Shearing time normally takes place once a year. The fiber to be harvested
has been growing for 365 days and in two or three days, the shearing will be
completed. The degree of involvement by the owner in the management of the
shearing process will determine the marketability of the clip.
In 1998, shearing has been sporadic because of weather conditions. First
rule: DO NOT SHEAR WET ANIMALS. Preparation for shearing is very important for
the successful harvesting of fiber. The same principles apply to large and
small operations. Set up an assembly line configuration with specified duties
at each point and provide adequate labor. Include the shearer or shearing
contractor in the preplanning process.
The animals should be held a minimum of four hours without feed or water in
a dry pen free of contamination. There are three kinds of contamination:
natural, acquired and applied.
Natural contaminants include black and colored fiber in white sheep because
these fibers cannot be dyed for lighter shades of fabric. Yolk is a combination
of suint (sweat) and grease deposited on the wool fibers from the sweat and
sebaceous glands. Dung locks and urine stains are also considered natural
contaminants and careful feeding and worming practices can go a long way to
help in the prevention of serious tag (dung lock) problems throughout the year.
Acquired contaminants are a result of the animal's environment and they
include many forms of vegetable matter: spear grass, grass or weed seeds,
burrs, straw, twigs, bark, cactus needles, cedar, and hay chaff.
Dirt, soil, sand, mud, and volcanic ash are mineral contaminants which
stick to wool. Dusty conditions should be controlled in holding pens and proper
drainage planned in advance.
Horses, cattle, and goats leave fiber in corrals which can be also used as
holding pens for sheep. Jute from burlap bags, sisal, rags, cigarette filters,
and carpet scraps find their way into wool bags or bales. When cigarette
filters shred into wool, their synthetic fibers look like the rest of the
fiber, but do not dye like wool. Strange objects have been discovered in wool
shipments: styrofoam cups, rocks, combs, toys, beer or pop cans, you name it!
Polypropylene is a major contaminant and is used in baling twine, tarps,
feed bags and used or torn wool packs. Some hay balers cut short ends of twine
as each bale is tied and these short pieces drop in the field and eventually
find their way into the fleece when the fields are pastured. The operators of
tub grinders and pellet mills do not always remove the polypropylene twine when
ground hay is included as a pellet ingredient and it can then pass through the
sheep's digestive system to contaminate the wool.
Polypropylene disintegrates and causes major contamination in the finished
textile product. "Poly" is usually not detected until the fabric is
finished unless a significant amount of polypropylene is present in the raw
Applied contaminants are used for identification or disease treatment
practices and include paint brands, dewormers and parasite sprays.
In the United States, shearing facilities vary from tents set up in
corrals, shearing trailers, and permanent sheds. On the farm, barns are usually
the designated shearing area. The area should be large enough to accommodate
the number of shearers required.
The space should be well lit and ventilated, and free of drafts that can
blow parts of the fleece off the shearing board. The shearing board should be
constantly swept clean as each animal is shorn.
Even minimal fleece preparation should include the removal of belly wool,
or "bellies". The shearer removes the belly first and it should be
picked up immediately and placed in the "bellies bin". The removal of
off sorts, locks and stained wool can also be included in this
The main fleece is rolled up in thirds from the rear or britch to the
front, fleshy side out, and then bagged or baled. It was the practice for many
years to tie individual fleeces with a paper tie. This facilitated the grading
of individual fleeces, but it was a cost to the producer and the textile mills
had to use equipment to remove the ties.
Fleeces that are "bellies out untied" are classified
"BOU". Less often, "BOT" or "bellies out tied" is
used as a description. When everything goes in the bag, fleeces are labeled
"BIT" or "bellies in tied". A lot consisting only of belly
wool is referred to as "BLS", scrap wool or pieces as "PCS"
and dung locks as "TAGS".
Wool is classified as a full table skirt (SK) when the belly wool has been
removed and the fleece placed on a skirting table, shorn side down. The skirter
identifies inferior pieces of the fleece, detects polypropylene and removes the
inferior wool: stains, tags, top knots, heavy vegetable matter, and second
Careless shearing sometimes results in cutting wool which has already been
shorn once. This produces short fibers known as second cuts. Heavy locks and
second cuts fall out through the slotted skirting table.
The classer separates the fleeces for fineness (average fiber diameter),
staple length, strength, and yield. The strength of fiber is important in that
it must be strong enough to go through the textile manufacturing process
There are two forms of weakness in fiber: "tender", in which the
fiber pulls apart or "break", a definite break in the fiber. Both
problems result from sickness or stress. Length of staple determines the usage
in worsted or woolen textile systems. Yield is the amount of clean wool
obtained from grease wool expressed as a percentage.
To earn reputation clip status, a grower's fiber must be uniform in grade
with long, strong staple, low in natural contaminants and free of applied
contamination. The classer is also responsible for the bagging and baling of
the clip and separating portions of wool into appropriate lines, or
classifications of fiber diameter, length, color, strength, and degree of
Classing is a continual process and the record of how the clip was classed
is passed to the owner to help him sell the clip. The process of quality
control for next year's clip starts all over again at shearing time.
For more detail, contact ASI for a
copy of the "Code of Practice for Preparation of Wool Clips in the United
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