Sorting and contamination control keys to ensuring wool qualityWritten by Gayle Smith
Producers need to better educate themselves to recognize ways to improve the value of their wool clip, according to Ron Cole the wool quality and education consultant for the American Sheep Industry Association.
If producers spend time before the shearer comes getting things organized, it can make the shearing process go much more smoothly, said Cole.
Because different types of wool are worth different values, Cole recommends sorting the sheep. The fine-wool, white-faced sheep should be in one area, the medium wool sheep in a second area, the coarse sheep in a third area, and finally the black-faced sheep in a fourth.
Producers should also work with shearers to keep the wool free from contamination.
“If there are multiple breeds, always shear the finest sheep first. Sweep and clean the area well, then shear the medium wool, then the coarse wool and crossbreds,” he said.
Hair sheep shouldn’t be shorn until last because they are a huge contaminant to wool.
“Dorper crosses shed their wool and hair and have become a huge problem to the U.S. sheep industry,” Cole said.
Other contaminants are vegetable matter that comes from wools that are contaminated with straw from bedding and hay from eating, from an overhead feeder.
Poly twine can also be a contaminant. When it is processed with wool fiber, it will not take dye.
Producers also need to minimize other contaminants like feces and urine, dirt, hair and paint.
“If producers need to put paint on a sheep to brand or identify it, put the paint on an area that is not valuable, like the head,” Cole said. “A lot of paint and grease markers will not scour out of the wool.”
Cole also recommends producers only put the metal scrapie tags in the left ear. In lambs, the tag should be placed about an inch from the cheek and, in ewes, as close to the cheek as possible.
He shared a story of a shearer who hit that metal tag and ended up having $480,000 in medical expenses and still couldn’t shear eight months later.
“The last thing we need is to blow up a metal hand piece and fragment that metal eartag in front of a shearer. It could cost them their career,” he said.
Start with lowest value
Cole says he teaches the shearers to remove the belly wool first and separate it from the rest of the fleece.
“That wool is shorter, kinkier and has less value,” he said. “Each part of the fleece has different value, the key is to separate the fleece to get the most value from it.”
Shearers also need to remove the britches on rams, which is the coarse wool on the hindquarters. It has less value than the rest of the fleece.
Fleece from hair sheep should also be kept separately.
“Producers who have hair sheep should mark the bag with a big ‘R,’” Cole said. “Everyone in the marketing arm will know that bag has wool with hair, and it won’t get mixed in with other fleece.”
During shearing, if wool can be sorted by microns, it can be handled once by being placed in the right bin to be put into the right bale.
“It will never have to be handled again in the U.S.,” Cole said.
In the premium, fine wool market or hand spinning market, producers may need to remove the short, less valuable wool from the table skirt to make the fleece more attractive.
“Just remember everything we take off will be worth less,” Cole cautions producers. “The goal is to create a uniform clip.”
Many producers fail to understand why they need to put so much effort into a product that is only worth $2.50 to three dollars a pound. Cole says if producers don’t do it, the U.S. won’t be able to sell wool overseas.
“We all need to do a better job preparing wool because China is not pre-grading wool anymore,” he said. “This is why producers need to educate themselves so they can see the variations in wool and learn what the right length and micron is.”
Lastly, Cole told producers to work with the shearer while the sheep are being sheared.
“We can do a good job raising wool 12 months out of the year but just hiring the wrong shearer can make the wool nearly without value,” he stated.
Cole shared a story of a producer who hired a shearer to shear her fine Merinos, and the shearer made many second cuts.
“It cost that grower at least one-half inch on her wool clip,” he said. “That’s a lot of money. The quality of the shearer is really important.”