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What is voluntary shearing?

If you’ve been to the Zoo Atlanta contact yard, you’ve seen your fair share of our personality-filled goats, but our contact yard also has five sheep, either in quiet time, under the tables, or just lounging on a hay bed. Don’t fret if you haven’t gotten the chance to meet them; our sheep’s favorite time of day is usually on quieter cool summer mornings. 

Two different breeds are currently living with us at Zoo Atlanta, our three European babydoll sheep (who we lovingly call the old men) and our two Gulf Coast native sheep. The most common question guests ask us is: how often do our sheep get sheared? Ask any care team member in the yard, and we’ll be more than enthusiastic to explain that our sheep get sheared twice a year! But what they may not have the chance to tell you is that our Outback Station team is learning to not only shear but also to train our sheep for voluntary shearing.  

What is voluntary shearing? Voluntary shearing is a more sheep-friendly way to encourage our animals to participate in the shearing process. This is a less stressful and quick process for both our animals and the keepers!  

What does voluntary shearing look like? Our team uses a training behavior called “between” where the sheep have the choice to stand in-between our legs while a keeper is feeding them yummy snacks, such as sheep grain or dried beet pulp. We then have a keeper using sheep-safe clippers and shaving off the excess wool as they stay put. 

As this behavior was being trained, we did run into some slight hiccups, such as the noise and the feeling of the clippers spooking our sheep. This was quickly resolved as our keepers used five-minute weekly training sessions to help the sheep become accustomed to the noise and feeling of the clippers on their bodies. 

If you find yourself down at Outback Station, come visit the contact yard and find a care team member wearing navy blue! We are all more than happy to introduce you to our sheep and explain any of our training further! You might even get to meet our shyest sheep: Sven! 

Nasiha K.
Keeper I, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl