Tips From the Pro

Matt Best - Best Shearing Services

Bio: Raised up in Cadiz, Ohio. Started shearing sheep and goats in 1982. Sheared professionally until 1995. Married and managed a 500 ewe purebred sheep operation in MT 1995-1998. Moved back to Ohio, worked at Magical Farms and began shearing camelids-1998 to 2004. Moved to NH in 2004 and shears all over the northeast and serves as a sheep judge.

Ask the Pro: Do you have a question for Matt? Email it here and have it answered by the Pro!

Dr Purdy alpaca Ultrasound

Bio: Steve Purdy received his DVM degree in 1981 from the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. Dr. Purdy is Associate Professor of Veterinary Education, Director of Camelid Studies, and Director of the Fund for Education and Research in Large Animal Veterinary Medicine, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Ask the Pro: Do you have a question for Dr. Purdy? Email it here and have it answered by the Pro!



(Click on the question to expand)

Q - How do I minimize shearing cuts?

While a nick or two is normal and acceptable over the course of a day’s work, responsible shearers should strive to minimize skin cuts. There are several ways to accomplish this. I’ll speak in general at first then get specific on species.

Shear to a pattern. When we memorize a specific shearing pattern, danger areas and the sequence in which we cover them are recognized sooner and more likely gone over without incident. Simply being aware one is about to shear a potential “cut” area is often enough to succeed. When not shearing to a pattern or more likely “going back” to clean up a missed lock of fiber increases chances of cutting. Not only are we covering an area more than once, often when we go back, clipper approach to a given area is different than when it was shorn in the pattern. This is particularly true when shearing sheep or goats. The shearing pattern for sheep provides tight skin on a certain place on the sheep’s body. Shearing outside of the pattern covers body area that has not been “stretched tight”.

Learn the obvious danger areas. Neck folds on certain sheep breeds, wattles on Angora goats, stifle regions, navels on cria, etc. As a shearer gains more experience, he should learn to equate differing breeds with their own problem areas. An alpaca for example has a fairly tight skin. When stretched and restrained for shearing, however, there are a few wrinkles “created” by the position of the stretched legs. Being cognizant of these potential cut areas gives one an edge to shear without incident.

Gear experting. Using sharp combs and cutters, combs designed for the purpose, and correct alignment of blades on the shearing hand piece will eliminate probably 75% of potential problems. Too much “lead” on the comb for example can cause excessive “pushing” of comb through the fiber which can result in skin rolling up in front of the shears. Dull blades tend to chew rather than cut fiber and tend to pull skin upwards.

Confident use of the left hand. Particularly in sheep shearing if we’ve got the pattern down pat, 90% of the time we use our legs to hold the sheep in position. This frees left hand to smooth wrinkles ahead of the shears. Alpaca shearers have the advantage of a restrained animal; and can utilize the left hand to clear fiber and stretch skin.

Slow down, shear with confidence. If we’re constantly worried about skin cuts, our concentration will be off and not concentrating on area to be shorn. Wild flashing blows while spectacular to watch are never better than slow smooth movements of the right hand.

Potential problem areas on alpaca:
Skin wrinkles above the stifle region particularly on older or thinner animals
Skin wrinkles above the stifle region particularly on older or thinner animals
Cria navels
In between front legs of stretched alpaca
Wrinkles at base of neck particularly on very dense animals
Knee and brisket pads ( a calloused area caused by cushing)
And of course ears, tails and anything else that sticks up


Q - How often should I oil my shears?

The goal is to provide adequate lubricant to keep things moving along (literally) but not so much as to be wasteful or incur fiber contamination. One should always obey manufacturer’s recommendations in literature provided with purchase of shearing equipment. Generally for most brands of hand-held electric hand pieces, this involves lubricating bearing surfaces in the shearing head of the machine. Oil ports vary in number and location but as a rule require several drops of lube every half hour or so of operation. If we’re shearing 4 alpaca an hour, a couple of squirts after every two.

Oiling the blades themselves should be done at least at every cutter change. While oiling the combs and cutters does provide a cooling effect, blade heating is not a symptom of inadequate lubrication. The comb and cutter should be thought of as multiple sets of scissors and oil is not necessary for proper cutting. Too much tension, running while holding them out in the air, and contamination (dirt) in the fleece are the real culprits of heat build up. Excessive oiling of the blades result in fiber stains and a real mess on the shearing floor. Learning shearers will experience gear heating more than professionals and be tempted to oil more often. Alternating hand pieces, frequent blade changes, keeping the shears busy cutting off fiber and keeping air inlet screens clean are better options than continued oiling. Beginner shearers should strive to oil less frequently as experience is gained and speed of shearing increases. If hand piece heating is a problem, better to cool the comb by resting it on a damp towel or sponge.

Most shearing equipment manufacturers also provide oils suited to their machines. While a quart of “Wal-mart 10W30” can be used, a lighter clipping oil is better. Spray lubricants should be avoided.

-Oster electrics have 3 oil holes on left side of shearing head
-Premier electrics have one oil hole in back of tension nut
-Heiniger/Andis electrics have one oil hole in front of tension nut
-Most shafting plant handpieces require oiling the crankshaft ball, tension pin and cup and center posts

Q - How can I reduce second cuts?

Good shearing can be broken down into about four principles.

1- Know the equipment
2- Know the pattern
3- Know the contour of the animal
4- Repetition

Shearing with a minimum of second cuts involves all four, but particularly number 2 & 3. In order to shear clean we must keep the comb teeth on the skin. Supple wrist action is a must. A shearer needs to twist the shears sideways to keep the bottom (right most tooth) on the skin as we follow the curves of the animal while also bending the wrist to begin and end each blow on the skin. Second cuts occur then we allow the comb to come up off the skin, then go back and clean the area up OR overlap on the next blow. Filling the comb (using all the width) prevents this overlap. This is particularly important when using today’s wider concave flared combs.

