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Fine Wool Clip Preparation
Meeting the needs of fine wool processors

By Robert Pattison, Extension Specialist, Meat & Wool Innovation, Dunedin

Wool preparation involves preparing a wool clip for sale and subsequent manufacture. Ideally, it should satisfy the needs of both, but unfortunately, the effort often falls short. You should aim all of your wool preparation at increasing the overall net value.

Key Points

  • Manage your flock to avoid fibre contamination, pen stain and cotting.
  • Pre-shearing crutching is important to reduce the amount of pen stain, which will significantly downgrade your wool.
  • Make sure your classer, shearers, shed hands or shearing contractor are clear on your clip preparation requirements.
  • Prepare the wool shed properly, preferably using Fernmark Quality Programme guidelines.
  • Keep the shearing board clean, and minimise second cuts and short wool removal.
  • Insist on minimum but consistent skirting levels.
  • Well thought out lines will accommodate virtually all fleeces from a flock.
  • Bales should be pressed to approximately 180 kg and capped off properly.
  • Send your wool broker clear and accurate specifications.

Priorities for good quality control

The costs of good wool preparation should not exceed the benefits. The objective should be to maximise the net return, while meeting the following aims:

  • Presenting wool in uniform lines suitable for trading and manufacture – uniform for diameter, length, colour and style.
  • Keep wool faults likely to affect processing to a minimum.

Sheep management

  • Keep sheep away from scrub and gorse (it will reduce vegetable matter contamination).
  • Avoid getting the wool clip covered in pen stain. Dag sheep at least one or two weeks before shearing. Stand sheep in a bare paddock 24 hours before shedding up.
  • Avoid “cotting” by shearing before December.
  • Avoid contaminating your wool clip by ensuring fences, yards and woolshed are cleared of synthetic twine and bags.

Crutching

Pre-shearing crutching is important to reduce the amount of pen stain, which will significantly downgrade your wool.

Ask shearers not to “fan crutch” Merinos. It is a costly and wasteful practice.

  • Wasteful because good clean fleece wool is shorn from the flanks and above the tail.
  • Costly because if the short clean wool is not adequately cleared away from the fleece when the sheep is shorn, the main fleece lines will be valued as having “mixed length” and could receive discounts anywhere from 50c to $1.00/kg (or $2.50 – $5.00 per sheep).

Crutching should be restricted to just:

  • Removing dags from under the tail and wool from down the inside of the hind legs for ewes, to avoid dags and urine stained wool.
  • For wethers, just clear enough wool to avoid dags around the tail, and clear the wool from around the pizzle to avoid contamination from urine stain.
  • An alternative would be to remove the belly at crutching time, and leave the belly on at shearing time.

Set out your quality control requirements.

Talk to your classer, shearers, shed hands or shearing contractor about your clip preparation requirements, such as:

  • Number of sheep to be shorn each day.
  • Number of shearers and shed hands.
  • The standard of work required.
  • The hours of work.
  • The penalties of being a shed hand short, or for poor shearing and woolhandling standards.
  • Arrangements for meals.
  • Any special requirements you may have for wool preparation, classing and packaging, which should be clearly stated and agreed before shearing starts.

For good quality work you need to set a good example

  • Have your woolshed clean and tidy (good lighting and equipment are essential). Being Fernmark accredited shows you are committed to quality assurance.
  • Being in the shed when the gang arrives to meet the people and to see the start of both shearing and woolhandling shows them you are interested.
  • Be very precise about what your requirements and expectations are. You set the standards, it is up to the gang to deliver what you want. If you have contract specifications to meet, make sure your classer knows the full specification requirements for micron, staple length and topmaking style. Displaying checklists of responsibilities for the shearers, the board tasks and the table tasks is a useful way of making sure everyone knows what you expect of them.

After all, your wool clip is the greatest part (possibly 75%) of your income.

On the shearing board

Establish quality control procedures by insisting that:

  • The board is kept clean and clear of short wool at all times
  • The crutch wool is swept clear from each sheep and any urine stain or dags are picked out. (Well presented sheep will have very little urine stain or dags).
  • Just the right amount of short wool is removed. Too much and good full length fleece wool will be down graded to second pieces and locks value. Too little and your main fleece lines will be mixed for staple length.
  • Very yellow fribs are removed from bellies. *
  • Wether bellies have pizzle stain removed. *
  • Topnots and eyewigs should be kept separate to ensure they do not get mixed through the second pieces and locks, or in with the necks. *
  • Fleeces are picked up and thrown on the wool table properly. Insist on having only one fleece on the table at a time. *
  • On good clean shearing, keeping second cuts to a minimum.

This will ensure the fleece wool is not contaminated with short sweat ends, broken pieces or short neck wool and second cuts.

