Thoughts on storing, washing, and carding
Did you, like me, think it would be a great idea to buy a sheep or two with absolutely no experience in raising them? Have you found yourself returning from a fair or fiber show with a bag of raw wool and are wondering, "What now?"
Fear not! We hope this section, beginning with the information below, will help you dive into the wonders of wool and love it as much as we do!
Clean Sheep = Clean Fiber
If you own sheep and are hoping the share their wool in one way or another, you want to think about where that wool will eventually end up. Imagine it after it is washed, carded, and knit into a beautiful sweater or baby blanket.
Keeping sheep clean can be a challenge. I know that first hand. But there are simple things to do that can maximize wool quality while it's still walking around in the field. Two things in particular that are especially important in keeping wool clean on the sheep are bedding and pastures.
For bedding, stay away from grass clippings, hay, wood chips, or any other small pieces that get caught up in the wool. Every single tiny speck of grass has to be picked from the fleece before and/or after washing. Often entire swaths of gorgeous fiber have to end up in the trash heap due to all the grass or other vegetable matter (VM) in it. After all, can you imagine wearing a sweater that looked like you'd just rolled down a grassy slope in?
The bedding for my sheep is straw. I try to clean the barn once a week (I only have six sheep so this is easy for me; it takes about an hour). I haul out all of the straw, sweep it out, sprinkle a thin layer of pulverized lime to absorb any urine and neutralize odors, and break apart a few bales of straw and spread it around. While this can end up being pricey, the end result is worth it to me. When I wash my sheep's wool, it barely needs a second washing. And the only things I'm picking out are larger seed heads and larger pieces of straw - quick, clean work.
Some people add layers of bedding on top of the old bedding each week or so in the winter. I tried this one winter and I won't do it again. The work to clean the barn in the spring was a nightmare. More importantly, I think it compromised the health of my sheep. They were considerably more dirty - filthy, I'd say - and washing their wool was a nightmare, too. Clean barn = clean sheep = clean wool = better product (and less work!).
There is a wealth of knowledge available on line and at your local university on good pasturing. The main point I'll make here which is related to wool care is get rid of burdocks! These can ruin a gorgeous, valuable fleece. A burdock stuck in wool isn't easy to extract. You either have to spend a ridiculous amount of time freeing it or throw away the large clump of fleece attached to it.
If you have other tips or advice for bedding, pastures, and care of wool while still on the sheep, let us know!