Wool Test Results

micron testing

A couple of weeks ago I sent samples of all my sheep’s wool off to a lab in Texas to be evaluated. There are a number of different ways that wool is graded in the industry, but most flocks are moving towards micron thickness since its a standardized, objective way to measure wool fineness. Basically, a sample of wool is taken from the side of the sheep and the individual fibers are measured; the thinner the fiber, the finer the fleece is considered and the softer it will feel. So a low micron count = soft, fine fleece. A higher micron count means the wool will feel coarser but because its thicker it will be stronger. Like most things in life, there is always a trade off– soft wool tends to be weaker, strong wool tends to be scratchier. So all types of wool have a use, the important thing is using the right type of wool for your project.

Some breeds of sheep are known for having very fine fleeces, others for having strong, coarse wool. Shetlands tend to be somewhere in the middle and, because they are a landrace breed that hasn’t been commercially developed to the same extent as other breeds and due to their unique history of importation in the US, there is a lot of variation within the breed. Generally speaking, Shetland fleeces can range from as low as 20 micron up to the mid 30s but most people think of an ideal Shetland fleece as being somewhere between 22 and 28 microns.  Keep in mind that when a fleece is micron tested a sample from the side is used and that tends to be an average of the whole fleece- that particular sheep will usually have much finer wool on its neck and much coarser wool on its britch (backside and thighs). If you really want to get into the details of the report, this site has some good information.

While there is a use for every type of fleece and I like having a variety in my flock, I find that my customers prefer finer wools since they tend to knit things that are worn against the skin like scarves and shawls rather than rugged outerwear or rugs. Because of that, I am focusing my breeding on producing lambs with finer fleeces, i.e. a low micron count, but only breeding ewes with fine fleeces and picking rams with fine fleeces. To help make my choices for next year’s breeding I sent all my fleece samples to be tested. This way I’ll be able to say for certain that certain ewes will be included in breeding and other excluded. I also had my wethers tested, even though they won’t be used for breeding, because their fleeces give me an indication of the type of babies that I can expect from their mothers. In other words, since Elizabeth gave birth to Larry last spring and Larry has a very fine fleece I will know to breed Elizabeth again since she is likely to produce more babies (and hopefully a girl next time) with fine fleeces.

micron testing

I already knew which ewes I probably was and wasn’t going to breed again based on how their wool feels to my hand, but its nice to have my subjective judging backed up by cold hard facts. Based on my experiences with the fleeces and the micron report, I plan to breed the following ewes this fall:

Elizabeth (28.2), Kaylee (26.7), Kelly (28.4), Liisu (25.1) and will try to find a ram with a micron count in the mid 20s or lower to continue to improve the fineness.

p.s. just a warning before you find yourself in an argument with a Shetland breeder about what a “good” Shetland fleece is “supposed” to be like– there are conflicting opinions about this. Some people think that a “traditional” fleece is dual coated with a broad range of fineness from neck to brich. Some people think that a “traditional” fleece is fine all over and that the more varied fleece is the result of a limited gene pool being imported into the US. Others don’t care what Shetland sheep were in the past and are focused on what the fleece can be like in the future and want to “improve” the fleece by focusing on increasing the fineness. And I’m sure there are many other opinions as well. I personally don’t have the experience or knowledge to judge the truth of the situation, I just know what I like working with and what my customers like to buy. Just be aware that if you investigate this more you are likely to find lots of different opinions, some of them quite heated!

Felting a Full Fleece Rug

I have seen beautiful rugs made by felting entire raw fleeces. They look just like sheep pelts (from skinning a dead sheep) only without the skin, and the dead sheep. They are kind of like the wool Flokati rugs, except I have no idea how Flokatis are made. This year when we were shearing, Mom and I decided to keep Francine‘s fleece all in one piece so that I could try felting it this way. We carefully removed the whole fleece and rolled it up.


Francine’s fleece has been removed and is draped over her so you can see the beautiful locks.


Today, I unrolled it and laid it out. Its big.


Fleece laid out on plastic, locks facing down and cut ends up.

I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but I know that felting takes heat and water so I sprayed the whole thing down with soapy water and then worked hot water into it, bit by bit, with my hands and feet.


Fleece saturated with soapy hot water and covered with another layer of plastic

Once the whole thing was wet, I covered it with another sheet of plastic and continued to walk on it and rub it with my hands.


Wool Roll

Then I rolled the whole thing up around a pool noodle to see what the other side looked like and squeeze out some of the extra water. You can see the sunbleached tips through the plastic.

This thing is huge and I’m not really sure where to go from here. A big storm is rolling in so I’m not going to be able to work on it much more today (this is definitely an outside project!).

