Last weekend I attended a Wool Handling School presented by the American Sheep Industry. On Sunday we spent the day at Flying Mule Farm in Auburn where the flock was being shorn. It was fun to attend a shearing day and just be a spectator. Lots of photo ops. And lots of learning too.
We spent the day with instructor, Ron Cole, handling wool and learning how to class fleeces. Flying Mule Farm sells most of their wool through the commercial market and it was surprising to me how little skirting is actually done (none other than removing bellies and manure tags). Fleeces that measure in the low 20’s (microns) or less would be skirted more carefully, but there is still quite different from what I do. When large flocks are being shorn, the skirting and classing must keep up with the shearing so they have to be quick. No agonizing over every little bit of fleece and of course there is no sorting of color. If there are any black sheep they must be shorn last and that wool kept away from the white wool.
Different parts of the fleece are examined.
Check for strength.
We learned how to throw a fleece. Normally you would pick it up right from the shearing floor and, using this method, throw the fleece on the skirting table. The idea is for the fleece to land cut side down already spread out for classing and/or skirting. In this case the fleeces were handed over the fence and then we all took turns learning to throw them.
I took videos of this as well and will post those when I have time.
Wool was packed into burlap sacks.
Blue-faced Leicester ram.
The attendees of this school were mostly new and/or small farmers and we spent some time at the end of the day discussing the differences in our perspective from that of larger producers. The focus of this school is how to improve quality and cleanliness of fleeces because all producers who send wool into the commercial market have an effect on the reputation (and therefore value) of U.S. wool in the world market. Farmers like me rely on niche marketing and we have direct contact with our customers. I appreciated this opportunity to learn about other perspectives.