Monday, 17 May 2010

Off with the Winter Woollies!

Mid May and it is time for our sheep to take off their winter coats and get ready for summer. From this winter woolly look:

To this dare to bare summer number:

It is quite a transformation and not surprising that the poor lambs did not recognise their new look mums. It took several minutes for each lamb to be convinced that there hadn’t been a sneaky mum-switch operation in progress!

We have a new shearer this year.

His name is Harry, he lives locally and he arrived with all the requisite shearing equipment – holding pen, super duper shears and, we noted, even specialist footwear...


These sheep shoes are made in New Zealand (of course) out of sheepskin which apparently is less slippy than manmade soles when there is a lot of lanolin around. The ruched fronts help the shearer grip onto the sheep and the flat soles reduce the incredible pressure on your back when you are bent over for hours shearing sheep.

The flock was rounded up into our pen and then brought into the holding pen to wait for their turn. It is always fascinating to watch as it is a highly skilled job. Many shearers, like Harry, do demonstrations at country shows.

Although it is not very warm at the moment, we were delighted to get the sheep shorn as we are increasingly concerned about the incidence of Fly Strike in the area. Indeed the shearer told us that this was the first flock he had visited that had not been affected by this horrible disease (basically, flies lay their eggs in faeces around the sheep’s tail, then the maggots burrow into the animal’s skin resulting in a very nasty infection). It is far less likely that this will occur if there is no matted wool on the sheep.

We have decided to send all our wool to the Wool Marketing Board. We collect it all up in an official “wool sheet” (which is less a “sheet” than a large, smelly white sack) and the WMB collect it. They pay a market rate for all the usable fleeces they receive. However, as cotton and synthetic fibres are now so popular, the price of wool is very low and is it unlikely that we will even recoup the cost of shearing when we finally receive a cheque from the WMB. Indeed our wool is worth even less than average because it is black and has to be dyed white before it can be used in any way.

We also have a lot of off cuts and a bag of white wool that we will store away for our various craft projects. We learnt that the Black Welsh Mountain wool is unusually hard to spin because the sheep are so small and the wool relatively short, the fibres do not bind together easily. We are still pining for a woolly jumper made from our own wool – but as none of us have managed to spin a single piece of yarn yet and there is not a knitter in the household I think that may remain an unfulfilled ambition for a while yet. This year’s wool projects will be: trying to make felt and creating a decent sized woollen rug on the peg loom.

1 comment:

  1. Black wool garners a premium price over white here to the speciality handspinning market. I disagree that Black Welsh is hard to spin it's much easier than a lot of types of wool. I sell my roving and combed tops as a good choice for beginners to learn to spin on.

    OTOH felting Black Welsh is an exercise in futility. It takes forever to get it to felt. Even fulling knitted BW wool is difficult and hard to do. We machine wash our Black Welsh socks and they haven't shrunk yet.