Ewe Lamb Fleeces and Breeding Plans

Lamb fleeces are always so wonderfully soft, unfortunately it can be hard to tell from a lamb fleece what the adult fleece is going to be like. They are never as soft after the first year, of course, but its hard for a beginner shepherd like myself to anticipate what other changes will happen. You may ask, why not just wait and see? Whats the hurry? Well, in the case of my year old ewes their lamb fleece is what I’ll use to decide whether to keep them for breeding or sell them. Last year we had three ewe lambs. One is sold already (Lana), but part of my agreement to sell her was that I got to keep the lamb fleece.




I haven’t completely made up my mind yet about the other two- LeeLoo and Liisu. LeeLoo is Francine’s daughter and I know for certain that I won’t be re-breeding Francine. She is just too rough and hairy. I hadn’t planned to breed LeeLoo for that reason, but her lamb fleece turned out surprisingly nice so now I’m having second thoughts…





I’m pretty sure that Liisu will be part of my breeding program. Her mom is Kelly and her grandma is Elizabeth and that is the genetic line that I am basing my breeding program on. Right now her fleece is SUPER soft and reminds me a lot of her mom’s lamb fleece. Kelly’s yearling fleece turned out very nice as well, so if Liisu takes after her mom next year I’ll be satisfied. Obviously there is still room for improvement, but that is something that will happen gradually over time as we use nicer stud rams.

If you have experience with fleeces, or with breeding sheep, I’d love to hear your thoughts on LeeLoo and Liisu’s lamb fleeces!

Farm Sampler Packs

4 pack bNow that all the shearing is done, its time to decide what to do with all this wool! Most of it will be sent to the mill and turned into yarn to be dyed and sold through The Unique Sheep. And, of course, I’ll keep some for myself. But for those of you who would like to get to know the flock in a more hands on manner I’m putting together little sampler kits. They come in 4 or 6 packs and you get 1/2 oz of raw wool from each sheep. You choose which sheep you want to try. If you’ve never worked with raw wool before I’m working on a tutorial. Every fiber artist (spinner, weaver, knitter, crocheter, etc) should experience wool in its raw state at least once, even if you decide that washing and preparing a full fleece isn’t for you. The small amounts in the Sampler Packs are easy to wash in the bathroom sink- no special equipment needed. lana

More Shearing




Schnitzel and the hens napped in the stall beside us while we worked


Francine has a HUGE fleece. We took it off all in one piece so we can use it to make a felted rug.


So much smaller now- and squirmy!

Today we planned to finish shearing the flock. In the end, we weren’t able to catch Etta so she will have to be shorn later this week. Everyone else is done though! Francine being re-introduced to the flock:

More Photos HERE

Shearing Begins!

2015-03-22 15.40.40We had a beautiful weekend so I took advantage of the nice weather to start shearing. Well, mostly I spent my time cleaning out the barn to prepare for shearing. After all the cold, snowy weather the barn had gotten really nasty. When it snows the flock spend more time in the barn making a mess, and then when the snow melts the barn floods and the mess turns into an even bigger mess. Yuck! The bright side is that the garden now has several heaping wheelbarrow loads of llama poo/ half composted hay/etc spread on top!

2015-03-22 16.00.20

I ended up only having time to get one sheep shorn and I started with Elizabeth- both my easiest and my most difficult sheep. Elizabeth is normally very easy to handle- she loves attention and is usually easy to handle BUT she is terrible on the shearing and hoof trimming stand! I think that the problem is that she doesn’t have any fear of humans and is used to being around people because she wants to be, so when she finds herself in an uncomfortable situation she has no patience for it whatsoever! I got both shearing and hoof trimming done, though, and now I have a beautiful bag full of lovely, soft white wool. I can’t wait till I have some more bags to join it! DSC_0272DSC_0279



In the past, shearing day has always been very stressful for us. When we hire someone to shear the sheep we have to sit back and watch while someone else cuts slices into the skin of our flock. When we do it ourselves, we stress out about hurting them ourselves and then fail to actually get the shearing done because we are so anxious about it. The sheep themselves don’t seem terribly bothered when they get cut but it makes us sick and is so hard to avoid – their skin is so thin and the shears cut through any little wrinkle.

This year, shearing was delayed due to the heavy, extended winter. And this gave us plenty of time to think about how we wanted to approach shearing season this year. We knew that we didn’t want to hire someone this year. But we were also dreading the physical and emotional struggle of shearing them ourselves in the traditional manner. So we decided to try using non-electric hand clippers on a stand. Its slow but we actually enjoy the process and are happy with the results. We don’t harvest quite as much wool but we are okay with that. In fact, we kind of like leaving a bit more wool on the sheep – it helps them adjust to the sudden change in temperature. Plus it is something that two people can do at once- one on each side of the sheep- so Chris and I are able to work together. And best of all no one- not us nor the sheep- is stressed out! So far we have only shorn Elizabeth and Francine but hope to get the rest of the flock done this weekend.