Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shearing Time in the Gulf Islands

With the warm days of spring comes shearing time for many flocks in the Gulf Islands. Most people arrange for a professional shearer who can quickly remove the fleece in one piece in just minutes. Many islands arrange for the shearer to come over for one or more days to do all of the sheep. Smaller flocks may hold their sheep overnight in a barn so that they are dry and ready to go. Larger flocks will hope for good weather, and will gather the flock into a corral, hopefully with a covered area and handling facility. The weather was good for shearing this year, and the wool looked clean and strong. We remove the dirty tags in a process called "skirting" the fleece, then roll it up and place it in a big burlap sack that is held in place in a tall wooden frame specially built for packing wool. To pack the fleeces tight someone gets on top and stomps the wool down into the bag. Once it is full, we use a large needle to sew the bag tight, label it, and ship it.
Large carding machine, Custom Woolen Mills
The packed wool may go to the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers (CCWG) where it is sorted, graded, processed and marketed. Sometimes we ship to Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta and have socks, comforters, pillows, blankets and yarn made. This year we made a trip there will a truck full of wool sacks, and were able to bring back a load of pillows and comforters. Some people who have special wool-type sheep may opt to prepare and store each fleece separately and process according to that market so that they can obtain a higher price.
Demand for wool worldwide has been increasing – architects demanding wool carpets, consumers interested in natural fabrics - as the world supply declines, resulting in rising prices for wool. Wool from Canada is primarily exported and China has become a major customer. Last fall, the general manager of CCWG took a wool marketing trip to China and attended an international trade show for wool. He was able negotiate thirteen wool contracts with different woolen mills, representing the sale of 650,000 pounds, or 13 container loads, of wool. He traveled by train and car to the various wool mills and said that Canadian wool was well received. It is a relief to see the prices increasing, given that many sheep producers let their wool become mulch and shearing costs often exceed what the producer can get for their wool. Still, there are many sheep producers who pack their wool for CCWG and make the annual wool drop-off a bit of a social event, hoping that prices will improve.
My brother in law, Graham Rannie, shearing one of our rams when he was last visiting - Alex and Isaac look on
This year the 93rd AGM for the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers was held in Abbotsford, BC. The CCWG is a sheep producer cooperative with producer shareholders. CCWG is organized to market Canada's wool in the most efficient and profitable way and encourage quality wool production in Canada. The CCWG catalogue is mailed to 20,000 sheep producers in Canada, offering a full range of livestock products, a directory of sheep breeders and shearers, and information. Ken Mallinson is the Director for BC. Among the producers across Canada recognized for their efforts in producing wool, two sets of producers from BC received awards at the AGM. Wayne and Mary Schaad from Black Creek and John and Lorraine Buchanan from Metchosin, all BC Sheep Federation members from Vancouver Island, were the Certificate of Merit winners from BC. These wool growers exemplify the co-operative spirit and were recognized for the extra pride they take in their wool. The recipients of these awards were selected by a panel of judges representing the shearing, warehousing, grading, selling and buying of wool.
My son, Alex, shearing a California Red
Pieter DeMooy shearing one from our commercial flock
Pieter DeMooy from Central Saanich was the shearer for both flocks. Pieter shears many of the flocks in the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island. He started shearing in 4-H, then went on to shear with the best shearers in New Zealand, Australia and the UK before settling back in Canada and working in the floral industry. He was brought out of shearing-retirement when his good friend and fellow shearer, David Nichols, passed away suddenly. David had been the main shearer for the Gulf Islands for many years, and he had family and friends in the islands. Pieter helped fill the void, both as a shearer and as a friend to many sheep producers who appreciate his skills.

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