Sheep producers in the U.S. need to become educated about wool qualityWritten by Gayle Smith
Greeley, Colo. – Educating more farm flock producers about the type of wool their sheep produce could improve the quality of wool the U.S. produces. Ron Cole, American Sheep Industry Association wool quality and education consultant, talked to sheep producers about adding value to their wool clip during a recent sheep seminar in Greeley, Colo.
“My job is to do the best job I can to improve wool quality in the U.S.,” Cole told producers. “I work with a lot of farm flock producers, shearing crews and wool producers, in addition to helping with shearing schools and educating teachers.”
Cole says many times the producer has no idea what the wool quality is, mostly because they haven’t been educated.
“They will make the assumption that the shearer automatically knows,” he said. “In actuality, the shearer is there to shear sheep and may or may not know something about wool quality.”
To help with the education process, Cole teaches wool handling schools across the U.S. He also spends each spring living with shearing crews.
“It is important because we export 85 percent of our wool some years,” he explained. “We need to do what we can to increase wool quality in the U.S. because the price is dependent upon it.”
Cole says producers can enhance the value of the wool by how they handle it. First, they need to determine the focus of their farm flock operation, whether it is meat lamb production with wool as a by-product, wool production or the hand spinning market.
“It is important to determine that, because it will tell us what kind of sheep to raise,” he said.
Cole says typically, 85 percent of the revenue comes from producing lamb, with 15 percent coming from the wool.
“There are breeds that are more on the meat side, breeds that are more on the wool side and breeds that are a combination of both,” he explained.
The final price of wool is determined by the end price of the fiber. Wool products in the U.S. have changed in the last several years, Cole said.
Next-to-skin wear is made from 18.5-micron wool, can be thrown into a washing machine, dried in a dryer and it won’t shrink or smell.
Cole said his daughter-in-law wore her military uniform for 22 days in Afghanistan before she could wash it, and it didn’t smell.
“That’s a great property for wool to have,” Cole said.
Medium wool is a hot market right now, because it is being Superwashed in the U.S. for softness before being made into garments. Several years ago, the U.S. purchased a Superwash machine from Germany. This machine allows wool to be washed, dissolving 15 percent of the scales on the wool fiber. It allows the U.S. to make garments that can be washed and dried without shrinking.
“It has been a big plus for the U.S. wool industry,” he said.
When farm flock producers hire shearers, they need to make them responsible for how they handle the sheep.
“Not everyone has our animals’ best interests at heart when they come on our property,” Cole stated. “Be mindful of animal welfare. Don’t be afraid to talk to the shearers about low stress handling of the sheep.”
Producers should talk to shearers before they come and ask questions. The shearer will also have questions like if the producer will be there to help, what will be done with the wool and if the producer has a baler. The producer will want to know the fee and what is and isn’t included.
Some preparation should be taken before the shearer comes to ensure a quality wool clip. Producers should not feed their sheep the night before the shearer is coming so the sheep are easier for the shearer to handle. The floor will also have less urine and feces for the shearer to work around.
Producers should also select an area with ample handling facilities and a clean shearing area. They may want to consider an area with a wood floor or covering an area with plywood, which is easier on the shearer than standing on a concrete floor.
Adequate labor should also be available when the shearer comes. If adequate help isn’t available, it will take a shearer longer to pull out the sheep and handle both the animal and the wool.
“It makes the job much more difficult,” Cole said.