Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coats on the sheep

We raise wool for hand spinners. That means our fleeces have to be immaculate – no burdock burrs, no sweet cicely spines, no thistles, no tiny bits of alfalfa leaves. To meet this goal during the summer, we dig and spray the noxious plants in our fields. In the winter, we protect the fleeces by feeding small square bales of hay that the sheep can’t burrow into like they would a big round bale; and we coat our sheep. When sheep eat, they invariably take a bite of hay from the feeder and then chew it over the back of the sheep beside them. Little bits of alfalfa fall out of their mouths and drift down into the wool of the next sheep. Those little bits of alfalfa don’t wash out or card out. They are there forever to make unsightly bumps in an otherwise perfectly smooth handspun yarn.

Shepherds who sell their fleeces to commercial wool buyers don’t have to worry about weed seeds or alfalfa bits because the commercial woolen mills use an acid wash or high heat to destroy any veggies in the wool. However, those methods also change the surface of the wool fiber, making it feel scratchy and itchy.

So hand spinners are willing to pay extra money to buy clean, non-chemically altered wool that can be spun into smooth, even yarn with a people friendly texture. And for that extra money, I’m willing to spend an afternoon putting coats on my sheep. This year, it took three of us three hours. Not a bad exchange to be able to sell my fleeces for $10 per pound instead of $0.50!

No comments:

Post a Comment