American Sheep Industry recommends sheep fast
prior to shearing
Whatever your thoughts on fasting sheep, there’s no doubt your shearer will thank you for keeping the flock off feed and water before shearing. More importantly, your sheep will thank you, too.
While there are various views on fasting, the benefits to sheep and shearer are significant and backed by research.
The American Sheep Industry (ASI) Code of Practice for the Preparation of Wool Clips and even ASI’s Sheep Production Handbook don’t go into much detail about why fasting is important, but both call for sheep to be penned anywhere from four to 12 hours before shearing. Both resources recommend keeping sheep off feed and water while penned before shearing.
So, why is it important? First and foremost, for the health and safety of both the sheep and the shearer.
If the gut of a sheep is full, it can add significant weight to the sheep, placing additional downward pressure on the sheep’s organs when in the shearing position, causing discomfort and stress to the sheep.
In turn, this often causes the animal to not only be uncomfortable, but to kick and struggle more, leading to even more stress to the sheep.
Also, if sheep urinate or defecate on the shearing floor, there is an increased risk of the sheep slipping when it stands up from being shorn. A slippery shearing surface is also a significant hazard for the shearer.
The goal of fasting is for sheep to urinate, defecate and empty their digestive tracts before entering the shearing facilities. The minimum and maximum times off feed and water will depend on the sheep’s stage of production. The minimum fasting times ensure the gut is emptied, while the maximum times ensure the health and welfare of the sheep.
It’s important to note sheep should not exceed the maximum time off feed and water, which can happen on long or multiple shearing days. Keep in mind if all sheep are penned at the same time, the last sheep sheared will have fasted for longer than those shorn first.
A secondary reason for fasting is to improve the quality of the wool clip. Eliminating the possibility of sheep urinating or defecating on the shearing floor means a cleaner surface for harvesting wool. And clean wool generally translates to a better, more valuable wool clip.
“A year is spent growing the product, while only a few minutes are required to harvest it. It is in this brief harvest period when quality is often adversely affected,” according to ASI’s Code of Practice for the Preparation of Wool Clips.
For more information, visit WorkSafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/agriculture/working-with-animals/working-with-sheep/fasting-of-sheep-prior-to-shearing-gpg/.
This article was written in courtesy of the American Sheep Industry February 2022 weekly newsletter. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.