wool that doesn't itchgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread
We've never raised an animal for wool before. I've always avoided it because I remember wool being really itchy.
Now it seems I hear about wool not being so itchy - or there are ways to make the wool not be itchy.
Maybe I should reconsider?
Sheep? Alpacas? Llamas? Angora goats?
What kind of money might there be in raising these animals? How not itchy is their wool?
-- Paul Wheaton (email@example.com), January 17, 2001
I've always been told that pure wool does not itch at all, but that it is the impurities in it that causes the scratchiness. These impurities are things such as weed seed, etc.
-- Notforprint (Not@thekeyboard.com), January 17, 2001.
Paul, I have heard that the wool we used to wear that itched so very much was not 100% wool. Being mixed with other materials made it itch more. Just what i have heard. Can't help with the question, but i would like to know the answer, I would like to get sheep. Good luck!
-- Shau Marie (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 17, 2001.
Wool that is naturally processed is not scratchy at all. The thing that makes wool scratchy is if it is commercially processed using an acid wash that disolves the vegetable matter in the fleece (seeds, hay bits, etc.)
-- Leo (email@example.com), January 17, 2001.
Leo, I think you are right, up to a point. Home processed wool seems to be much softer than the comercially processed stuff. Home spinners will take the time to wash it gently, and card and pick the impurities out of the wool, rather than submit it to the harsh chemicals that the factory uses.
BUT...some wool is scratchy, no matter HOW it is processed. The wool of the Navaho sheep is an example; it would make a very uncomfortable garment to wear next to the skin. BUT...it makes strong, longwearing rugs and blankets, which is exactly what they use the wool for! The softest sheep wool is from the Merino, and even indviduals amongst that breed vary. I have a headband that I knit from Merino wool, and is is SOOO soft, with rarely an itch, and very warm. It is soft enough for a baby blanket, but can be a bit of a bear for the beginner to process and spin, and it IS expensive....but well worth the price, if softness is your aim!
A lot of other of the wool types you mention...Llamas, angoras, etc. often have their wool intermixed with sheep's wool, since they don't don't hold a twist in their own. But angora is sooo soft! I haven't had too much experience with them, tho.
-- Leann Banta (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 17, 2001.
Leann's on the mark. It depends on breed. Merino, Rambouillet, Debouillet, Corriedale, Cormo and other fine wool breeds are generally always soft and wonderful against the skin. The breeds with the longest wool is often the coarsest and best for rugs, upholstery fabrics and outer garments that must take a lot of abuse. In the commercial world, wool is seldom sorted as thoroughly as a handspinner would so you end up with medium and fine wools in the same garment. The acids roughen the wool and occasionally people are allergic to the dyes but don't realize it.
I've had angora rabbits and the wool is light, very insulating and so soft you would think it wasn't there. It doesn't take much abrasion though. The undercoat of llamas is soft while the outer coat fiber is coarser. I have friends with alpacas that have wonderfully soft wool. Angora goats have very fine hair until about 18 months of age when it's no longer considered "kid mohair" and it then is much coarser but can vary among individual animals.
Can't help you with the money part except to tell you that the wool market has been depressed for several years now because Australia has such a surplus in storage and a few other reasons. Although the US still collects a tariff on all sheep/wool products coming into this country, they no longer give it to the American producers who are in direct competition with foreign producers subsidized by their own governments. When it was written out of the last farm bill, those in charge made the subsidies paid to American producers sound as if it were coming from the American taxpayer. Now the tariffs are going into the general fund.
I hope Sheepish and others will weigh in on this part of Paul's question as I just have a couple of pet ewes as lawn mower/spinstuff producers.
-- marilyn (email@example.com), January 17, 2001.
Paul - The previous answers about wool are correct, it all depends on the breed, sex and age of the animal. Certain breeds are very soft and you can get lots of money if you can sell to handspinners but . . . handspinners are rather fussy, don't want lots of foreign matter in the fleece so to really demand the high prices you need to skirt your fleeces carefully and put covers on your sheep between shearing. General wool sales are so bad - I sold 126 lbs of Dorset wool (considered to be a fair to good wool) for $5.64, yes you read it right $5.64. My wool goes to a cooperative and is sold through there. Another option is to have your wool washed and carded into rovings and then try to sell to spinners. I have a black and merino fleece at Zelingers now being processed to spin, cost me $45 each. I'm going to keep several of my fleeces this spring and have them made into battings for mattress pads and comforters. They say once you've slept on or covered up with wool you will never go back to artifical fiber. The wool breathes and I've even heard sleeping on a wool mattress pad is good for arthritis - we'll see.
