Shep's been busy. It's the season for the sheep breeding sales and sheep have to be dressed. We don't dress them up in clothes we just titivate them up somewhat. Same as when we like to look our best - bit of a hair cut and tidy up is what we give them.
The first sales of the season tend to be for the more in-bye breeds. The mule ewe lamb is one of those. Actually the mule ewe lamb is bred from hill sheep and many farms in Tarset with some kinder ground do breed these lambs. The blackfaced or swaledale ewes being crossed with the blue faced leicester tup gives you your mule, recognised as a true breed, even has it's own breed society but in actual fact it is a cross breed - a much sought after mongrel.
The mule has long been recognised as a prolific breeding sheep, carrying the best attributes of both it's parents it has been much sought after the length and breadth of the country as a breeding ewe which produces quality fat lambs. Due to this the north of England has become a breeding area for the mule.
The lambs in the above photo have yet to be dressed, they are carrying wool around their cheeks, the belly wool makes them look lower to the ground and shorter of the body, the hair on their faces also give them an immature look. The idea of dressing them out is to give the impression of a bigger, better carcased animal.
Unfortunately it would seem that buyers cannot see beyond a dressed sheep, set a pen full in front of them which are undressed and they will generally be a less price than those which are turned out for the job, add to that the fact that farmers and shepherds like to take pride in their stock and turn them out to the best of their abilities you then find that the autumn sees a great deal of sheep being dressed, and not just mule ewe lambs but every other breed you could imagine also.
There are a variety of styles of dressing but they all aim to achieve the same things, it's just a matter of different areas and different people have different styles. The day used to be that every sheep dressed was probably done so in a slightly different manner. Some would need to be dressed hard around the neck to give them more neck, others might need their chests dressed hard to make them appear broader. There are many tricks of the trade and all can help to alter the appearance of a particular animal. All I can do is share the basics with you, life would be too complicated otherwise!
And so, back to dressing mule ewe lambs. What is needed? An electric machine and a pair of hand shears will suffice.
What I call 'commercial' dressing of sheep is almost all done with the electric. The days of dressing with hand shears when you're paid by the head is now long past as it is far more time consuming. Although when it comes to dressing black faces and swaledales it is all done with hand shears but then they don't require quite so much attention.
A steady hand is required to dress the wool around the necks and chests. Sheep don't stand still, they tend not to be placid and helpful, instead preferring to bounce around in the hope of escaping your clutches. Being over zealous whilst the electric machine is running can lead to wool coming off where you don't want it to and once it's been cut off it can't be put back. So a steady hand in control of the handpiece and a strong arm in control of the sheep is a necessity.
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