Note: Shearers should be instructed to tell shed hands (or call "black wool") when they see sheep with spots of black fibre. All sheep with black spots should be identified and culled.

On the wool table

  • Insist on minimum, but consistent skirting levels.
  • Be specific about your requirements.
  • Every fleece should have the rump (hind legs and tail) checked for short fleece wool, stain or dag missed on the board.
  • Shake fleece to remove second cuts.
  • When handling fleeces of good colour remove only:
    • very dirty greasy pieces.
    • felted points from front legs.
    • very yellow fribby pieces.
    • cotted shoulders.
    • yellow flanks and backs.
    • nests of vegetable matter, thistle heads and moit (hay, leaves, twigs).
    • clumps of very heavy seed (burrs).
    • neck collars, only if they are very short, cotted or seedy.
    • patches of heavy shed stain.
    • raddle or tupping crayon.
  • Cotts should be thrown over the wool table and checked for dags and urine stains and heavily discoloured short fribby second pieces.

Classing Merino clips

Aims:

(1) To match fleeces of similar fineness, length, colour and fault into saleable lines.

(2) To present uniform lines of wool that:

  • meet the technical requirements of manufacturers.
  • buyers can trade with confidence.

Well thought out lines will accommodate virtually all fleeces from a flock. Some basic rules:

  • Set up the fewest lines possible, keeping clear distinctions for fineness, length and colour.
  • Avoid overclassing. Small lines create additional costs for reclassing, binning, interlotting and testing. One-bale lines can only be justified for wools 17 micron and finer.
  • Keep the number of reclass fleeces to a minimum. Reclass fleeces from a full wool flock should be restricted to off-types such as double fleeces, different breed type, cotted, doggy, dermatitis, bacterial stains, black fibre or second shear.
Diameter
  • Use the classing curve and work on the principle that most flocks will have a main line with a fine and strong edge to be classed out.
  • Remember the fleeces you are classing account for less than 20% of the total fibre diameter variability within the mob you are working with. (The other 80% is within fleeces.)
Length

Most wool clips have a variation in staple length between fleeces, and it may be necessary to remove a secondary line of shorter fleeces. As a guide the acceptable staple length variation within lines of Merino fleece wool is between 15mm to 25 mm.

  • For a Merino clip with a main line of 19 micron fleece with a 65 – 85 mm staple length, a short secondary line would be 50 – 65 mm.
  • For a Merino clip with a main line of 17 micron fleece with a 60 – 70mm staple length, a short secondary line would be 40 – 60mm. Remember, staple length variation between fleeces only accounts for 10% of total fibre length variability within the mob.
Colour

Where a wool clip contains yellow fleeces these should be classed out as “off-types”. Normally one line is acceptable, however where the wool clip is large enough, two lines (fine and medium) could be justified.

Following these guidelines, good quality clip preparation will produce sizeable uniform lines of wool suitable for trading and subsequent manufacture into products that will meet the challenges of consumer demands for style and product performance.

Most importantly, it will satisfy the requirements of our yarn and top making processors, weavers and garment manufacturers.

Pressing

  • Insist on bales being pressed to around 180 kg (remember they must not exceed 200 kg).
  • Plan pressing to avoid part bales.
  • Capping off the bale is important:
    • fasten inside flaps with 3 clips.
    • fasten outside flaps with 4 clips.
    • press your bales to correct length, i.e. 1.25 m.
    • overlap flaps by 50-100 mm.
    • there should not be any wool exposed from the corners or top of the bale.
    • all Merino wool must be packed in nylon packs.

Wool specification notes

Prepare clear and accurate specifications, they are your instructions to your woolbroker. They provide important details for the broker, including:

  • Farm brand.
  • Owners name and address.
  • The number of bales in each consignment.
  • The line descriptions.
  • Individual bale numbers for each line.
  • The number of bales in each line.
  • Your instructions as to how the wool is to be sold.
  • If shearing is completed, or if there is more wool to come.

Remember:

  • Send your specification notes with your wool.
  • Ask for full pre-sales measurements on all your wool, i.e. micron, yield and vegetable matter content, colour and additional measurements for staple length and strength on your main lines.

This objective information on your main lines will assist you in making future management decisions for feeding levels, animal health, planning shearing dates, and for setting clip preparation, classing and packaging procedures.

Finally, be in the woolshed regularly to see your instructions are being followed correctly.

Good preparation requires adequate labour. As a guide, one shed hand for approximately 200 sheep shorn per day. This depends on woolshed facilities, woolhandlers experience, ability and expertise. Good shed hands are an asset, poor ones are a liability. Farmers must be able to identify the good shearers and shed hands from the poor ones.

 

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