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evaluating wool - what a sheep fleece can tell you  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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Wool can tell a lot about the health of the sheep.  Sell someone a bad fleece and you loose business.  Sell a good fleece, and you'll have people pounding at your door for more.

What are some of the things to look for?

How clean is the fleece?  Is it skirted (had all the dungy bits removed)? 
A clean fleece makes the world of difference.  A clean fleece can mean processing and hand spinning a fleece a task for just a few days instead of weeks and weeks. 

Here's a bit on how to skirt a fleece


A clean fleece is worth many times more than a dirty one.  If the fleece has a lot of hay and debris in it, try changing the feeding set up.  If it has brambles and burrs in it, try removing these plants from the pasture.  Diarrhoea can cause one heck of a mess on fleece, but one can avoid this with proper nutrition and care.

How strong is the fleece?
Stress, be it diet, environment, health, or emotional, shows up in the fibre.  Same for humans by the way.  It creates a weak place in the fibre that makes it easy to break. 

To evaluate wool strength, take a small lock of wool and hold the tip of the wool in one hand and the cut end in the other.  Hold it firmly and give it a tug.  If the sheep experienced any sort of stress like having a baby sheep, a sudden change in diet, you name it, then the wool will break.  If the wool is weak, then it's mulch




Another way to evaluate this is by sound

he ping test.  This one may seem silly but it works.

Get a smaller section of the lock you pulled out, hold it taut between two fingers ---> and using another finger, flick the lock. Does it snap or make twangy, snappy noises when you do this? Or does it have a ping? Healthy fibers will make a ping noise.

If this ping test takes too much coordination, you can get the same result by snapping the lock between two hands [see below].  You're still looking for the same pinging sound instead of a snap or a fizzle.

Once you do this a few times, you'll know what I mean by the sounds.


Having this weak place in the wool makes it break when processed and will make it difficult to create a strong and consistent yarn.  This will also cause pilling in the finished fabric. 

To prevent this, keep an eye on the health of the sheep throughout the year.  Shear the sheep just before the lambs come as lambing and lactating decrease the strength in the wool.


These are just a couple of things to look for but they are problems I see time and again.  These are also the two easiest things for a farmer to fix.


Anyone here buy, sell or work with wool?  What do you look for in a fleece?  What's important to you?
 
Drew Moffatt
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Good crimp in the wool, should look like a crinkle cut chip when you pull out a lock. It gives wool its springiness rather than just being all slack and feeling stretched.
To help prevent shit on the wool trim their back end in a ring crutch a couple of times a year.
  http://woolshed1.blogspot.co.nz/2009/02/sheep-farm-husbandry-crutching.html?m=1
 
r ranson
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Another thing to look for in wool is felting. 

Felting is caused by moisture plus agitation.  This is great if you want to make slippers, but not so good when it's still on the sheep.  Depending on the weather and environment, a fleece can start to felt on the sheep.  Sheep love to rub against things and if their wool is wet... well... not so good for yarn, but possible to use for other things like felting so long as one wants texture.

I'm not certain the cure for this.  Shearing the sheep earlier in the year seems to be a good start.  Some sheep can be shorn twice a year.  Once in the late winter, and once again in late fall.  The late winter/early spring fleece isn't much good, but that's also the time when the most felting happens.  It makes the fall shearing so much better than one shearing.  This, of course, depends on the breed of sheep and the local weather patterns. 
 
r ranson
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Andy Moffatt wrote:Good crimp in the wool, should look like a crinkle cut chip when you pull out a lock. It gives wool its springiness rather than just being all slack and feeling stretched.


I like this kind of crimp for a sweater or sock yarn.  It's also really nice in woven blankets.  This is the kind of crimp most mills look for as it's easiest for their machines to work with.

Matching the yarn and method to the crimp is a great skill to have.  Just about every kind of crimp, even none, has a yarn or purpose to match it.  Quite often, low crimp yarns are very strong and hard wearing, like Blue Face Leister.  I'll often blend these with a high crimp wool to create a stronger sock yarn. 

When evaluating wool, it helps to know what kind of crimp makes what kind of fabric and choose the fleece to match the project or the project to match the fleece. 

