Shearing and Fleece Preparation
this is how it starts, at the shearing shed. First you have to get it all cleaned up and everything handy, like record sheets, bags, broom, foot trimmers, medicine, and off coarse the combs and cutters that the shearing rig will use.
first you need a good shearing rig. We use an overhead rig with flex shaft.
next you have to sharpen the blades and cutters:
Then the sheep have to be willing to help you get going!
then we get started. We like to shear the black face first, since they get so hot in the warm days of spring and summer. We try to get the darkest first, but it doesn't always work that way!
Lloyd is starting this beautiful ewe and the next pictures will show mostly step by step how it goes.
the fleece on the skirting table is from another fleece, but you can see how it looks after all that is not for spinners is skirted off and its beaten to remove as much dirt as possible. Dark fleeces are naturally dirtier than light fleeces since the sheep will sweat more and accumulate more dirt.
When the fleece is sheared it is the skirter’s job to take the fleece and remove all tags, unwanted fiber, vegetable matter, matted places, felted places, second cuts and fiber that does not measure up to the standard of the fleece. First lay the fiber out on the table, and remove all the places that contain manure, urine, and such.
If I see a place that is going to take a lot of work in the fleece, I remove it too. Its just pointless to try to recover spots that have VM or any other imperfections in the wool. Sometimes I miss a place, but try not too.
This will mostly be around the hind parts, legs and belly of the sheep. Some will only have a small amount, but sometimes if the fleece is heavy its more than just a little and can extend to the whole of the rear end of the sheep, all the belly and legs.. If the fiber at the britching is hairy it needs to be removed also. Neck fiber can be rubbed and matted, with lots of hay and other vegetable matter in it, especially on the throat side and this needs to be removed. Any other places on the fleece that has vegetable matter, matting, felt and likewise must be removed at this time. Leg and belly wool needs to be removed. This will leave only the very nicest part of the fleece and this is fiber to be marketed for hand spinners. All the other fiber needs to be discarded or placed in “tags bags” to be disposed of in what ever manner that is normal. Some belly, neck and leg wool can be nice enough to be processed for rugs, but should never be offered to hand spinners in any manner except as such, or seconds. This can lead to as much as 1/3 of the fleece, or more if the fleece has problems, and sometimes no more than a handful. If the fleece is not skirted properly the price will have to reflect this and can deteriorate the price a large amount. The reputation of the farm’s fleece and how well it sells all depends on this critical point in the processing.
After the skirting is finished the fleece should be shook out on a screen to remove any second cuts that may be in the fleece, and to dislodge as much dirt, sand and loose debris as possible. The fleece is then ready to be bagged for storage. I like to use nylon laundry bags because they are light, washable, breathable and easy to store. Paper bags, bio-degrade-able bags, mesh bags, pillow cases and other breathable containers are acceptable. Fleeces will sweat when stored where they can not get air, and this will cause all sorts of problems from mold, mildew, rot, etc. Store in a dry, protected place preferably on shelves with plenty of ventilation and if at all possible cedar lined. You can not stop insects, but you can mask the odor of the fleece enough to fool them. I use the insect bombs about once a month to protect my fibers. Keep the fleeces from mingling with any debris material that will adhere to the fleeces as this will destroy the value of the fleece.
some more shearing pictures you might enjoy
This is one of the yearling lambs from the last lambing season. It is one of the most beautiful fleeces too, and seems to be 4-6 inches in length on the locks. It looks like the yearling fleeces are going to be just wonderful!
this one, like the other black faced lambs is so black, with that gorgeous amber on the ends. It will be so beautiful processed naturally, and I know it is not going to dye, so I will blend those I keep for processing with bright colors of the mohair from our little goats
I thought you would enjoy this next fleece. I have not seen one like this before, it has bands of light and dark color all along it. It is a strong fine soft fleece from one of the yearlings. When we sheared it both of us were surprised at the color, its so beautiful
You can market your raw fleece to hand spinners after you have prepared the fibers going no further in the preparation of the fleeces, or you can continue the processing. If you sell the fibers as raw fibers prepared for hand spinners the value of the fleece will be determined by the quality of the fleece, and the going market, your reputation and the reputation of your flock.
