Friday, April 09, 2010

Preparing Fleece for Spinning

Spring shearing at Joybilee Farm takes place tomorrow.  In anticipation we have kept the goats and sheep in the barn to keep them dry during this weeks snow and rain.  And we prayed for dry weather.  Yesterday, the Lord sent a heavy wind to drive the clouds else where.  The 4 day forecast of rain and snow changed in the afternoon to clear weather.  Yes!  Sheep should be dry when sheared.  If your sheep are wet -- don't shear them if you want to save the fleece.  A wet fleece will rot in storage and could spontaneously combust.

The first step in fleece preparation is getting the fleece off of the sheep.  This is the most important part because how the fleece is sheared makes the difference in a highly desireable fleece and a fleece that is ready for garden mulch.  You will want extra help to make the day go smoothly -- someone to sort the fleece, someone to roll the fleece and bring it to the sorting table, someone to bring the sheep to the shearer and sweep the board between sheep.  So a minimum of 3 extra people plus the shearer is good. 

The fleece should be shorn without second cuts -  that's when the shearer goes over the same area of the animal twice, cutting the lock in half and making extra bits of wool on the second pass.  If your shearer does this consistently, explain that you are planning to spin the wool into yarn.  If he says it can't be helped -- find another shearer.  Cutting the lock in half perhaps can't be helped, but the second pass that results in second cuts can be avoided.

The next step is fleece sorting.  The board on which the fleece is sheared should be swept clean between each animal to ensure that each fleece is laid on a clean board.  Then the fleece should be rolled up in a neat package to be taken to the sorting table.  Don't package the fleece with the dags, but rather sort it right at shearing time.

To roll the fleece, tuck in each side into the middle and roll from neck or tail end, as if you were rolling a sleeping bag.  Unroll on the sorting table, cut side down.  This will allow any second cuts to drop through the mesh on the sorting table.  (Even a very good shearer may leave a few second cuts.)

The next step is skirting the fleece.  To do this walk around the fleece pulling off belly wool, neck wool and manure soiled edges.  Be ruthless.  I also remove the shoulder wool that is contaminated with hay bits and grass seeds.  A 10 lb. fleece will be reduced to 5 or 6 lbs. after the skirting.  The contaminated wool can be used in garden mulch or to line plant pots.  Its rich in nitrogen and holds in moisture.

Once the fleece is skirted, I bounce the wire mesh of the sorting table a few times to get rid of excess dust and dirt.  Then fold the edges into the middle and roll it up from one side.  Bag it, label it with the name of the sheep, weigh it and its ready for your next project.

Next time I'll talk about how to wash the fleece to get it ready for spinning.


  1. The guy that sheared our sheep didn't seem to care about second cuts (there was so much waste) and I stood and watched him oil his shears when shearing my ewe by pouring oil all over her fleece! I could have killed the idiot and we will never use him again!

  2. I just love this work of wool-- have fun! I hope to post some of my hand prepartion skills for others to learn... I am glad you are doing this too! Only a discriminate few will elect to keep their wool, not sending it to the mills for yarn production but do it by hand... slowly over time. May your day be blessed and go very well.

  3. Hi, Jody
    I'm sorry to hear that your shearer didn't care about your fleeces. Lots of shepherds just trash their fleece because the commodity price of raw wool is so low. So some shearers don't understand the value of the wool beyond the commodity. Before you bring in another shearer, talk to them about wanting to spin the fleece and maybe they will listen. No guarantees though.

    An alternative, if you don't have too many animals, is to learn to shear them yourself. It takes way more time but then they can be sheared when you want to shear them -- at the time when the fleece is perfect.

    I know it can be super frustrating.

  4. Hi, Christine
    You can post a link with your comment so my readers can find your posts about wool prep. I'm sure it will be very valuable.