To help prevent shit on the wool trim their back end in a ring crutch a couple of times a year. 


I agree.  This is very useful in keeping the sheep healthy as well as the wool clean.
 
Drew Moffatt
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Pretty sure the felting on the sheep is a major stress event ie, no feed for a period or extreme heat stress which causes a complete break in the fleece then as they rub and the new fleece grows into it with some rain it felts up.
We used to use them as dog beds in the working dogs kennels, it was great until someone got bored and spread wool everywhere.
 
r ranson
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Andy Moffatt wrote:Pretty sure the felting on the sheep is a major stress event ie, no feed for a period or extreme heat stress which causes a complete break in the fleece then as they rub and the new fleece grows into it with some rain it felts up.
We used to use them as dog beds in the working dogs kennels, it was great until someone got bored and spread wool everywhere.


Good idea about the dog beds. 

Have a break in the wool is a major contributor to felting.  It allows the wool to move around more and wool tends to felt more at the cut or broken ends.

The felting itself is caused by moisture plus agitation.  We've had a really hard winter and wet spring.  Of the fleeces I've worked with so far, three of them have felting around the neck, but the fibres themselves are strong.  We had to delay shearing because of the weather (no barn, alas), so I think that's why we have felting this year.  Normally, it's not an issue. 

 
Travis Johnson
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You are spot on in regards to not shearing without a barn in winter. A lot of people think that wool is how a sheep stays warm, but it actually from the fat that is under the skin. Sheep do not marble their fat like most cattle, and are more like Highland Cows that do the same thing. Therefore as long as a sheep can get out of the wind, even here in bitter cold New England, you can shear sheep in the winter. That is why there is so much fat content in their milk, they are really making those lambs hardy in a matter of days... But they need a barn to get out of the wind.

As for not having a barn Raven, I actually understand all too well. I put up with makeshift barns for many years before finally building a nice one two years ago. I think those years just help us realize every day how great having a barn is. Granted our barn is 100% designed for sheep and sheep alone, but after 2 years there is NOTHING we would change on it. We studied sheep for so many years that when we finally got it built, the silly thing just plain works, and works well.

I hope you get a barn soon. If anyone deserves one, you do.
 
r ranson
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Your barn sounds heavenly.

One of my big concerns with sheep and not having a barn, is that the shearers won't come if the wool is wet.  We have wet winters.  Usually, there is a break in the weather in February and we can have them shorn then.  But not this year, so the sheep had to wait until May!  Being wet, alternating between hot days and cold nights, having all that heavy wool (really good year for wool production), made them want to rub on stuff more.  This made felting on some of the sheep - but only the messy eaters.  It seems that they get hay in their wool, then it gets itchy so they need to rub more, which traps more hay... so maybe my solution is to find a better way of feeding them... perhaps one that involves a barn and manger instead of ground and pile of hay. 
 
Drew Moffatt
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Are your sheep lousy?
Lice are at their peak in winter.

I don't know why but wool felted on the sheep is called cotted wool, I'm sure there's a reason behind this name but I haven't worked it out yet.
 
r ranson
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Thankfully, no lice.
They can damage the fleece and stress the sheep.   Not good for wool.

It's hasn't been a problem in our flock, but that might be because of the chickens.  Then again, it's fairly uncommon in our parts.  I've only met one local flock with‚Äčlice, but the shepherd had interesting ideas on how to manage a flock.  I'll just say this: knee deep in mud and over crowded do not a nice fleece make.
 
Travis Johnson
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Did he have issues with foot rot as well? I have been all over the world checking out sheep farms and when it is wet, hoof issues crop up.
 
r ranson
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Travis Johnson wrote:Did he have issues with foot rot as well? I have been all over the world checking out sheep farms and when it is wet, hoof issues crop up.



Yes.  That one had very unhealthy sheep.  It was very sad to see.
 
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I would like to add that different breeds of sheep have different standards of crimp. A longwool should have lovely curls and waves. A merino should not.
A shetland can have three different styles of fleece, and there is a *wide* variety of crimp and texture among that.. Sometimes even on a single animal..
 
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