processing wool

We have had bags of wool calling our names every time we enter or walk past the galpon.  We have wool that needs to be skirted, waste wool that needs to go to the garden, and wool that needs to be sorted for color and quality to be packaged for sale.  To say we are a little behind in this process is an understatement.

skirting wool

new skirting table


Bag by bag it is slowly getting done.  This is a rainy day project that has not been touched because we have had so few rainy days this year.

Lamb shearing 2015

Since it took me nearly forever to actually bring everyone up to date on Shearing 2014 I thought perhaps I should be a bit more prompt when mentioning shearing lambs. Two year’s experience shearing has taught me I know less than I thought I did – and that I have a lot to learn. This year we are trying something new – shearing the lambs mid-summer. Our Criolla sheep – the cute little brown wooly balls with legs – have a medium to fine fleece with high grease. And despite being less fine the Cormo, Merino, Polwarth, etc., Criolla wool felts if you look at it sideways. It also felts very easily while still on the hoof. Two years’ wool clip has illustrated this fact quite a few times over. The yearling fleeces tend to have more felting problems. After much discussion this year we are shearing the 2014 lambs in mid-summer (i.e. yesterday) to trim off the brief 3-4 months growth of wool, which is mostly lamb tips. Supposedly the fleece grows quite quickly; enough so that the staple length should be full length in time for the full year shearing. Hopefully the staple will be indeed full length, without the brittle lamb tips, and, most importantly, not felted. A secondary issue this year is that we desperately need to do the full-immersion sheep bath to combat the sheep/wool lice. Which is best done with minimal wool.

Regretfully, I failed to take any pictures DURING the shearing. And since we sheared on a drippy, misty day, it would have been a good photo opp. And yes, for all those of you that just cringed or gasped in horror, we sheared wet wool, wet sheep, and on wet ground. The wet ground didn’t prove to be an issue. The wet wool? It means that the lamb fleece are being opened, first evaluation made, general skirting done, and laid out to dry. See:

lamb shearing 1

lamb shearing 2

No harm should come to the wool. And some of the fleece are WONDERFUL. Shorter staple lengths, but oh so soft.

Others? Let’s just say I’ve lined another garden path.

And, as a side note, I had lots of company while processing wool.

lamb shearing Resi

lamb shearing Virkha

lamb shearing kitty

So, we sheared, right?!

Typically, shearing is exciting. Really exciting. After all, it takes a whole year to get one sheared fleece per sheep. And as a devout connoisseur of natural fibers (particularly wool) I LOVE the product of the annual sharing. Bags and bags of wool. It’s typically hot, dusty, long days and then over. And I have LOTS of wool to show for it. And I love wool.

And we did mention it. Once. Way back when. See here.

And then I’ve been dragging my feet to follow up and share.  I did a much better job in 2012 and 2013.

So what’s up, right?

We did shear. And we do have some absolutely WONDERFUL fleece. I even managed to get some of the best skirted, sold, and mailed already. And yet I’ve been dragging my feet on sharing anything about it here on the blog.

And before I forget, here’s proof:

shearing 3    shearing 4

And that’s because for every wonderful, scrumptious, oh-my-wow fleece we sheared this year there was at least one, if not two, that were mediocre or outright rubbish. In fact, 30 fleece were trashed at time of shearing. I told the shearer not to worry about how he sheared those fleece, we wouldn’t be keeping them.

Some were really fun – they are speckled 🙂

shearing 5   shearing 6

(Why yes, I’m celebrating every happy moment we’ve got. Because man, shearing was depressing this year.)

Typically a few fleece every year aren’t worth the effort to skirt, wash, and process. The sheep was overly adventurous and rolled in stickers (thankfully not common); the ewe had a rough year and had breaks in her wool; the ram likes to scratch on the fence posts and felts most of his fleece; the lamb tips decide to felt on the sheep instead of just being a bit brittle. Normal issues. And usually only a few.

This year has been a very, very rough year for sheep. We’ve had nearly double the amount of rain normally received in a year – and we got half of that during February last year. Excessively damp, warm conditions caused endless foot problems. And not just for us – one of our neighbors lost 2/3 of his flock to hoof rot. Another had fly strike, not just with his sheep, but his cattle too! Then the winter was warm and damp. And the sheep louse issue that we’ve had under control exploded in early spring. An unexpected, and truly unusual, dip in temperature and late storms just after shearing led to further losses. All told this year we’ve lost about 1/4 of our flock of sheep. And we’ve been some of the lucky ones.

But all this took a toll on our wool this year. Some sheep (and their fleece) came through as if the weather was normal, average, and what bugs?! These are the great fleeces this year. And they are gorgeous. Other sheep are in good health, even if their fleece was a disaster, which gives us some hope for those fleece next year. Other sheep haven’t fared as well, and those we will be looking to sell to farmers with different conditions than we have. Because other farmers have harder ground, less pockets of humidity, and less wind than we have.

Shearing this year was the end of a very long, very rough year for our sheep – and by extension – for us. I’m working on getting the fleece skirted. I get a little more excited this year at the great ones, which, after much bureaucracy, I have permission to sell raw. I make notes about the good ones, which will be processed on farm into washed wool, flicked locks, possibly roving, and handspun yarn. The not-so-good ones will be carefully examined, notes will be made, and an eye kept on those sheep next year. The truly awful ones never made it off the shearing floor. Numbers were taken and we’ll see how many of those sheep are still here for shearing next year. This year has taught us that not all sheep do well here on our farm – not even those who do well on our neighbor’s land do well on ours. And that is never as apparent as it is at shearing.