Improving the Quality of Your Fleece
Vegetable matter, or vm, is a problem all spinners know too well. Keeping fleeces clean and healthy is a year round battle. During the spring and summer, we fight burrs and thistles, and just when we’ve won that battle, we have to fight hay and straw throughout the long winter months. Protecting fleeces from vm is not always an easy task, but there are a few actions that can be taken to reduce its presence, therefore, improving the overall quality of your fleece.
One of the more common preventative actions is called jacketing. This action helps to keep hay and burrs out, it also minimizes the risk of the wool becoming sun bleached and matted. At this point, jacketing seems like the answer to everyone’s vm problem, but in reality, it is high maintenance, risky, and not cost effective. When jacketing, you must keep in mind that each sheep requires multiple jackets to accommodate appropriate fleece growth. On top of that, the jackets are not very durable. They are risky because the sheep are more likely to get hung up and not be able to escape. The expenses of purchasing 2-3 jackets per sheep, repairs, and doctoring the sheep who’ve gotten hurt from being hung up add up quickly, not to mention the time and labor spent. For this reason, jacketing does not seem like the most practical solution for the reduction of vegetable matter in the fleece.
A more sensible solution is to alter the way the sheep are fed. First, you want to keep the hay below head height. Keeping hay in a smaller pile will help by reducing the amount of hay that falls onto the sheep, consequently, reducing the amount that sticks in the fleece. On top of that, having high piles of hay results in more hay falling under the sheep’s feet to be wasted. Feeding in a split pasture also cuts down on the amount of vm in the fleece. This creates a rotation that ensures the sheep will not be chasing you as you feed, which keeps hay out of the fleece. If you do not have the luxury of a split field, there are many inexpensive ways to build feeders that keep hay out of the fleece and from it being wasted on the ground.
Some successful techniques when it comes to keeping straw and burrs out the fleeces include using a longer-stemmed straw and minimizing the exposure to burrs. The longer stemmed straw can’t get too deep into the fleece and it is easier to blow/brush off. Unless it is extremely cold, straw is not a necessity when it comes to sheep. They are naturally suited to withstand bitter temperatures with their thick fleece. As for minimizing burrs, try to pick a field with little to no burrs in it. Also, rotating fields every 18 days will help keep manure and vegetable matter from sticking.
With this additional care throughout the year, your sheep can have cleaner, healthier fleeces come shearing time. This will also make the spinners you sell to much happier!
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