It’s All About The Fleece

Wool is an excellent raw material that is obtained by shearing fleece obtained from a variety of wool-producing animals, including sheep, goats, rabbits, camels, llamas, alpacas, oxen, bison, and yaks.

The texture of wool ranges from the soft and silky ones that are fit for clothing to the coarse and strong wool that are commonly used for rugs. Wool fibre is measured in microns, and the smaller the micron, the finer and softer the wool.

For simplification purposes, we will stick to wool gathered from sheep in this article, and see what judges look for when it comes to fleece. This is crucial since Australia is known for producing about half of the world’s Merino wool.

Fun fact: Australia’s Merino history dates back to 1797. Through its share of ups and downs, it was said that Australia rode on the sheep’s back in the 1950s prior to the introduction of synthetic fibres in the early 1970s. 

Sheep Wool

Wool is an all-important by-product of sheep production, most especially coming from sheep breeds known for their fine, high quality wool. The Merino is the predominant breed of sheep in Australia. 

The quality of wool is evaluated by placing the fleeces on a variety of factors, and the best way to continue to develop and grow the industry is to evaluate, or to judge, the desirable characteristics in a fleece.

It is important to be able to identify and understand why certain traits are of significant commercial value. Not only will these fleeces command a higher sale value, but it also provides breeders to aim and pass these qualities onto their next generation of sheep to improve their overall flock and wool quality.

Judging Fleece

While there are many young people who are involved in judging and other agricultural show competitions, there are other ways of becoming involved. By approaching a local show society, members will be able to provide guidance and support to anyone who is interested in participating.

Wool is judged using a scoring system devised by the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia, which consists of the following:

  • Yield – This simply means estimating what percentage of the fleece is clean wool after deducting dirt, vegetation, and grease. Points are awarded accordingly to the clean fleece weight.
  • Trueness to type and style – This is about comparing the fleeces to see their evenness, which is relevant for manufacturing the wool.
  • Soundness – This refers to the fibre strength. The more “tender” the wool when pulled and breaks, garners a lower score.
  • Bloom – This pertains to the colour of the wool. The whiter it is, the more points it will score.
  • Character – Pertains to the definition and consistency of crimps on the wool. The more crimps the wool has, the finer the wool. The finer the wool, the higher its quality.

Points are also allocated according to the wool’s uniform length, handle (the way it feels and elasticity), the density of the fibres and how even the fleece is.

Growing Quality Fleece

Wool is a wonderful material to work with and to have for wear. The material is natural, breathable, and is insulating. 

However, pristine wool doesn’t happen all by itself. Sheep can sure make a mess of themselves and their fleeces, by scratching against trees, cavorting through weeds, and by dragging alfalfa across each other’s backs as they eat.

Sheep have a strong flocking instinct. This behaviour isn’t just for socialising, it is more than that – anyone running sheep on their husbandry needs to allow this instinct in their management practices.

When buying sheep, ensure that the breed or cross you choose suits your property. To cite an example, some breeds are well-suited for dry conditions and might struggle in higher rainfall areas. Conversely, some breeds that do well on improved pastures will struggle immensely on lesser quality pasture.

For exhibitors to comprehend why judges rank fleeces in a particular order, it is important that they have a basic understanding of how wool grows, so that they can explain the causes of variability within and between individual fleeces.

If you want to see the best looking sheep and lambs and/or watch how fleece are judged, come to The Dandy Show and learn more about these fantastic animals and their fleeces.

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