Monday, June 13, 2011

Fleece Clinic

First of all, I’m not qualified to give a fleece clinic, but if I called this anything else you probably wouldn’t still be reading. Even though I’m far from a Shetland fleece expert, I have visited 13 farms around the country and I have seen many different types of fleeces. What I want to share today is some observations on a few sheep. We own all but one of these sheep, so I can share my thoughts freely with some data to back it up.

The first fleece sample is from a Shetland that is not from our farm. I’m not saying we’ve never had a fleece like this here (because we have), but it’s a good example of bad Shetland.


I read on one blog that Shetland fleeces are not straight. Well, this one is. There’s no crimp or wave whatsoever. It is double coated, but that’s not the problem. It’s just coarse and hairy. It’s about 7.5 inches long. I don’t have micron data on it, but as you can see, it’s more like hair than wool. I suspect that when people have a negative impression of the breed, it’s because they have experienced wool like this. Oliver Henry is the world’s foremost authority on Shetland fleeces in Shetland and I really don’t know how he would classify this one. It’s “Rough” at best. Certainly good for making carpet or something that wouldn’t see skin contact, but if that’s what you are making, why even use Shetland?

Is this fleece example typical in the U.S.? Sadly, yes. And this one isn’t even the worst one I’ve seen. I’m not sure how the breed fell apart this badly since the breed was imported in 1980.

The next fleece is Shiobhan’s. She’s our F1 Orion. Her staple is about 4” long with loads of crimp. It has a nice silky handle as well with very little tip.


I like this fleece. It’s not super fine, but it is 25 microns with a 16.7% CV and a 23.7 Spinning Fineness. The spinning fineness is a number that I think does a good job of capturing the handle of the fleece. I use it as a relative gage of handle. In other words, I’ve found that it is a better indicator of handle than the average. I have no data to back that up, but when I rate our fleeces by hand, the better handling ones also have lower Spinning Fineness numbers. Okay, maybe I do have some data. In Shiobhan’s case, her fleece feels finer than 25 microns. That’s my point. Is that misleading? I don’t know.

Blue Diamond’s fleece is also a favorite. Her fleece is very much like Shiobhan’s (except a different color, of course). It’s 4” with great crimp and a very nice handle. I would say the fleeces are identical in many ways.


Blue Diamond’s average micron was 25.4 with a 19.9% CV and 24.5 spinning fineness. Do I think Shiobhan’s feels a full micron finer than Blue Diamond’s (according to the spinning fineness)? As a matter of fact, I do. It has a little better handle. But they are really close. In fact, probably within the margin of error of my handle test.

Christmas Holly is the one sheep that really threw me off this spring with my tactile evaluation. I had her pegged at one of our finest ewes. She isn’t. I thought she might be 25 microns (like Shiobhan and Blue Diamond). Her micron average was 26.3 with an 18.0% CV and 25.0 spinning fineness.


So, how can a sheep with a 25.0 spinning fineness feel softer than the others? She is very silky. That’s my only explanation. It’s just a beautiful handling fleece. In fact, Itasca’s fleece (which is actually 25.0 microns), does not handle as well as Holly’s. The difference? The CV and the silkiness. Holly’s fleece is the same length as the others (4”), has similar crimp, but it just handles wonderfully. I have to argue that it handles better than the other fleeces here. The only other difference worth noting here is the tip. Holly has more tip than Blue Diamond and Shiobhan. You can see that in this picture.

Bond is two years old now, but his second fleece looks good. His second fleece tested at 23.6 microns with an 18.6% CV and a 22.5 spinning fineness. His crimp is nice, and the handle is excellent. Now, as far as length goes, his fleece is only 2.5" long. But now that we've had a chance to process it, I can say it has special properties that you just don't often find in Shetlands.


The finished yarn last year was just exquisite, and everyone who has touched it is impressed. You just don't find Shetland fleeces in this part of the country like this. The only other thing I can add here is that Jen was overwhelmed when she spun this this past winter. Two years ago, I would've thought a fleece needed to be four or five inches long to spin properly, but it's all in the experience level of the spinner. Fine is good, and let's leave it at that. The end result speaks for itself.

The point of all of this? Shetland fleeces come in different types. There are bad and excellent fleeces within the breed. A lot of lamb fleeces look pretty good, but there are usually some indicators of future behavior. I may not be able to differentiate between a 24 and 26 micron fleece in 100% of the cases, but I have gotten pretty good at it. This year, I was able to estimate 85% of our flock within a micron of their true average fiber diameter. Some of that was probably luck, but I was in the ballpark on the rest. On the whole, I was within 0.17 microns estimating the flock average once I added up the individual estimates (I averaged my estimate vs. Texas A&M’s results and I was within 0.17 microns).

Anyway, as I learn more about fleeces, I hope to improve on my estimates, but for now, I feel good about the lambs that we kept based on my subjective evaluation. And that’s a good thing because we all have to make tough choices in that regard before we have any help from science. I like to wait until our ewe lambs are yearlings before we do micron testing on them. That means I’d better not be off by much…in June. Fortunately, I was very close on all of the yearling estimates. I only missed on four adults.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some examples of good and bad Shetland.

4 comments:

Michelle said...

I enjoyed the "clinic," and would love to get my hands on all of your fleeces!

stephen rouse said...

I very much enjoyed your fleece clinic. And yes, I think you're as qualified as any of us! That first sample truly is an embarrassment to the breed.

Kelly Bartels said...

Thank you, that was explained very well, was easy to follow and understand.

Theresa said...

Love the breed type fleeces, Rich, as well as the depth of color in them.

Yes, the bad example would be in the rough category.

Regarding the SF, that is what I'm focusing on heavily as that tells me the "real" story for handle (plus the touch of silkiness). Shetland fleece is supposed to feel finer than it actually is, which means the SD is very low.

Great progress in your fleeces!