My friend, Janet, asked me how long it takes to skirt a fleece (remove undesirable wool). I conservatively and ridiculously replied, "10 or 15 minutes, depending."
I skirted 3 fleeces yesterday, and each one took no less than a half hour, and these were clean fleeces! Sometimes it takes longer if there is considerable vm (vegetable matter-hay bits, leaves, burrs), or if I get interrupted by the cry of a new lamb who has lost her mom :-/
First, I lay out the fleece, cut-side down on the skirting table, neck to tail. This is Sherpa, one of my breeding rams.
I pull out sample locks of both the white and the color, lilac in this case, and photograph them to display character and staple length. Sherpa's white shows a tight crimp; his lilac is open and springy.
I make two trips around the edges of the fleece, pulling off unusable wool, like this britch wool (the coarse hair fiber from the tail end and lower thigh), wool with dung and any matted wool, from the sheep rubbing against fence posts or the shed wall.
Some of the britch wool is usable, especially for felting, but I also have to pick off second cuts, where the shearer had to go back and cut again, closer to the skin. Here is a second cut easy to spot, white on white.
The dark on white second cuts are easier to spot, and harder to remove. I make a round about the fleece, first shaking it to remove second cuts and loose vm, then two more rounds rolling back the fleece and picking out what I find.
Sherpa's fleece was pretty clean, not much vm, but I did need to shake and pick out some kemp (short, brittle, weak fibers) that had migrated into the best wool.
After skirting, I find a good cut-side area to photograph, showing off the color variation and character of the wool.
Then, I fold the sides into the center and roll the fleece from tail-end to neck-end for storage.
And back in the bag it goes! Bags are labeled with the sheep's name, and now I can mark this one "sk14"--skirted 2014. I will probably use Sherpa's fleece for my Shear Bliss products, but if I were going to sell this fleece I would next go weigh it so that I could determine selling price.
Seventeen more bags await me...
What an adventure raising sheep is! There's the joy of watching new lambs have their first venture outside.
Then, the anxious moments watching them encounter the rest of the flock, and trying to keep track of their moms. As shepherdess, I especially worried about Lindyhop, as a new mom, being able to keep Reggae and Disco with her.
Meanwhile, the older lambs (by a mere 3 days), Tucker and Twain are already kicked back with Tehya, like old hands at the sheep thing.
Shearing day is always a stressful day and a blur: the preparation of syringes (for vaccinations) and labeling of fleece bags, and listening to all the sheep hollering because I don't let them out and feed them that morning, and the rams bloodying each other in nervous anticipation, and the shearing seeming to take forever and then suddenly being done.
Yahtzee, the last in the ram group and last of the day to get shorn didn't fare so well. In trying to escape being caught and taken to the shearing tarp, somehow he broke his foot. This was a first for us. The vet came the next day, and under Valium Yahtzee got his foot repositioned and splinted. He's got his own suite in the lambing shed, which he didn't fully appreciate until Gene put up some extra two-by-fours to hold him in...
Gene and I got to monitor both Yahtzee and Chenoa this morning. Chenoa presented us with a hefty ram lamb, probably born about 2 a.m. When I came in from checking and feeding sheep this morning and told Gene we had another ram lamb, he said, "Pop the champagne cork!" in jest. But thus, Champagne earned his name. Nine pounds, two ounces!
What next? One more ewe left to lamb...