Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Everything I can think of to tell you about Sheep Coats

So I woke up at around 3:30 am last night (to pee of course) and couldn't get back to sleep.  I knew by 4 that I wasn't going back to sleep, and that I was up for the day, so said screw it I am washing the sheep coats.  

We took the sheep coats off at shearing in mid April, and I've been hesitant to go to our 24 hour unmanned laundromat due to Covid-19.  I figured one of those mornings when I couldn't get back to sleep I could run up and get them washed and dried in the wee hours when no one is around.  Well yesterday was the day.

Loaded up the van and grabbed a bunch of singles from my fiber festival change till, and drove off in the dark to our quaint little village laundromat located about 250 yards from the Erie Canal. 

Middleport is on the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo

As expected, it was nice and squeaky clean and there was no one around.  A little creepy, but cool to be doing something so outside the routine.  Ended up using 3 machines to get them all done at once.

I got them home and decided to sort them and take an inventory, to see how we are set for this year's combination of ages and sizes.
Washed coats sorted into piles, Rich made a handy reference for sizing/colors

Every year the flock is a little different with sizing - lambs, yearlings, adults and the nursing home set have all got different builds, requiring a different size coat.  So not only do we need enough to transition through 1 year from (usually 2 coats per ewe as the fleece grows) we have to have enough to cover the combination of frame sizes also, and the mix is always different one year to the next.

They come in many different sizes, we order from Rocky Sheep, and they have tailored a line for shetland sheep to meet the smaller size requirement.  Rich made a chart to help us know what size to upgrade to as the fleece grows, they put colored tabs on the coat so you can match up the size.  

This is the orange size 25"

Their site has a ton of information on the benefit, ROI and quality of their coats - we agree 100% with all their claims.  Isn't it nice to find vendors you can trust to do and be exactly what they say they are?

They cost around $25 each, plus shipping and here is our inventory:

 Color Size Qty
 Blk/Blu19 5
 Silver23 15 
 Orange25 15 
White 27 34 
 Red29 23 
Green 31 
Navy 33 

117 coats at ~25 each, we've invested ~$3000 in coats to keep our fleeces nice and clean.  Every ewe on the farm gets a coat.  Right now we have 52 ewes, 16 of them lambs, so probably going to have to invest in a couple more as every year the mix is just that different.

I don't know how long coats last, Rich has been managing that, I don't think we have tossed any out.  Some have gotten ripped, I don't sew, so we use those usually on the nursing home set.  We have been coating for a few years so I would say they last a good 5 years if not more?

The size refers to the length of the coat/body.

Many people think they are to keep the sheep warm, but they aren't.  They are designed to keep the wool clean and free of VM that can either destroy a fleece, or greatly reduce its value to a spinner, or add additional processing cost if you take your fleece(s) to a mill.

Very proud to be able to offer such clean raw fleeces to spinners

When I corral the ewes into a small area of the barn and they have their coats on, it makes a very soothing swishing sound like in this video:

We put them on before we start hay in the fall, so they don't have them on over the summer when they are on pasture.  We have tried all sorts of feeders and methods, but in the end we feed hay off the ground.  Its going to get in the wool either way, especially the lambs and yearlings as they are underfoot, and of course they have the nicest wool.  Sometimes we'll catch taller ewes eating hay off the yearling and lamb backs, but that isn't and effective method to keep vm out of a fleece.

The coats come off on shearing day, and then we bag them up.  When things settle down after lambing, they get washed, sorted, inventoried and then packed into clearly marked bins in the garage.

After shearing they go in bags to store until washing

Ahhhh.  Nice and organized in bins by size.

Once in a while when we sell a sheep, we will sell the coats along with, usually if the customer is a spinner, they appreciate not having to deal with sizing and ordering.

We didn't use coats for a long time, but decided after an embarrassing fleece show at Rhinebeck where practically all my fleeces got set under the table for excessive VM, that it was time to get serious and coat the girls.  I am so glad we made the decision, it has greatly improved my enjoyment of processing the fleeces, and I am very comfortable and yes, proud to be able to offer such a high quality product to my spinning friends.

The neck and britch aren't covered, so I set those aside during skirting.  When I sell a raw fleece, I only sell the portions that are under the coat, so the fleece is nice and clean.  Cleanish britch with tags removed goes to the mill sorted by color for my millspun yarn.  

A skein of millspun yarn from fawn skirtings

Neck wool I pool and hand flick and process into batts on my drum carder for spinners to enjoy.

Hand washed, flicked and drum carded batt from luxuriously soft neck wool

Someone asked me if we have problems with lambs getting caught up in the coats when the moms have coats on, never had that issue thank goodness.  We do make certain the coats are fit nice and snug, but not too snug as we don't want to smash the fleece.

Susan with her lambs, looking elegant in her coat

I did something a little different this year as I had the time to roo a good number of ewes.  I started rooing before shearing and was nervous about putting a rooed ewe back in with the flock.  The reason for this is that the sheep don't recognize the shorn ewe as one of the flock.  They identify her as new, and she will get bullied a little bit, and I hate that.  Nature can be cruel sometimes.  Anyways, the way I got around this issue was I only rooed what was under the coat, and then put the coat back on over the rooed part!  This way she appeared from the outside to look and smell exactly the same, and it worked beautifully!  The coats came off the rooed ewes on shearing day, and the neck and britch I did after shearing at my leisure, and by then, they were outside much of the day, distracted by the sun and grass.  So that is another great benefit of the coats!

We never had an issue with felting or mold, I will say when we used to submit our fleeces in shows, ocasionally the judge (LK) would fault us for clumpy tips, as the normal tips on the shetland fleeces get kind of blunt under the coat.  

 I don't mind this, as I really think the best processing for a fine shetland fleece is combs or flicking, and it comes off the same either way.

I flick washed locks with my Majacraft Flick Carder to open up the tips - click this link for the Youtube Video of me flicking

That's pretty much the lowdown on our coats.  We put a lot of effort into a great product.  If you have sheep, and spin or sell wool, I strongly recommend you take the leap to coating your sheep.


Jen and Rich Johnson said...

I am posting this on behalf of English Sheep Gal as I deleted it accidentally while foolishly moderating comments on my phone with my big fat fingers!!!

Brilliant post, love it! Thanks for explaining the why, when, origins of the coats, and that coat size is adjusted with fleece growth, and of course you know I love the swish harmonies of the ladies moving round the barn. I bet you are so relieved to get this big project completed, I know it's been on your 'to do' list for a while. The 'wool wall' is looking spectacularly organized now that you've completed fleece sorting and coat sorting.
Send those ripped coats my way, I can zip them through my sewing machine in no time!

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

I was thinking of you while searching for the coat swishing ESG! Thanks for the offer of sewing, when we pull them out to install I will definately set them aside for you to mend for me, thanks!