ROOING BOSTON LAKE FARM

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We have two rooing articles for you.  Rooing at Boston Lake follows below.  Clicking on  Rooing at Nier Lakes will open the second article in a new window.  It has pictures and video clips and is a bit slower to load for those with dial up but is truly worth a look.

Rooing Shetland Sheep
by Sabrina L. Erickson
Boston Lake Farm

One of the main reasons I chose the Shetland breed to fulfill my life-long dream of owning sheep was because of their ability to  roo, or be plucked of their fiber in the spring.  Since I did not want to invest in costly shearing equipment for myself to learn on, and since shearers are scarce in my remote setting, I felt the rooing trait would allow me to enjoy the benefits of keeping sheep and harvesting gorgeous fiber.  And it has.  In July of 2004, I finally became shepherd to two lovely Shetland ewes.  And the following Spring of 2005 I approached the rooing process for the first time with an open mind and a willing attitude. 

When the wool on my ewes began to bloom off of them and release with gentle pulling, I began rooing.  This happened to be around April 1st on our farm in a Zone 2 climate pocket of northern Minnesota.  Lambing was scheduled to begin mid-April so I felt this would be a good time to remove the fiber.  I have since decided I would like to lamb a little later in the spring to allow for a later rooing date.  I feel it would be better for the ewes to keep their long coats during the unpredictable cold wet April weather we often have.  Much of this decision is based on our minimal sheep shelter facilities and our effort to rotational graze. These are factors that will differ from farm to farm.  However, a sheep could be rooed after lambing just as easily, so there are options for every shepherd to consider. 

I would strongly suggest having a helper the first time rooing is tried.  If a sheep is used to standing tied a helper may not be required, but I found four hands to be so much better than two.  My husband, Clancy, helped me roo our sheep.  To begin, we spread an old sheet out on the ground to set the sheep on.  I then tied two large plastic garbage sacks to the fence nearby.  Clancy's main responsibility was to securely hold the sheep.  He was able to do quite a bit of the rooing, though.  As we rooed, we threw good handspinning wool into one bag, medium quality wool into another bag, and we threw taggy wool onto the ground to be picked up when we were completely finished.  With both of us working, it only took about 50 minutes to do the first ewe and only about 40 minutes to do the other one.  I feel we could have improved our time with more practice, but I will have to wait until next spring to prove that theory.  There was a lovely serenity to the whole process, and there were no cuts to the shepherd or the sheep.  Clancy used to be in charge of shearing the 70+ Hampshires on his parent's farm and he has since declared that he prefers the peace and calm of rooing to the noise and effort of shearing. Our technique continued to improve as we went along, and we learned that different areas of the sheep require different types of plucking to remove the wool.

Along the udder of each ewe, the wool released very well when we only pulled tiny bits of wool very gently from the tip of the lock with our forefinger and thumb, using both hands.  The action our hands made resembled that of a   squirrel's paws while eating a nut.  Along the neck, back and sides the wool often came off in larger sheets with faster action.  If any part was difficult to pull off, it usually came along just fine by pulling a smaller amount at a time or by pulling from just the tip of the lock.  Pulling from the tip allowed the main fluff of wool to come off without the few guard hairs that were anchoring the lock because they were not ready to release.  The hip area was one particular spot that seemed to have a bit more guard hair than the rest of the fleece on my two ewes, so we pulled from the lock end there.  Pulling from only the tip of the lock, as opposed to pulling from near the skin, was also a good method for removing the wool around the legs and the taggy wool were there was an abundance of guard-type hair mixed in.

One of the most amazing things about rooing is the loveliness of the new wool as it grows in.  The tips are completely free of last year's coat and appear healthy, strong, and form a beautiful lock structure as the coat gets longer.  My ewes are ages 2 and 7 and their rooed fleeces look as gorgeous and fresh as their lambs' fleeces do.  Perhaps we were just lucky with our two sheep, but we did not experience matted tips at all.    Six months later the new fleeces are still outstanding with zero matted tips from rubbing against trees and buildings.  They truly do look like the lamb fleeces.

After such a rewarding and successful experience with rooing this first season, we plan to continue rooing on our farm.  In the spring of 2006 I look forward to rooing a flock of seven Shetlands.  I enthusiastically encourage those interested in this age-old method of harvesting wool to give it a try.  Rooing your Shetlands could be a wonderful way to simplify the management of your small flock.  Or, such as it was in my case, it could provide the cost advantage one needs to begin adding the beautiful Shetland sheep to one's farm and life.

 

ROOING AT NIER LAKES
 


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