Having the shape or contour of whatever animal we’re shearing memorized as well as knowing the order in which we’re going to approach those contours (pattern) gives us a great advantage in keeping those comb teeth on the skin. For example: When I shear an alpaca, I know, without a doubt that on the fifth stroke from the start in position one, I’m going to cross over the alpacas spine and shear on the far side of the backbone. When I put this blow in, I have to twist my wrist to keep the bottom tooth down. Because I’m able to anticipate this, I can prevent a second cut in the middle of a clients show fleece.

Keeping a sharp comb and cutter on the handpieces also prevents furring (small fiber pieces similar to second cuts.


Q - What is the best way to sharpen combs & cutters?

With a beveled wheel which produces a hollow grind.

Professional shearing grinder discs are machined with a 1/2 degree bevel across the face of the wheel. This is opposed to grinding discs for clipping blades, which are flat.

If you’re buying used equipment and not sure what you’ve got, a simple check can be performed by laying a straight edge such as a carpenters square on the disc. If it’s a beveled wheel for shearing blades, you should be able to rock the straight edge back and forth across the surface.

Why a hollow grind?

It makes sense if one thinks about the relationship of cutter tips to comb teeth as they reciprocate back and forth. When the handpieces yoke and forks are half way in their side-to-side travel, they point straight forward. This distance is shorter than the distance at the end of the arc, or “throw”. To provide consistent pressure (tension) of cutter tips against comb teeth, this change in distance must be compensated for by using a grinding disc that actually removes slightly more material in the center of the comb and cutter during sharpening; hence a “hollow grind”. Combs can be checked for this quickly by placing one comb on top of another comb with the sharpened surfaces together. Holding this “comb sandwich” up to the light reveals daylight in between the middle teeth while the end teeth touch. This trick to comb experting can be determined by being exact in comb to grinder approach and removal during sharpening.

A flat grinding disc sharpens the comb and cutter without compensating for the cutter arc. Outside teeth receive less tension than middle teeth resulting in poorer performance. Clipping machines use different mechanicals which result in top clipping blade moving side to side in a straight line instead of an arc, thus these blades can be sharpened adequately on a flat disc.



Q - What type of blade would be best for show cuts on market lambs?

I have Lister Stablemates but you have to send those blades off to be sharpened (I did this on a stand for 14 years.) I have a grinder to sharpen my pro shearing blades with that I’d hoped to use on these as well.
The most sheep I would have to shear like this will be 30 at a time (in mid April) and would like to have enough of these to shear them all, and I’m hoping they will do a good job washing them for me before I get there (but want to have enough blades just in case).
Thank you,
Derrick M Spangler

Generally main requirements for show lambs are a close, smooth cut. This enables judges to better feel muscle expression and tightness of hides in addition to having more eye appeal.
On comb selection, rule of thumb is the more teeth the better. Combs like the Beiyuan 77MB20 or the Premier Phantom would work great.
A neat trick is after initial shearing, dampen the lamb with a towel or spray bottle and re-shear. You’ll get quite a bit more off.

Club Lamb Shearing Diagram

Courtesy of Derrick Spangler

Lamb shearing diagram

Top Gun rope setup

I’ve had several folks ask for an easy way to position their ropes before attaching anchor points. This is my method:

Once I’ve selected the area in which to shear (level, well-lighted, easy traffic flow) I position my accordion mat in the general area. I then start with the front rope (the one with the pulleys). Even though this rope is adjustable, it is more important to get this one positioned correctly for proper stretch. I lay the front rope out so that when it is fully extended, the leg loops are on the 4th section of the 5 section accordion mat. The spring snap then determines the front anchor point.

I then position the rear rope so that the leg loops are just lying on the edge of the 5th section of the accordion mat. the welded ring or the short length of rope can determine the rear anchor. The front and rear leg loops are then about an alpaca’s body length apart from each other making for ease in putting them on and sufficient mechanical advantage to restrain even the biggest alpaca.

Remember, the faster the rope is pulled, the easier the animal goes down.


Q - How much oil do I need? Should I dip the shears?

Very little (a few drops) oil is needed on the comb & cutter. Dipping shears is an old fashion practice that can lead to skin issues due to excess petro products on the skin.

If the comb & cutter are getting too hot to touch them to your own skin (and therefore too hot for the alpaca) there is something that needs to be adjusted (not dipped).

If the dipping is to reduce excess heat the cause is likely improper (both too much & too little) tension. Too much tension causes the comb & cutter to heat up because they work against each other too much. However the more common situation is too little tension which causes fiber to build up under the teeth of the cutter. This fiber balls up very quickly between the under tensioned comb & cutter and
1) pushes the cutter away from the comb therefore reducing the effect of the scissor action between the comb and cutter
2) adds lots of friction as the cutter moves the fiber back and forth across the comb therefore creating excess heat.

Feel free to call us at LLE if you have any questions. Good shearing!

Q - Have you used this machine to diagnosis pregnancies in sheep and goats?

I have used the 3000 model many times with both sheep and goats to diagnose early pregnancy (after 20 days) in both sheep and goats using the 7.5 MHz transrectal probe. I have used up to around 40 days but I am sure it would be of use longer into gestation. I am not sure when animals could be picked up transabdominally with that probe but I use it all the time with the 6.5 MHz probe in alpacas. I very much like the memory feature on that model and the ability to download the images to the computer later and edit and save them as JPEG files for storage, printing, or email. Please call or email me if you have any other questions.