Shaping the future of animal health

Shear sheep more regularly to supply shorter staple length

Wool processors in China are asking Australian woolgrowers for a more consistent supply of shorter staple length wool. This comes from global workplace trending moving away from worsted woolen suits towards more informal styles of dressing which is increasing demand for knitted garments.

Fine wools with relatively short staple lengths are used to make wool top for knitted garments. But Chinese wool topmakers have resorted to cutting long staple fleece wools in half to provide the short pieces needed for knitwear machinery.

Woolgrowers can control staple length by managing:

  • frequency of shearing
  • breeding
  • nutrition

Many sheep producers in higher rainfall zones have adopted more regular shearing to deliver wool with a shorter staple length; a result of better genetics resulting in the growing of more wool faster. Industry-funded cost–benefit studies show clear financial gains for woolgrowers in the pastoral zones too.

Benefits of shearing more frequently (every 6 or 8 months, instead of 12 months) include:

  • increased wool yield and quality
  • better cash flow than twelve month shearing
  • elimination of most crutching
  • easier management of flystrike, which reduces chemical use for fly control
  • reduced chemical use for lice control
  • increased percentage of ewes scanned in-lamb due to joining post shearing (January)
  • more regular flock contact to improve livestock health and welfare
  • easier management of ewe body condition

Shifting annual shearing operations to every 6 or 8 months requires analysis and careful planning. It’s important to plan the production year, with a set calendar of shearing, mating and lambing dates, and take care to shear when it suits the seasonal conditions, such as avoiding the summer heat and avoiding a tender spot in the wool in the middle of the staple.

The risks associated with shearing more regularly include:

  • increased labour costs
  • shearing in hot summer months
  • potential mis-mothering of younger lambs if ewes are stressed during or after shearing
  • unavailability of contract shearers
  • lower tensile strength wool
  • the costs of shearing

Find resources about more regular shearing on the Bestprac website and your state agriculture department website.