Friday, 15 May 2015

Shearing at Fernhill Farm

Last Saturday (by the way we have sheep, in case you hadn't noticed) I opened a Christmas present from A. It was late indeed but it needed to be as it would probably be cruel to shear sheep when it's too cold. So the present was a day at Fernhill Farm ( to learn how to hand shear. It was organised by the amazing Emma ( and taught by the amazing Andy.

Andy's story is that he toured the world shearing ten months a year for twenty years, then returned home and bought Fernhill Farm with the proceeds. There, 800 feet above sea level on the windy Mendips he and Jen and their two children (there may have been more, but we met two) have hundreds (or is it thousands?) of sheep, some pigs and some beef. We only saw the sheep.
They were Shetlands! And also some Dorset Polled Horns, and some Blue Faced Leicesters and some Texels used in the usual complex way to produce a variety of types of lambs for a variety of purposes.
One thing that Andy and Jen aim to do really well and really differently than most British farms, is produce beautiful and valuable wool. Hence the Shetlands (who have the finest wool of British sheep breeds). However their fleeces tend to be a bit sparse, so if you  cross them with Blue Face Leicester they retain the fineness and crimp of the Shetland but are bigger sheep with much thicker denser fleeces.

So, we started with a tour of the farm:

Looks chilly? Yes, I suppose so, but not too bad.

Apart from livestock they grow wood of all sorts; here is some willow for weaving:

They have their own BIG series of ponds for purifying water, into the top of which goes waste including sewage, and in the bottom of which grow English crayfish (famous for needing  pure water) and in which one can swim! (But not today, too cold)

They also make shepherds' huts from some of the wood they grow

and look inside!

All farm produced content. Not 100% sure this is a good use of wool though:

This, however, definitely is:

Produced with a peg loom, and demonstrating all the different colours of  Shetland fleece. I'm going to try that.

Then back to the lambing barn where we started

to get down to the serious business of learning how to cut sheep. Without cutting them. No blood please.

Demonstrated by Andy first on his 150kg Polled Dorset ram

Then it was our go, having first donned the specialist footwear:

These are apparently very important. I must not have been listening when we told why, so I can't tell you. Perhaps it's because one moves the sheep around with one's feet and legs, and most of the time they are sitting on one's feet, so they might get snagged on things on normal shoes???

Here's my ewe:

A Shetland or Shetland cross,so nice and small and with a fine easy-to-cut fleece. Or so I hoped.

And that's us about half way through, the camera/phone all sweaty steamy. It's a very hot job shearing, even a small cooperative ewe like this on a relatively cool day!

And finally, a fleece!