One of our most anticipated days of the year is shearing day and that day finally came for us during the first weekend in June! We spend all year working very hard to keep our flock happy and healthy so that the fleece we get on shearing day is long, healthy and strong. You never really know quite what you’re going to get until it is laid out before you on the skirting table.
We utilized the services of Right Choice Shearing again this year. Katie and Darian do such a wonderful job with the animals and they take great care to make sure we get the best fleece possible. If you have ever tried shearing a sheep or watched it being done, you know that it is a challenge in every regard. Those clippers are incredibly sharp, oscillating very fast and the goal is to cut the wool as close to the tender skin of a moving animal as possible without hurting them or damaging the wool. Right Choice is definitely an apt name for the service they provide.
Within the first couple of fleeces, we were very happy to see that the hard work and investment we put into making the wooden barn floors for the sheep to sleep on (instead of the sandy ground) has paid off. Last year the sand fell through the tables mesh almost like that of an hourglass. In fact, there was so much sand in our 2018 fleeces that the wool processor brought it to our attention.
The first step in getting marketable wool once it has been removed from the sheep is “skirting” the fleece. This involves laying out each individual fleece on a table and removing the parts that are felted, matted with, well, fecal matter, and the most painful of all; areas that are chock-full of vegetation (plant matter). It really is difficult to put your hands into a beautiful piece of wool and pull out large areas that you know are going to be a problem in processing.
I think our wool was in much better condition than last years, but we know that we still have some work to do. Short of keeping the sheep completely off pasture, we’re not exactly sure what can be done to drastically reduce the amount of vegetation in the wool. On a positive note, after sorting through and skirting 9 full fleeces, there was no noticeable sand build-up on the floor underneath. We did set these dirtier pieces aside so that we can experiment with them to determine if they can be used for things other than mill-processed roving and spun wool.
The next step for our mill-processed wool is to get these bags to the mill. We took out samples from each fleece for testing. My initial observation is that giving extra attention to the sheep’s mineral intake and waiting a couple extra months to get them sheared is really going to help with our staple lengths over last year’s batch (which were already pretty good). It takes many months for us to see the final result from the mill, but it is always worth the wait!
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