Romney ewes at the feeder
Coarse wool ewes

Counting sheep
Medium wool ewes  

Rambouillet rams 
Fine wool rams

Fleece
Fleece

Teaching wool grading
Learning to grade wool

Unloading wool
Unloading wool at the wool pool

Wool purchased
Wool at mill

Wool yarn
Wool yarn

Wool garments
Wool garments

 



    Real men wear wool

    One sheep
    Approximately 90 percent of the world's sheep produce wool. One sheep produces anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds of wool annually. The wool from one sheep is called a fleece, from many sheep, a clip. The amount of wool that a sheep produces depends upon its breed, genetics, nutrition, and shearing interval. Lambs produce less wool than mature animals. Due to their larger size, rams usually produce more wool than ewes of the same breed or type.

    Long wool sheep
    Long wool sheep usually produce the heaviest fleeces because their fibers, though coarser, grow the longest. Hand spinners tend to prefer wool from the long wool breeds because it is easier to spin.

    Some sheep produce very coarse fibers. This type of wool is called carpet wool, and as the name suggests is used to make carpets and tapestries. According to the International Wool Textile Organization (I.W.T.O.), 41 percent of world wool production is classified as coarse wools.

    Medium wool sheep
    Medium wool sheep, raised more for meat than fiber, produce the lightest weight, least valuable fleeces. Medium wool is usually made into blankets, sweaters, or socks or it is felted. According to the I.W.T.O., 22 percent of world wool production is classified as medium wools.

    Fine wool sheep
    Fine wool sheep produce fleeces which usually have the greatest value due to their smaller fiber diameter and versatility of use. Garments made from fine wool are less likely to itch. According to the I.W.T.O., 37 percent of world wool production is classified as fine wools.

    Hair sheep
    Hair sheep shed their coats and produce no usable fibers. The "fleeces" from hair sheep and hair x wool crosses should be discarded. Their inclusion in a wool clip can contaminate the entire clip. Even raising wool sheep along side hair sheep or other shedding animals could affect fleece quality of the wooled sheep. Hair will not accept dye.

    Variation in wool production from select American breeds
      Breed
    Fiber diameter
    Fleece weight
      Columbia
    23-29 μ
    12-16 lbs.
      Icelandic
    19-22, 27-30 μ
    4-5 lbs.
      Katahdin
    NA (hair)
    none
      Lincoln
    34-41 μ
    12-16 lbs.
      Polypay
    24-31 μ
    7-10 lbs.
      Rambouillet
    19-24 μ
    10-15 lbs.
      Romney
    32-39 μ
    10-18 lbs.
      Sheltland
    19-29 μ
    2-4 lbs.
      Southdown
    24-29 μ
    5-8 lbs.
      Suffolk
    26-33 μ
    4-8 lbs.
      Targhee
    21-25 μ
    10-14 lbs.
      U.S. Average
    7.3 lbs.
      Source: ASI Directory of Breeds     μ = micron

    Value of wool
    The value of wool is based on its suitability for specific end uses, as well as the fundamentals of the world wool market. Raw wool is usually purchased on the basis of grade. Grade denotes the average fiber diameter and length of individual fibers. The grade (or price) is reduced if the wool is dirty and contains a lot of vegetable matter or other contaminants.

    Color
    In the commercial market, white wool is more valuable than colored wool because it can be dyed any color. Even the wool from sheep with white faces is more valuable than the wool from sheep with dark or moddled faces because the fleeces from non-white face sheep may contain colored wool or hairs which cannot be dyed. In contrast, naturally colored wools are often favored in the niche markets.


    Wool marketing
    In the United States, large producers of wool usually sell their wool to warehouses or directly to wool mills. Sometimes, the wool is sold on a clean (scoured) basis with the lower quality belly removed from the clip. Small producers often sell their wool (raw) through wool pools.

    A wool pool is a collection point for wool from many producers. At the pool, wool is sorted and packaged into different lots. The entire pool is sold to one mill, often via silent bid. Some producers sell their wool to hand spinners or have it made into yarn or blankets. When prices are low, some producers throw their wool away or give it to their shearer.


    In the United States
    In 2011, the average price paid for wool sold in the United States was a record high $1.67 per pound for a total value of $48.9 million. 29.3 million pounds of wool was harvested from 4.03 million head of sheep and lambs in 2011. The average fleece weight in 2010 and 2011 was 7.3 pounds (3.32 kg). In contrast, the average fleece weight for sheep in Australia is almost 10 lbs. (4.5 kg).

    Sheep producers can get more money for their wool if they direct market it to hand spinners or add value to it. In niche markets, there is no upper limit as to what wool can sell for.


    Globally
    Wool is a freely-traded international commodity, subject to global supply and demand. While wool represents only 3% of world fiber production, it is important to the economy and way of life in many countries. Though China is the largest producer of wool, Australia dominates the world wool market. China is the largest wool buyer. The United States accounts for less than 1 percent of the world's wool production and is a net importer of wool. In the U.S., the top states for wool production are Texas, California, and Wyoming.


    World Production of Wool, 2010 - Top 10 countries

     Country
    Metric tons
     China
    386,768
     Australia
    382,300
     New Zealand
    165,800
     United Kingdom
    67,000
     Iran
    67,000
     Morocco
    55,300
     Sudan
    55,000
     Argentina
    54,000
     Russian Federation
    53,280
     India
    43,000
     World total (2009)
    2,044,270
     Source: FAO STAT - United Nations (2012)


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Last updated 19-Jun-2012
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