Shearing & Wool Storage

For first time Wensleydale breeders that have an interest in selling their wool or processing it for yarn, having your sheep sheared correctly and storing the fleece appropriately makes a huge difference to the value of the clip and what it can be used for. With Wensleydales producing one of the most valuable British wools, this is an important factor to consider. This guide is intended for anyone that is looking for tips and tricks on getting the most from their Wensleydale fleece, from shearing it correctly to storing it – with the intent to sell the raw product or produce commercially spun yarn. If you would like guidance on keeping your Wensleydales fleeces in good condition while on the sheep, please see the husbandry guide

Unless you have plenty of experience shearing sheep, it is wise not to attempt to shear your own Wensleydale flock alone. A good shearer will ensure the best welfare for your sheep as well as minimising second cuts (shorter pieces of wool where the same area has been sheared twice) in the fleece, which lower the value and can even render a good fleece worthless. If you would like to learn to shear yourself and appreciate professional guidance, there are courses available via the British Wool Marketing Board as well as independent shearing schools throughout the UK

Every shearer has a different setup, if you have a large number of sheep then they will likely have their own shearing trailer, whereas some shearers may only come with a battery handpiece if you have a small number to clip. If your shearer doesn’t have a dedicated trailer, ensuring you have a clean environment in which to clip your sheep (such as using shearing boards on top of concrete) is highly recommended; shearing on straw or the like will fill your fleece with vegetable matter and substantially reduce the value of your clip. It is prudent to also have a clean and easy to wipe down surface on which to skirt and roll your fleeces once they come off the sheep. Keeping your flock off feed and away from hay and fresh straw the night prior to shearing will also help, both to ensure the sheep are “empty” and more comfortable when being turned for shearing itself, as well as to keep their wool free of debris

If you can, it’s a good idea to sort your flock as they go into shearing. Many of you may have other breeds as well as Wensleydales, and we would recommend shearing your Wensleydales first to avoid contamination of the fleeces. If you keep both white and black Wensleydales, it is common practice to shear white hoggs (yearling sheep about to be sheared for the first time) first, as the first clip is the most valuable fleece your sheep will ever produce. The white hoggs should ideally then be followed by white ewes; clearing any white fibres from the board before you start on the coloured Wensleydales. Aged ram fleeces tend to be coarser and can have a “rammy” smell, which can severely impact your shearling and ewe fleeces, so ideally rams should be sheared at the end

As fleeces come off the sheep, “skirting” any soiled wool as you roll it is excellent practice and prevents the wool from being spoiled while in storage, or incurring charges from the British Wool Marketing Board for sending dirty wool if you choose to send it – wool that is full of daggings (sheep faeces) isn’t good for either market. Most Wensleydale breeders store their fleeces in paper or fabric sacks if selling privately, to prevent the wool from sweating; however if you are sending your clip to the BWMB, after skirting they should be carefully rolled and placed directly into the wool sheets that they provide before labelling accordingly

Moth damage is extremely detrimental to your wool and if you do find moths in your wool bags it is probably best to destroy all of the contaminated fleece. Sending moth damaged wool to a mill for processing will result in rejection. Wool can be sold raw (unwashed), however washing fleeces significantly reduces their attractiveness to moths, so this is a good idea if you are planning to store for any length of time before selling your fleeces to hand spinners. Once clean and dry, you can also safely store your wool in air-tight plastic bags to prevent moth infestation. Clean, sorted fleeces can be stored in good conditions for up to 3 years if necessary

Remember though, if you are planning to enter a prized fleece at a show, it must not be washed! Please see the guide on showing fleeces for more information

If choosing to send your fleeces to a mill for processing, ideally these should also be kept unwashed so that they can be professionally scoured. Once shearing is over, you can roll out your raw fleeces and grade them, assessing whether it is all of one type or whether there is significant variation, separateing these types accordingly. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the fleece sent for processing and the quality of the final product; sending coarser wool will result in coarser yarn. Grading is relatively straightforward, you should be able to see which sections of wool are coarser or finer and then check by feeling it – if you rub a few hairs from visibly different parts of the fleece between your fingers you will begin to appreciate the variations. As you do more with your wool, you soon start to realise the variety in colour, texture, crimp, lustre, staple length, lock formation, etc. of the different sheep in your flock

When you have sorted your fleeces, it is a good idea to make notes denoting what is in each bag, as it is easy to forget by the time you get around to sending away to the mill for processing especially if your milling slot is a few months away from shearing! We hope this guide is a useful starting point to shearing, storing and grading your wool, more can be read with regards to the milling process in our guide on producing commercial yarn

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