Hey, remember these little guys? Back in April, we talked about all the lambs born at Living History Farms this spring. You should see them now! They have grown a lot and all the sheep are a lot less shaggy. In May, all of our sheep got their hair cut. Sheep have special hair called wool. During the winter, the sheep’s wool grows very thick to keep the sheep warm. The sheep’s wool is also full of greasy oil called lanolin. It helps the wool shed water and keeps the sheep dry.
In the spring, farmers cut the wool off of the sheep to keep them cool in the summer. Cutting the wool off is called shearing. A shearer, the person doing the cutting, can sometimes get the wool off the sheep in one whole piece. That piece of wool is called a fleece.
In the 1850s, the wool was cut off with a sharp scissor-like tool called shears. Later, mechanical clippers—a lot like the ones you might see at a hairdresser now—were used to get the fleece off. These clippers did not run on electricity. Instead, someone had to crank a wheel to make the clippers move. Shearing was a two person job!
The video below shows Sheep Shearer Ray shearing the fleece off of a Living History Farms ewe. See his helper? Turning that crank can be a tiring job! Ray thought the whole fleece might weigh 6 or 7 pounds. This was a small ewe. It is pretty common to get 8 or 10 pounds of wool from a large ewe.
A long time ago, Pioneer farmers might sell the fleece to a woolen mill. The woolen mill factory would make thread and weave clothing from the wool. In 1850, farmers could sell one pound of wool for 50 cents. How much money would 6 lbs. of wool make for the farmer? A Pioneer farmer might also keep part of the fleece and spin the wool fibers into yarn to make hats and socks and mittens.