Hand shears. They may seem like shearing equipment from the past, but there are advantages to using them.
While sheep owners will usually have hand shears for clipping off the odd dag, today most large scale shearing is done by electric clippers.
Clippers make quick, light work of shearing, and for farmers with hundreds of sheep it’s easy to see why it’s the preferred method. An experienced shearer can spend just a minute shearing a fleece off a sheep compared to about five minutes with hand shears. Factor in the cost of hiring a team of professional shearers and the ridiculously low prices that fleeces fetch, then it is understandable that electric clippers are preferred from a financial or business point of view.
But for smallholders with smaller flocks, hand shearing is more achievable. But why do it? What are the benefits of using hand shears on your flock?
Why use Hand Shears?
The benefits of using hand shears are plenty, with the main benefit being to the welfare of the animal.
Insulation for the Sheep
First, let’s think about the job that wool does. It insulates. It keeps a sheep warm in cold weather, but it also protects against the sun in hot weather. In fact, fire-fighting uniforms used to be made from wool for that very reason, heat protection.
Electric clippers cut very close, leaving little wool on the sheep. After being sheared with clippers, that sheep will suffer the effects of cold during the night and feel the effects of the sun of the skin during the day.
Imagine if that sheep has lambs. A cold sheep will use more of its energy reserves to stay warm, and as a result, milk production may lower.
Hand shears leave a short layer of wool on the sheep, preventing the temperature ‘shock’ cause when wool is removed with electric clippers. Leave a bit of insulation on the sheep and you get a happier, healthier animal well equipped to provide the best nourishment for its lambs.
Less stress for the sheep
Hand shears are quiet, compared to noisy clippers. This means a sheep is more relaxed whilst being sheared, which is better for its well-being.
The slower pace means the animal is not rushed into the positions for shearing, and the whole process is a steady one.
Quality of Fleece
The slow, deliberate cuts of hand shears mean that a shearer is less likely to damage the fleece, than with the constant motion of electric clippers.
A set of hand blades cost about £20, compared to the hundreds that can be spent of electronic equipment. Or, if you don’t fancy the job yourself, a hand shearer does not usually require a minimum amount of sheep to be hire for a job.
Better for the Environment
It’s good news for the environment too. The carbon footprint in the manufacture of hand shears is much smaller than producing clippers, plus no electricity is required to use them, saving on energy use. It also means you can shear a sheep anywhere… in a field or pen without an electricity supply.
Smallholders, if you have a small flock of sheep, consider the benefits of hand shearing! Using hand shears over clippers helps preserve traditional skills that are still important, and offer significant advantages for smallholders.