Does shearing hurt sheep? Or is it actually beneficial?

Sheep and people go a long, long way back together. Since people and sheep started coexisting, some kind of shearing has been around. People definitely benefited from it. What about sheep?

Now we have electric motor shearing machines, before them, there were hand shears. Hand shears are actually used a lot even today. Going even further, long before hand shears, people would hand pull the naturally shedding wool from sheep (rouxing). And even further, before sheep domestication, sheep would get their wool pulled off naturally while they were dragging themselves around rocks and branches. This natural shedding is called molting.

Since we have covered some shearing history for the easy introduction to this post, now let’s focus on the main topic. Does sheep shearing hurt sheep?

Shearing does NOT hurt sheep. Not only it doesn’t hurt sheep, but shearing is also important for the health of the animal. Most sheep are unable to shed naturally, so seasonal shearing is beneficial for the health and hygiene of the animal.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at some more details surrounding the main question. We’re going to tackle the health benefits of shearing, and maybe some problems it can cause to sheep. Does wool grow forever and when is actually the best time to shear wool? Have you ever wondered if sheep enjoy being sheared? Can sheep survive without being sheared? Do they get cold after being sheared? Now, let’s get busy and try to answer all of these questions.

What is sheep wool?

Wool is a by-product of sheep shearing. For forever it has been used in the manufacturing process of clothes and other fabrics. It’s one of the animal resources that has been used for thousands of years, but with an important distinction that an animal doesn’t have to lose its life over it. Sheep domestication happened maybe 11 000 – 13 000 years ago. Before that, as mentioned above, wild sheep breeds got rid of their excess wool with molting or natural shedding. With current domesticated sheep breeds, we have a problem that wool never stops growing, and now the artificial shearing process is needed to avoid possible problems that might appear with excess wool on them.

Why should sheep be sheared?

  • Easier and better skin hygiene.
  • Reduces the possibility of parasite infections.
  • Easier loss of stored bodily heat. Less sweating.
  • More rapid metabolism.
  • Better appetite.
  • Better body condition.
  • Cleaner environment for new-borns.

Is sheep shearing cruel?

Whether you’re a shepherd or you create products made from sheep wool, you should be interested to find out if shearing sheep is cruel or not. If you’re a shepherd you’d want to know if shearing is beneficial for your sheep or not, especially if you’re not interested in selling sheep wool. If you’re using wool to create clothing or other similar products, you’d want to know if sheep got hurt for you to get that wool in front of you.

As mentioned before, shearing is good and healthy for the animal. Shearing is a crucial part of the coexistence of humans and sheep that benefits sheep’s life quality and health, and on the other hand, it provides people a valuable resource. The only thing that can be cruel is the way that shearing itself is done, but you won’t find that amongst caring shepherds.

You as a shepherd have full control over the treatment your sheep are going to go through while being sheared, while you as a wool buyer can always check to see if the wool you are buying has been acquired in a humane way.

Sheep shearing cuts? When do they happen?

Injuries can always happen, especially during the sensitive process that is shearing. They can happen when shearing while using hand shears and electric shearing machines as well. Skin injuries most likely appear when wool and skin get pulled too strongly, but skin cuts themselves appear more often when using hand shears. There are two factors that contribute to injuries happening more often: scared animals and shearer inexperience. If the injury does happen, you should treat it with infection spray or ointment immediately.

Does NOT shearing hurt sheep?

Not shearing sheep can cause numerous problems and discomfort for the animal. The first and the most obvious one is the heath during summer times. That’s why sheep are sheared seasonally almost always during spring and early summer so they are not affected by the summer heat, while having lots of wool during winter to keep them warm. However, one could (jokingly) say wool shearing hurts their feelings because sometimes sheep, especially young sheep, fight pretty hard against being sheared. Some of them even hide from their shepherds during summer knowing what is coming, hence suffering in heat rather than being sheared. Some say it’s like with us humans going to the dentist, it makes things better in the long run, but who can say they like going to the dentist? Joke aside, there are some serious problems that not shearing can cause to sheep.

What problems does NOT shearing sheep cause?

  • Heath. Too much wool decreases sheep ability to regulate their temperature during summer heats. This can actually be fatal for sheep.
  • Parasites. Different, unhygienic things can get stuck in sheep wool. Thicker the wool gets, more of urine, faeces or dirt can accumulate in it. These materials can in return attract a vast array of flies, maggots, mites, lice or ticks. Irritations and infections will then usually follow.
  • Immobilization. Simple explanation here. The more wool a sheep has, slower it can move around, and in that way it becomes more vulnerable to predators.
  • “Wool blindness.” Thick wool can easily block sheep sight.
  • Lamb nursing. Too much wool can sometimes prevent lambs in finding eve’s teats, and lambs can die of starvation because of this.

Can sheep survive without being sheared?

Sheep can survive without being sheared, although their life quality can drop. With all the factors listed above, that can hurt the sheep, it should be every farmer’s priority to shear their sheep. For a vast majority of domestic sheep breeds, the wool never stops growing, and this can actually look quite interesting when we fail to shear them regularly. It happened to a sheep called Shrek, and the story was all over the news in 2013.

Sheep Shrek

Do sheep get cold after shearing?

If your sheep are spending winter months in the open, wool is a clear necessity for them to help them with good body-temperature management. Shearing is thus often done in warmer months when less wool can help with environmental heat. In those warm months, sheep won’t get cold after shearing. If, for some reason, environmental temperatures fall rapidly just after your sheep have been sheared, and this can often happen if you’re shearing them during spring, you have to protect your sheep from the cold by keeping them inside if you can. If you have no such options, then you at least have to somehow try to protect them from wind and rain.

Do sheep like being sheared?

It’s not like sheep love being sheared. As mentioned before, people don’t like going to dentists either, but it’s a necessity we all have to endure. Older sheep have gotten familiar with the process of shearing, and that all it takes is a few minutes of their time, so they usually don’t put much resistance. On the other hand, younger sheep tend to fight the process and even hide from their owners to altogether avoid it. On our farm, every year, without exception, we have a couple of them that we don’t manage to catch and shear until the summer starts.

Are sheep killed for wool?

A very good thing about wool is that it’s quite a valuable and still irreplaceable product, and its production does not require killing an animal, quite the contrary, it preserves the animal’s health. Like human hair grows, gets cut, then grows again forever, the same happens with wool, it grows and gets cut yearly. Killing sheep for wool is thus unnecessary because it’s the live sheep that produces wool.

Sheep haircuts?

In the vastness of the internet, you can come upon this term being used for three different things.

First by people trying to learn how a traditional sheep “haircut” is called, and they learn it’s called shearing. Second, when an outlaw sheep is found after many years of wandering, and all that fluff it collected is being sheared by a championship-winning shearer and few assistants since it’s a really overwhelming task like we saw in the picture above with Shrek. And third would be exactly crazy as it sounds: sheep haircut. You can learn anything on the internet including that lions are not the only ones with a mane, and horses are not the only ones who can film hair shampoo advertising. Sheep can also rock many seventies hairstyles and afros being only some of them. And if you ever wondered where do sheep get their haircut, it’s at the baa-baa shop. (If you’re in a need of more sheep jokes, check the following post)