Wednesday 28 July 2010

Poodle Clip?

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It is expected that sheep have fleeces. Blackfaced sheep have fairly shaggy fleeces compared to some breeds. The fleece covers the whole body, or is meant to.
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But then there is one like the above which seems to have different wool around it's neck and chest to the remainder of it's body. The different wool is new wool. This years growth of wool. This new wool gives the rise which the shearers require to enable them to get below the fleece (or the old wool) to clip it off.
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Then there is the 'poodle clip' - not a clip at all but again new wool versus old wool. Why? When sheep usually have wool all over? Well the harsh winter is actually the answer.

If left to run wild sheep would naturally shed their wool. They would get lean in the winter or towards lambing time when food was scarcer and lambs drained their mothers bodies. When the spring flush of grass arrived they would get what we call the turn, in other words they would begin to pick up, their physical condition would improve.

Prior to the sheep getting the turn their wool would begin to come loose and quite literally fall off. Once they get the turn the new wool would begin to grow.
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The wool clip has been a lot lighter on many of the harder hill farms this year, due to the harsh winter and the fact sheep lost condition. The loss of condition brought about the natural process of shedding their wool. The above sheep was close to losing all her fleece when she must have got the turn and her physical condition improved, resulting in new wool growth which actually helped hold her little bit of last years wool onto her back. Very often these half fleeces can be tugged off the sheep's back without need for shears, if the new wool growth is strong then the old wool seems to have adhered to it and it is necessary to use the shears.

They do look comical with their bits of fleeces, some seem to wear scarves whilst others carry a saddle, odd ones just have a tuft here and there. Should they be field ewes they can make the ground look awfully untidy when they start shedding their wool as it invariably comes off in bits not a whole fleece as a shearer would take it off and so the fields get lots of bits of wool all over them. The sheep also get itchy as temperatures rise with the result that fences can end up covered in wool which has stuck to the wires as sheep have rubbed against them.

Professional shearers would remove all the new wool as well as the old wool, leaving the sheep bare. Farmers and shepherds will often just remove the old wool which leaves the sheep with an uneven look with 'bald' bits in amongst the new wool. If you clip off the new wool it does not hold together like a fleece would, it just becomes a pile of loose fibres which are no longer required by the wool board and are a nuisance to dispose of so it is easier to leave it on the sheep's back. Interestingly enough the wool all ends up the same length eventually, the sheep does not go through the winter with 'bald' patches.