hours of bending.
The shearers were working manually with what appeared to be over-sized scissors that are called blade shears.
Once the fleece had been removed from the sheep, it is carried outside to a stand. Basically, the stand has slats or, in this case, grids that are open to the ground. The fleece lays on the stand and small pieces fall through the openings. Additionally, the person working the stand will remove the (shall we say) less desirable parts of the fleece (aka the dirty, icky parts). This is called skirting.
After skirting, the fleece was placed in a large plastic bag marked with the source sheep's name, and weighed for sale. I asked a million and one questions while we were watching and waiting. When my curiosity was satisfied (and many kudos to the folks at Rising Meadow for having unending patience with me), Wayne and I started digging through the available fleece until we found one with coloring we liked. We then headed up to the farm store (the house on the hill) to also purchase some roving.
Inside the store there was a collection of yarn available as well as a few other related products. The owner, Ann, was again patient with us and answered questions for me. We were told that Rising Farm will sell the fleeces (fleece-i?) directly to individuals. Whatever is left over is sent off for processing, and then returned to the farm where it is dyed by hand. When we handed Ann our card from our fleece, she said "Awww, Wilhelmina is such nice girl!" Wayne and I smiled - it was clear we picked the right fleece.
A short while after Wilhelmina returned home with us, I pulled out the fleece and washed it well. It was quite a painstaking process. I have pictures, but I'll spare you. The short version is that it was icky, hard on the back, and long. The end result was worth it though - a gorgeous clean fleece that we can begin to process. I am experimenting with various carding techniques, but in the meantime we used a portion of the fleece and some roving to make our very first set of dryer balls. We experimented a bit and have been using a few ourselves for a over a month and love them. They both reduce static and shorten drying time. Want a new set to try for yourself? You can see the listing in our Etsy shop.
If you are in North Carolina and would like to experience Rising Meadow yourself (minus the shearing which only happens a few times a year), you'll have the opportunity in May. They are holding an open farm day on Sunday May 6th that happens to coincide with the open farm day for The Goat Lady Dairy. You can read about our Goat Lady Dairy experience here. Both farms are high recommended and are a great family-friendly adventure.