Monday 22 June 2009

Hogg Clipping

The shearing season commences with the hogg clipping - always seems unkind on the poor souls doing the clipping that the first sheep of the season to be handled and shorn are the tups (the big boys)and the hoggs.

the hoggs are the virgin sheep, last years lambs that have their birthday at this time of year. They are kept off the tups in the back end of the year and left to run on and grow, many are now wintered in fields and learnt to eat cake (sheep feed) others go away for a few months wintering onto good in bye ground where they are safe from marauding tups or so one would hope. Once tup time is over the hoggs are generally returned to their cuts on the hill and learn off their mothers where the best rakes are and how to shelter from the weather.

By June the hoggs are in good fettle to be clipped. Sheep need a rise (new growth coming below the old wool) to the fleece, having run geld the rise in the wool of hoggs comes about a month before the ewes are fit to clip.

So why should it be so unkind to the shearers to have to clip hoggs first when they are the first to be ready and are generally very good clipping? Well they are young and daft, have never been handled by a shearer before and have wool everywhere - and I mean everywhere, one can struggle to find their tiny teats hiding in the dense wool of their tummies and legs.

A hogg is renowned for kicking, it never fails to amaze me how she can drum her back legs against the ground whilst one is attempting to get the wool off, they wriggle as well, have even been known to bite when all else fails. Generally they act like spoilt kids, not appreciating their free short back and sides, doing all they can to make life for the shearer uncomfortable.

And their horns? Boy do they know how to stick those horns into the tender inner thighs of the person handling them! Shearing jeans are a great invention - double thickness denim offering protection not only from the grease off the wool but the sharpness of the horns.

It seems a year or two now since I learnt to clip but the first sheep I clipped was a hogg. I have seen many youngsters since start off and learn to clip and again it is the hoggs which are the first to be attempted - amazing anyone perseveres to shear sheep as they really can be a heart breaking proposition to a green shearer.

The biggest hurdle when learning to shear is learning to handle the sheep so why start on the wriggliest creatures out there? Beats me but we all did and likelies always will.

Preferably the sheep should be dry before being clipped, not always easy especially on a summer such as last year, however, most farms these days have cattle sheds and once dry the sheep will be housed to keep them dry on those catchy days. Contract shearers are often used although in Tarset quite a number of the farmers and shepherds do their own with possibly a little bit of outside help. One local farmer is now in his 60's and still shears his 800 sheep himself, not all in one day however!

Professional shearers can take the wool of a sheeps back in under a minute and many think nothing of clipping 2-300 a day each, many of us around here have a more relaxed approach. The logistics of getting alot of sheep forward can be very difficult, especially at ewe clipping time so generally it pays to get in what can easily be managed. Bear in mind also that shearers turn up and expect a shed full of sheep and they bend over all day and clip - nothing else, the farmer/shepherd has to prepare the scene and get those sheep gathered and ready to be clipped, they have the wool to wrap, sheep to keep forward, sheep to take away, lame feet to sort, any clipping cuts to dress - they are kept on their toes all day long, unless you have tremendous sheep pens and big sheds it often pays to chip away yourselves.

So, the hoggs are clipped, their wool is wrapped and packed in big wool sheets which are stitched and a label attached to inform the wool board who they belong to. The shorn hoggs are run back into the sheep pens and are keeled (stock marked) and eventually at the end of the day are returned to their cuts of the hill and their lives are back to normal. Until the next gathering - the ewe clipping