If you continue the processing the next step is washing the fleece. Fine fleeces need to be prepared carefully as they are prone to felt, and will not take harsh handling without destroying the structure of the fiber. I have found that with the Gulf Coast the fiber is very strong, but it is also fine (at least in our flock) and it will not take harsh handling. In Louisiana we normally have lots of rain and that will cause the water to run down the fibers and drip off the tips of the fleece. This causes a hard crust to form on the ends. If these tips are not soaked until soft they will break off and it essentially ruins the quality of the fleece with small nips that are not only hard but appear throughout the fleece. They are not easily removed and destroy the beauty of the fiber. So first soak for several hours in cold water. I usually soak over night in a large container
The next step is draining the fiber. I have screens that I place the fiber on from the soak container and will let them drip until most of the dripping has stopped. From there I usually place them in an old washing machine I have especially for this and spin them out. If the fleece was terribly dirty, I will sometimes soak a second time, only for a short time, maybe half an hour or so and then drain and spin them out. From there I will take them in to where I do my washing. I fill my washing machine up with warm water and about 1/4 cup of dawn detergent (soap is hard to wash out and doesn’t do as nice a job). I will agitate the machine briefly to mix the detergent, stop the machine and place the fleece in. NEVER EVER AGITATE THE FLEECE. After soaking the fleece for a half hour or so I spin it out. It is important to make sure that you have the dial on the washer set for a shorter spin because the new machines want to do a spirt of spray several times to “flush” the soap and this is bad for the fleece. Some very fine fleeces will partially felt if you are not very careful. Next I will do the same process over, only use no detergent, I used to add 1-3 drops of lavender oil in the rinse water to help discourage insects, but have since ceased to do this because some people have reactions to the scent. After the last spin I remove the fleece and you can either hand tease or run the fleece through a picker to fluff the fibers so they will dry faster. I have 2 pickers I use. One is a Meck 200 tooth picker that I use to fluff the wet fibers before placing them on the drying racks. I keep my pickers set about ½ inch to 1/4 inch between the teeth. Never force the fibers in a picker as you will break the fibers and ruin the fleece. If you are not experienced with the picker hand teasing is best. When the fibers are wet they will tease easily and fluff nicely.
Pat GreenTriple Picker
It is important to dry the fibers as quickly as you can. Delay only causes odors and other unpleasant things to happen to the fleece. I keep a de-humidifier in the drying room, and also have fans I run to circulate the air for quicker drying. My racks are screen covered for optimum ventilation.
When the fleece is dry hand picking will remove more dirt and grit and prepare the washed fibers for sale. I use a Pat Green 600 tooth triple picker for this, and again the teeth are set at least 1/4 to ½ inch apart. As before mentioned, never force the fiber. You will remove a lot of sand and grit at this time, and the fleece is ready to package for sale to hand spinners as washed, teased fiber. At this point you will be pricing the fiber by the ounce and it should be at its very most desirable and best, and ready to be finished into spinning fiber.
The next step is dyeing the fiber. I use G & K dyes, because they are environment friendly, easy to use and have a large selection of colors. Reasonably priced, I can get them from one of the Les Trois Amies ladies in our group, Rhonda Selser. To dye the fiber, prepare a pot of water with enough water so that the fibers are not over crowded and the dyes can penetrate the fibers evenly and thoughly. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of synthenpol or soap to the water, bring to 180 degrees. If you want uniform coverage you will want to add a cup of vinegar after you add the fiber, if a rainbow pot, before the fiber is added. Always follow the dye chart instructions and add only what dye they call for. Such as 1 teaspoon of dye per 1 pound fiber, etc. Then after making sure the contents of the pot are mixed add the fiber and hold at 180 degrees for 20 minutes minimum. Never let the water boil and do not stir the pot, you don’t want felt. When the 20 minutes are up you can remove the fiber onto a drain rack and let it drain until the dripping stops. The next step is very important. Never let fibers that are hot enter cold water. The water you will wash the dyed fibers in must be at least the same temperature as the fiber, or hotter. To be safe let the fibers drain and cool before you try to wash the excess dye out. You will wash the dyed fibers the same way as you did the soaked fibers. Over washing fibers will strip the lanolin from the fiber and leave it harsh and brittle, so wash as little as you can with detergent and soaps. Vinegar is a mordant, so if your fiber does not exhaust the dye completely you may wish to add a cup of vinegar in the wash water. You will dry the fiber as you did before, quickly as possible.
The next step is carding the fibers. I want to stress the point that you only get what you put into the carder. If the fibers are not prepared very well, the end product will reflect this. So tease your fibers and only place small amounts into the carder at a time. The end product will show how much time you spent in the preparation. You are now ready to spin, or sell your fibers complete and finished for hand spinning.