Harvesting Wool

As a small teaser before tonight’s planned post, we have a quote from the appositely titled “Shear Waste” report, written by Juliet Morris of Ystrad Organics. To massively simplify, the Shear Waste report explores how Organic Welsh Wool is not currently being utilised to its full potential. The report proposes ways for farmers to get greater rewards for their wool, and for traceable, organic woollen textiles with a clear provenance to make it to market. We will hear more from Juliet later in WOVEMBER, but for now, we wanted to share this part of the report, which reflects on how value is lost through contemporary shearing practices, and proposes some solutions to increasing the value of THE WOOL HARVEST! All words and images © Juliet Morris and used here with her kind permission


iii. Shearing
There is no longer a sense of ‘harvest’ about shearing. On most farms, it is done for welfare reasons and the focus has shifted away from the quality of the shorn fleece to the appearance of the shorn sheep. The way in which shearing is managed and done will have an important influence on the marketability and value of the farm’s clip.

Farmers have as much influence over the end result as the shearer:

  • timing – shearing too early, before the lanolin rises, risks uneven staple length and second cuts in the wool; too late and there will be a natural break point within the shorn fleece that will undermine its quality through processing;
  • frequency – shearing more than once a year may make the most of the best fleece on the farm i.e. from its lambs and yearlings: stores can be autumn sheared to allow sufficient regrowth before winter, winter-shorn shortly after housing or shorn in late spring and still catch the hogget market;
  • second cuts – passing the shears over the sheep a second time to ‘tidy her up’ will add a layer of short, worthless lengths to the fleece and undermine its value for processing;
  • dry, clean fleece – good handling facilities, a smooth flow of sheep (with coloured sheep sent through last), a clean working area and the board swept between sheep will help ensure minimal sweat on the fleeces and reduce contamination;
  • basic grading and quality control during rolling and packing – wool sheets containing fleeces of similar quality will yield a higher average value. If the farm returns more than a single sheet, it is worth separating ‘higher quality’ and ‘lesser quality’ fleeces – or, more elaborately, shearling fleeces, ewe fleeces, ram/coarser fleeces and coloured fleeces. Fleeces embedded with vegetation, dags or simply falling apart have no processing value and should be discarded (torn up and added to the muck heap). Outstanding, including coloured fleeces, can be kept to one side for individual sales.
  • Shearing-Ystrad_02

    This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

    2 thoughts on “Harvesting Wool

    1. Excellent post,but sometimes more easily said than done.Availability of a shearer is one of my biggest obstacles.Here in Canada,shearing is usually the shearer’s second or part-time job.So if you want your sheep sheared at all you almost have to take it when or if you can get it.I work hard all year “growing” my fleece,and it is heartbreaking to discard fleeces that have been sheared too late.

      • I concur, Christine. My fleeces are next to useless when the shearing is left until June or even July. Often this is due to availability of the shearer. And I am told March is too early due to lack of rising of the fleece, but I will take some second cuts over a fleece that is only suitable for mulch. My flock lambs in April, and I find if I can shear before lambing then the carry-over of keds is lowered due to no unsheared lambs/sheep to host them and they don’t like the naked sheep.

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