Maximizing Wool Returns
Dave Rowe, Mid-States Wool Growers
With the increase in wool demand, the development of new markets, and the government LDP program, producers have been provided an opportunity to make the wool a profit center in their sheep enterprise. In order for producers to maximize this opportunity, they need to prepare for their wool crop throughout the year. This means proper management.
Management to many producers involves having the sheep dry and penned up when the shearer arrives. This is only the minimum level of management required to harvest their wool crop. Unfortunately, there are some producers who can' t reach even this threshold. The sheep are not penned up and many times they are wet when the shearer arrives.
Another form of management is at the other extreme. These producers plan daily to maximize their wool return. They shear their sheep and then place a cover over the animal to be worn for the next 12 months. They clip their pastures to prevent the covers from getting torn and thus contaminate their fleeces. They keep their feed at the sheep's feet in order to reduce feed contamination in the wool. Finally, the day of shearing is busy with activity. The sheep are penned; the shearing floor is clean and kept that way during the entire shearing process by sweeping the floor between sheep. The fleeces are placed on a skirting table and anything that is not 100% acceptable is pulled from the main fleece and bagged separately. The fleeces are stored in a clean, dry place until they are marketed. Marketing is planned by taking the fleeces to shows and fairs where spinners and producers can meet face to face.
The difference between these two management approaches can mean as much as 10 to 100 times more return. The sheep can be the same, but the management is the difference. Many times we hear producers say that they don't manage their wool because it isn't worth anything. Most producers can increase their wool check 100% if they would just get their wool out of the defect grade and into the clear-wool grade.
Defect wool may be due to high vegetable-matter content. This can be corrected by not feeding over the top of the sheep's back and neck or by mowing pasture fields to control burrs. Defect wool may be due to fiber strength. This is caused by stress sometime during the growth of the wool fiber. This may be due to poor nutrition, excessive worms creating an anemic situation, or fever at lambing. Defect wool may be due to short fiber length, off-color fibers or kempy fleeces. All of these defects can be corrected through management. Mother Nature will grow a strong, clean, usable wool fiber if the sheep are properly managed.
While most producers are not at either end of the above spectrum, most of us are somewhere in the middle. Many times there are management practices that do not require a lot of extra effort if we would just think about our goal of a good fleece throughout the year.
Following a few key management practices, producers can realize more return from their wool clip.
These points, while basic, will do more to improve the quality of a clip than anything else a producer can do. For further improvement, producer would need to look at the
genetic makeup of their sheep and determine if it is in their best interest to try and lower the fiber diameter.
The new plastic bags and pouches are the same size as the jute bags and poly packs that are currently being used. This decision was by design, so that producers would not need to go out and purchase new packaging equipment. The same wool bagger or hydraulic press which has been used for many years in barns throughout the Midwest will continue to be the equipment of choice for these new bags.
One caution: the new plastic film was developed to keep contamination of the wool to a minimum. It is not the same type of plastic found in plastic feed sacks. Plastic feed sacks are one of the biggest polypropylene contaminators found in the Midwest and east.
The 1999 wool season will be the transition year to get the new plastic film into the system and the old packaging material used up. All burlap bags and poly pouches need to be removed from the pipeline as soon as possible. After the 1999 wool season, all wool will need to be packaged in the plastic film.
According to Strode, the new bags have been tested for strength and durability and we believe that while testing under field conditions continues, the current bags we have will stand up under most shearing conditions.
For producers interested in securing the new plastic-film bags, they will be available through the Mid-States Livestock Supply Division in Ohio and Kansas.