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Capturing Maximum Value in the 2018 Wool Clip

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

 largest wool clip in the U.S. in 2017 that accounted for approximately 10 percent of all U.S. wool production, according to the 2018 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) “Sheep and Goat Report.”

Wyoming also produced the highest-valued wool clip in the nation in 2017.  With shearing season upon us and wool prices at record highs, now is a good time to look at wool preparation strategies prior to shearing to improve the quality of wool. A quality wool clip begins with planning prior to shearing. 

Wool has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as consumers rediscover the premier chemical properties that make the high-performance socks and base layer garments, in addition to the more traditional outwear, blankets and upholstery. 

Conservative stats from USDA NASS “Sheep and Goat Report” indicate an approximate $1.50 increase in the value of wool from 2000-16. Although these survey statistics lump all grades of wool into one value, well-prepared Wyoming fine wools, with 70s to 60s spin count, will garner higher prices than previous years. The international economy, strength of the U.S. dollar and record Australian wool markets all influence the price of wool received in the U.S. 

Estimated gross revenue on a per fleece basis across a range of wool grades, and clean wool yields are provided in the table on the bottom left. Generally, the difference between receiving 75 percent and 85 percent of the value of Australian prices is a good buyer-grower relationship, where a proven history of best management practices in wool preparation has been achieved. 

Wool markets are subject to fluctuations entering the peak wool trading season, but wool clip quality and level of preparation shouldn’t. Good preparation strategies are good insurance for price volatility in the wool market.  

Degree of preparation will vary by operation size, but include some of the following considerations.

Maintaining a clean shearing floor clear of manure, hay, straw chaff or garbage will ensure cleaner fleeces entering the wool sack. Where warranted, designate a sack for coarser wools to be separated from finer wools, especially in flocks with multiple breeds.

Ensure multiple sacks are set up for off-sorts – including bellies, tags and top-knots – from the fleece. Removing portions of the fleece that have a large degree of hay chaff, like the bellies and in between shoulder, will ensure higher yields and lower vegetable matter content and increase the value and marketability of clips. 

Kemp, hair and dark fibers are considered contaminants at the processing level as these fibers don’t accept dye and give an inconsistent appearance. Removing those components from the main fleece will increase the clean yield and reduce undesirable fiber types for wool processing at the next stage. 

Hair sheep fiber should not be marketed or mixed with wool. This includes any hair/wool crossbreds. Sorting off finer wool white-face breeds to shear first, followed by any black-face sheep breeds, will reduce the potential for dark fiber contamination on the shearing floor.

Polypropylene plastic represents a significant source of contamination and economic loss in the wool industry, in addition to hair sheep. This is the synthetic plastic used in bailing twine, tarps and net-wrap. 

Previously, orange polypropylene twine was common and easier to detect when interwoven in a fleece. However, white and clear net-wrap appear as a new source of concern. Removing and properly disposing of these components at the operational level will reduce contamination and subsequent economic loss.

Wool buyers emphasize the importance of well-packaged bales weighing 400 to 450 pounds as domestic and international freight costs continue to increase. Light bales and incorrectly closed wool packs increase the handling and transportation costs. Heavy, uniformly packaged wool bales maximize transportation efficiency in semi-trailers and cargo containers for international trade.

Bales should be kept in a secure, dry building if stored for a prolonged period prior to shipment. Make sure bales are labeled clearly at the ends of the wool bale to maintain visibility when they are stacked in a warehouse setting.

Archive copies of wool laboratory core tests generated prior to sale. Information regarding grade or micron, clean yield and vegetable matter can serve as a management guide for future management and breeding stock selection decisions. 

A decrease in yield and an increase in vegetable matter over time might warrant altering feeding and housing strategies to keep wool cleaner. Core test values for mean fiber diameter or micron are solid indicators to gauge the overall wool quality across the flock.

Interpreting changes in micron over multiple year’s clips is a good basis for selection decision making versus looking solely at changes year-on-year. While selecting for finer wool generally results in greater wool revenue, pay attention to grease fleece weight and staple length to ensure you’re not trading overall weight and length for fineness. Chasing single trait extremes in specific fleece characteristics – including micron, staple length or grease fleece weight – can result in unintended changes to the ewe flock. Like most economic traits of relevance, a balanced approach results in lasting genetic improvement.

Fleece characteristics are some of the most heritable production traits measured, and improvement through ram selection is made relatively quickly. Collecting a side sample from your ram battery prior to breeding and sending to a lab for fiber diameter and staple length of greater than three inches are relatively simple strategies to continually screen and improve the wool being produced in your flock. 

While price premiums for finer wool will always exist, Wyoming producers excel at producing heavy shearing a 64s to 60s grade wool, which will continue to be a profitable grade range.

Lamb production from a sheep enterprise will always represent the majority of revenue, but wool proceeds, especially this year, represent a unique opportunity to get more for your wool. 

May the shearers be on schedule, the sheep dry and the wool check surprisingly more than last year.

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