Angora goats produce mohair. For four or five years there has been NO market for mohair on a national level. The Asian economy has been depressed and the majority of adult mohair goes there to be made into rugs. Kid hair (fall and spring clip in first year)has begun to sell, some at about $8.00 per lb. You will average 2-4 lbs from a kid each clipping. For a while there was a really good market for mohair and I made enough money to pay for the animals. Since it costs $2.00 per animal to shear at least the kids paid their way.
The best combination I have found is to card wool and mohair together. Wool is made up of a scale like covering on the hair and this is what causes some wool to be scratchy. Mohair is really a hair and has no scales so will be slippery, combining the two gives you a glossy yarn that will hold its shape and be soft, sometimes.
The USDA does have a program now that will pay a producer $.40 per lb for wool produced on your farm. Government is trying to improve the lot for American sheep farmers but this is just a quick fix. In order to improve our lot people need to eat lamb and that is difficult for many people even though it is a very good meat if prepared properly. There is also a program that pays a certain amount on each lamb that is sold as market or feeder lamb. I'm not up on that since I didn't have lambs this year to sell and I think you had to jump through a dozen loops to get it.
If you are interested in making money with sheep you need to raise market or feeder lambs. A friend recently sold some lambs for slaughter for $80 each. This is running them through the Michigan Livestock Lamb Pool and her sheep are really good, full bodied and just what the packers are looking for.
As with any animals, there are things that must be done regularly, shearing, feet trimming, shots and worming. Do you make money??, I kinda doubt it on a small scale I just enjoy the animals. Have 15 ewes this winter and hopefully will have several ewe lambs to add to the flock after lambing this spring. I think I can handle about 50- 60 ewes myself. Also about sheep, I read a comment by a retired shepard, "Sheep are born looking for a place to die." My experience has been good with my flocks but I have heard of folks losing their whole flocks to some disease or predators.
I can't really address Alpacas and Llamas except I feel they were kind of a fad thing and know of a farm that was selling stud llama's a couple years ago for $10,000 and now they are listing them for $250. I personally don't like the animals, they're spooky to me like a cat is spooky to someone who doesn't like cats. I thought about having one for a guard animal then heard they spit and kick - no thank you!
Hope this is not too long and that it hasn't discouraged you.
-- Betsy K (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 17, 2001.
Scratchy wool is thick-fibred wool, soft wool is thin-fibred. As someone else said - Merino, etc is the finest wool, and hence softest. There can be a lot of variability between different members of the same breed, too; so it's worth specifically trying for a fine- wool type.
-- Don Armstrong (email@example.com), January 17, 2001.
Handspinner weighing in here. Finewools are great for garments to be worn next to the skin, but they tend to be low on gloss. The finer wools also tend to pill more and don't take wear and abuse like a little coarser wool. I have spun lots of beautifully fine Targhee. Very nice.
I got a Romney fleece once, though, a medium weight wool with lots of crimp and gloss. It was wonderful to spin and makes a good outerwear garment, like a sweater. Also made good socks and still felt pretty soft and yummy.
-- Laura Jensen (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 18, 2001.
I wear lots of wool, always have, all factory processed too. I find some garments are very itchy when first worn next to the skin but if I can just stick it out for the first wearing the itching seems to be much less. I have a question though, "Why does blue dyed wool pill so badly?"
-- john hill (email@example.com), January 18, 2001.
Betsy quoted someone saying "Sheep are born looking for a place to die." That is not something I would have thought of, are people trying to run sheep in environments not suited to them? Sure they take a bit of care but "looking for a place to die?", I don't think so.
-- john hill (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 18, 2001.
Marilyn mentioned that Australia is sitting on a wool surplus and that foreing (i.e. non US) growers are subsidised. Maybe Don can give us all a bit of info on this? I think NZ has managed to shift most of the wool stockpile we had and I understand all subsidies have now gone. Incidently we have also practically halved the national flock, we are only outnumbered by sheep about 10 to 1 now.
