I suffer terribly with the cold. From September/October to May/June/July, I am bundled up in thick layers of thermal underwear, light under-layer, jumper and corduroy or tweed trousers, two pairs of socks, felted slippers/fur-lined boots, and often a hat, shawl/blanket and glove combo on top. That’s me sitting in front of the fire. There’s more insulation needed to get me out of the house.
However, for a few days between May/June/July and September/October, it is toasty and warm outside. On those days, I skip outside in a single layer of cotton or linen. Barefoot! Bare-headed! I feel so light that I might float away like a dandelion clock, young and giddy. I am occasionally tempted to dance, but I keep that to my back garden for fear of scaring the neighbours and livestock.
Thus it is with our woolly friends. They are denuded of their heavy, uncomfortable winter attire, and frolic sky-clad in the sun:
Shearing is usually conducted in spring. Sometimes, the weather is still a little chilly, so shepherds will house shorn sheep or give them little coats to wear while they adjust:
NB: in case you don’t get it, the lady speaking was being sarcastic about the cruelty of shearing.
Shearing is expensive. An experienced UK shearer can earn around £400 (€450/US$550/AU$730) a day: £50 per hour, shearing 25–30 sheep an hour. That’s a massive outlay for a farmer who may have had next to no regular income since the previous autumn. You don’t waste that money shearing an animal for slaughter. Far better to send the sheep unshorn for slaughter, and possibly have a sheepskin to sell to the tanning industry. I’m not well up on the prices realised by untanned sheepskin, but after processing a sheepskin can command upwards of £100 each.
In the UK, the Wool Marketing Board is the only buyer of fleeces from most herds*. They will pay as little as £0.50 per fleece – a fleece that cost around £2 to shear. There is no incentive to farm for fleece: some have been known to throw it away.
OTOH, there’s no incentive to mistreat animals if you do farm for fleece. An ill-treated animal will be skittish and unmanageable at the next shearing – and will probably recognise a bad shearer again, too.
* – Hobby farms with up to 4 sheep, and some rarebreed protection farms are exempt, as are Shetland farms. Some hobby farmers and rarebreed farmers sell their fleeces to handspinners. Depending on the breed, in the grease prices can be anywhere from £5 to £30 per fleece, while scoured fleece runs from about £10 upwards. Fully prepped tops, ready for spinning, can be anywhere from £4 per 100g to WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK!?!?!
(Actually, Hilltop Cloud isn’t that expensive – it’s just where I did my most recent fibre purchase. Try vicuna.)