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Wool testing: Breeding, pricing can benefit

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper — Although the basic testing procedure of sampling wool to ascertain its quality and value has been in the sheep industry since the early 1960s, the way the industry goes about those tests has changed with technology.
    According to Center of the Nation Wool Manager Larry Prager the industry standard remains the core test, which finds the average fiber diameter and determines the grade and yield of the wool sample.
    “Core samples take the guesswork out of estimating what kind of wool you’re actually working with,” says Prager, adding that it doesn’t tell the uniformity or staple length of the wool. “There are testing procedures that have come on in the last few years for length and strength.”
    He says the test for length and strength came out of Australian wool testing three years ago and it’s gained some acceptance in the U.S. “It’s not a test we do every day, but it’s good information and something relatively easy to add onto the core test,” says Prager.
    Although the length and strength test requires a different type of sample with different specification, he says it holds true that the integrity and sampling procedure will determine the accuracy of the information received back.
    Because top prices go to wools that are long and strong, Prager says if a producer has wool that’s a little on the short or tender side it’s sometimes worthwhile to measure that information so the wool isn’t overly discounted.
    “For example, if we had wool that’s ‘occasionally tender’ we can document that with a length and strength test and it makes the calculations sharper,” he says. “The bottom line with all core testing is that it’s the fairest way to trade wool, and it’s a marketing tool.”
    Angus McColl of Yocum-McColl Testing Laboratories in Denver, Colo. says that, when utilized properly, objective fiber testing can be a powerful marketing and selection tool.
    “Objective measurement is an assessment made without the influence of personal feelings or prejudice. Visual appraisal and fiber handling are fundamental aspects of fiber judging, but very weak appraisal methods of accurately identifying fiber diameter,” McColl writes on the lab’s website.
    Because the measurements are so tiny, the difference between a sample at 20.5 microns and one at 22.5 microns is small mathematically, but critical in commercial use and pricing structure, he adds.
    Although both commercial and seedstock producers test wool samples, Prager says the seedstock producers are naturally more interested in testing individual animals. “Running individual animal microns is a big part of seedstock producers’ focus, and it’s different than testing the wool already in a bale.”
    He says individual wool testing is a real tool for both buyers and sellers. “From a buyer’s perspective, it’s a measure of what they’re buying as opposed to just taking someone’s word for it.”
    UW Sheep Livestock Manager Brent Larson says commercial producers testing from a bale will receive results representative of their whole flock.
    Prager says genetics play the biggest role in determining wool quality, although nutrition can have an effect. “When selling stud bucks at the ranch level, genetics play a huge part in determining uniformity and average fiber diameter,” he notes. “In that situation the individual animal micron testing is a very effective test and one that draws a lot of use.”
    Regarding those who purchase raw wool, Prager says the end use is what determines what kind of wool is in demand. “Fashion plays a big role, and from year to year we can see differences in the requirements for length, grade and average fiber diameter depending on that end use.”
    He says right now the demand worldwide is for really high quality and soft knit wear. “That lightweight clothing requires 20.5 micron or finer wool as a raw product, and you can’t produce coarser than that or you don’t have the right product for the demand.”
    Looking to the future of testing wool, Prager says the laser scan technology introduced a few years ago is already common procedure for testing fiber diameter. “Before that it was all done with micro projection, and the outcome with the laser is a much more accurate and fast test than we had before,” he says. “I imagine we’ll see over the next decade some of that same thing, with tests becoming more efficient and faster as technology comes along.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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