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Grading and marketing of wool        
By Dr Rao Zahid Abbas, Dr Zafar Iqbal & Dr Kashif Saleemi

WOOL is the most misunderstood and abused part of the sheep in Pakistan. The desire of wool as a fabric has made its production at an all-time high level. However, Pakistani sheep producers do not share the benefits of its popularity. The wool crop often sells at a lower price because of the poor quality reputation based on improper care of the fleece, both before and after shearing, and the lack of grading at wool pools.

Wool can provide a significant source of income. The difference in fleece yields results from variation within and between breeds and is affected by climate, nutrition, wool grease and foreign matter - a valuable product that is easily spoiled. The primary spoilage agent is foreign matter such as dirt, chaff, burrs, hay, straw, seeds and grain. Contamination should be prevented while the fleece is on the sheep’s back by keeping the facilities clean, and careful shearing during storage. Table 1

The produce is ordinarily sold in pounds on the basis of grade, class, and quality. “Grade” refers to fineness of fibre “class” to length, “quality” to be free of foreign material and “life” to the character. Grade can refer to either of the two systems, the American or Blood system which is being replaced by the Count system - a more technical method of grading by fibre diameter.

Improving quality and value of wool crop: Avoid vegetable matter contamination of fleeces. Use feeders designed to keep hay and chaff off the backs of sheep. Do not carry or throw hay over sheep to feeders. Avoid pouring grain in troughs over the heads of impatient sheep. Do not use sawdust or shavings as the only source of bedding. Use straw, waste hay, or other material as a covering to keep wood particles out of the wool. While hay and chaff can be removed from wool by the processor, wood particles cannot. Remove burr-producing plants from pastures and hay fields. Purchased hay should be free of foreign matter. Animals with high quality wool can be protected with wool coats. Avoid using de-wormers containing phenothiazine. Table 2

Not all wool can be processed for spinning. Fleeces can be “rejected” for a variety of reasons. Few examples are as follow: Table 2

To produce more wool per sheep, the following measures should be taken:

* Prevent and control internal parasites to allow sheep to utilize feed for maximum production.

* Keep external parasites under control to prevent itching, rubbing which reduces quality. Maintain the overall health of an animal.

* Follow a well-balanced feeding programme. The quantity of wool produced is influenced directly by the amount and quality of feed an animal receives. It is possible to triple the quality by meeting the nutritional requirements of the animal.

* Maintain proper flock health. A sick or feverish sheep will produce a weak spot in the fibre during illness.

* Some breeds (Lincoln and Lincoln crosses) can be sheared twice a year. Handle Wool Correctly

* Shear as early in the spring as weather and shearer availability permit. If weather or housing facilities permit, consider shearing before lambing. This allows you to house more animals in a given space, and more easily observe lambing. It also prevents the loss of wool by tagging or removing tail area and udder wool before lambing, and reduces the likelihood of wool becoming stained.

* Keep sheep dry before shearing, both on the surface and in close to the skin. Damp wool molds and spoils.

* Shear on a clean, dry surface. An eight-by-eight-foot wooden shearing floor is more comfortable and easier to clean.

* Separate the belly wool and tags from the rest of the fleece and handle them separately.

* Take sheep off feed several hours before shearing. A full stomach contributes to animal discomfort during handling and shearing. In the case of pregnant ewes close to lambing, a full stomach at shearing can be dangerous to the well-being of ewes and unborn lambs.

* When shearing, avoid second cuts and shear as close to the skin as possible to maximize fibre length. This is done partly by holding the angle of the shearing head in the right position. Keep the fleece in one piece.

* Every sheep producer should know how to skirt properly, roll and tie a fleece. A properly prepared fleece (the saleable product) helps create a favourable impression on the buyer or grader. Throw the fleece flesh side down, so the dirty outer edge of the fleece faces up, on either the shearing floor or a skirting table. Remove off-colour wool, such as from legs, solid wool such as tags from around the breach, other contaminated areas and very short or matted wool such as from the head. Then roll the two sides of the fleece toward the middle and roll the fleece from one end to the other. The flesh side will now face out, creating a clean, attractive package.

* If you tie individual fleeces, use paper twine only! All other types of tying materials cause processing problems. The fibres cannot be separated from the wool, are destructive to processing machinery and do not take dye the same as wool, causing imperfections in the finished product. Improperly tied wool may not be saleable at any price.

* All belly wool, tags, off-colour, burry, seedy, chaffy, cotted, stained or dead wool should be handled and bagged separately.

* Pack fleeces either tied or loose in regulation wool bags. These bags are available from supply houses, wool buyers or wool pool managers. Do not pack fleeces in plastic grain or trash bags as trapped moisture in fleeces can cause the fleece to mold. If such bags must be used, keep the tops open to allow moisture out. Do not use plastic mesh grain bags since these are a major contamination source for fleeces. Homemade wool bags can be sewn together from burlap or canvas fabric.

* Store wool, properly packed, in a clean, dry place until ready for market. Wool is perishable and will pick up moisture, so it must be properly packed and stored to remain in good condition until sold.

Small flock owners many not produce enough wool annually to justify a wool bag. However, this does not mean they cannot produce a high quality fleece for sale using the above principles. All wool is eventually graded and sold on grade basis. Pooled wool offered on a volume basis is more attractive to buyers and gets a higher price because it saves the buyer’s time and money. There are a limited number of wool merchants and mills in Pakistan that buy wool directly from the grower with payments made after inspection.


Courtesy: The DAWN

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