-- John Hill (email@example.com), January 18, 2001.
John - I think the quote was because sheep seem give up and die when they become ill quicker than other animals. It seems once they get sick and ly down it's hard to get them back on their feet. I don't have any experience, since my flock has been healthy, (knock on wood) but I have heard some tales of sickness going through whole flocks very quickly. Recently attended a weekend workshop and lots of info on what to watch for to prevent illness so maybe that made me a little gunshy.
-- Betsy K (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 18, 2001.
Lots of good answers here, so I don't think I can add much. Yes, sheep are tough to get back on their feet once they go down. I have been fooling around with a little wether lamb from last year who got some kind of bug and now is getting better, but won't get on his feet. It's getting really old now for both of us. If he doesn't try a little harder we will have to put him down this weekend.
As far as stock goes, sheep are fairly easy. You don't have to milk them twice a day! However, they do require certain types of care and at certain times of the year. Paula Simmons' book "Raising Sheep the Modern Way" has a calendar in the back of it, if you want to see what to do each month (or thereabouts. I have always bred later lambs (Mar- Apr) so my calendar is later than hers. But whatever.
Re: wool. SO many factors. Yes breed, sex, age, part of the fleece you are using, and also construction of the yarn. If it's spun in a worsted fashion, where more of the fibers run parallel to the length of the yarn, you will get a tighter, glossier yarn; however, a coarse wool spun tightly that way, will be more like a little rope. A woolen- spun yarn, which has the fiber kind of "jumbled up" into a hollow tube before spinning, will incorporate more air into it's construction and will be "softer". Making wool yarn is kind of like creating a recipe for soup. The various ingredients in different combinations make for an interesting final product.
I raise Romneys and have wool some of which spun would make for a good door mat, or maybe even radial tires (!), and some that is soft enough for baby yarn (!) Okay, slight exaggerations, both. But there is such a range within one flock. I personally am "allergic" to wool, just because I have sensitive skin (contact urticaria.) It's not really the wool that I am allergic to, it's just that I have sensitive skin. I just wear wool (sweaters mostly) anyway, but usually with my trademark turtlecks on, Katherine Hepburn-style...
No idea about blue yarns pilling.
p.s. forget making money on sheep unless you run at least a couple hundred head, have customers lined up for lamb in the spring, and know at least a couple dozen hand-spinners, who aren't too fussy. Okay, that's just MY experience...
-- sheepish (WA) (email@example.com), January 18, 2001.
John, as far as wool stockpile goes, Australia sounds in a similar position to what you describe for NZ - just about cleared the last of it, and should finish it this year or next. It has been returning dividends to growers as it's sold off, which is good; but has been depressing the price for new wool, which is bad. Your comment about non-subsidisation of agricultural producers is correct - no-one in Australia is subsidised, and almost all price controls have been removed - which means prices have dropped and input costs have gone through the roof. I guess you in NZ would know the picture all too well. It's provable that Australian agricultural producers are among the most economically efficient in the world - they have to be to survive. In fact, a lot of them haven't survived, and I don't think that's a good thing - a little price control could have saved a lot of unemployment benefits, and all the associated social evils as rural communities decay and die. I don't think economic rationalism looks at the entire economic picture. It certainly hurts when we've gone through all that, and then see subsidised agricultural produce from the USA or the EEC being sold into our traditional markets. Each pointing at the other and saying "we've gotta because they are", and meanwhile wrecking markets we developed.
-- Don Armstrong (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 18, 2001.
Okay thanks Don, it might not be a good idea to get onto the subject on free (international) trade on this site! :-)
-- John Hill (email@example.com), January 18, 2001.
It seems like a good idea for me to hold off on fiber animals. If somebody in the family ever takes up knitting, I suppose that might be a good time to reconsider.
Thanks everybody for painting this picture for me!
-- Paul Wheaton (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 19, 2001.
Paul, don't forget though, that they are wonderful animals, and will really love you back if you treat them well. They are efficient converters of grass into manure, too, if nothing else. I love them for their intrinsic character. But good to get the down side, too, before deciding.
-- sheepish (email@example.com), January 19, 2001.
I think we'll stick with cows, chickens and pigs for now. Perhaps we'll experiment a bit with working with wools before getting a fiber animal.
-- Paul Wheaton (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 19, 2001.