Five Producer Tips for Selling Wool
Wool is incredibly useful in a variety of ways but that usefulness starts with the producer. If we want to better our profitability in wool we have to believe wool is a product that is worth selling. If we believe wool is a product worth selling then we’ll start to care about how we produce it. Here are five tips to help get started.
By Arlette Seib of Dogtale Ranch
Know what type of wool
For typical white wool the basic classes of wool are coarse, medium and fine. Outside of the typical white wool there is coloured wool, long wool and specialty wool.
If you are unsure of whether your wool is coarse, medium or fine a quick search into the breed of sheep you are raising will give you a starting point.
One great source for this is the small handbook titled The Field Guide to Fleece by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. This little book will also net you some ideas about what your type of wool is best suited for.
Be ready to share how you raise
A few key pieces of information about how you raise your sheep will be helpful to those looking to buy your wool.
How animals are raised is becoming of greater and greater importance to shoppers, and when it comes to wool how you rear your sheep gives clues to the purchaser of your wool. For example, the fleece from sheep who feed at above ground feeders will contain significantly higher vegetable matter, meaning less volume of useful wool at the end of processing, and more processing steps to get it clean. This isn’t so much about right or wrong methods of operation but more about being honest and up front and pricing accordingly. A sure fire way to lose a potential customer, plus all their friends, is to send them filthy wool they paid top dollar for. Fibre artisans love to share where they get quality, clean, ethically grown wool and they’ll just as readily share when they come across wool that isn’t so.
Learn how to skirt a fleece
Skirting is not hard to do and once done a few times it is an efficient way to assess and tidy up a fleece. Bear in mind that skirting fleeces for private sale is more involved and thorough and can be done after shearing when time allows. The CCWG offers a video of basic skirting and demonstrations are often given at sheep shows. Or reach out to your provincial fibreshed and inquire about a workshop. Which ever avenue you take to sell your wool skirting is the one practice you can do on your farm to leverage a better quality clip. It’s a basic step of wool prep and one that delivers a message that says you’ve taken the initiative to have a look at the wool your sheep produce.
Wash a Fleece
Did you know that Canadian wool has a reputation of being heavily contaminated and dirty? If you are serious about selling wool then take the time to wash a fleece from one of your sheep. You’ll discover what fibre artisans and wool mills are up against and you’ll become a proponent of growing clean wool and skirting fleeces.
Consider Value Adding
Deciding what product to turn your wool into can be daunting if you’re new to selling wool. This is where knowing a little background about the wool your sheep produce will help you out. Different wool types will suit different uses but there is nearly always some overlap and fibre artisans are a creative bunch. And outside of fibre artisans is a whole world of industrial uses for wool. Your wool will have a best use, however, don’t get hemmed into thinking your wool has only one use. You can take wool all the way to yarn or you can stop after scouring and turn scoured wool into another product entirely.
When you approach a mill be prepared for a little leg work beyond what is needed for dropping it off at a collection depot for sale through the cooperative. First check with the mill if they can handle your volume of wool. Mills in Canada are busy and the majority are cottage size operations and cannot handle large volumes from a single producer. Larger volumes need to go to a commercial facility and there are only a handful of those in the country. Plan for lag time. Most mills operate at a four - five month turn around time.
If your fleeces are properly skirted it will prevent extra charges incurred if the mill has to handle particularly dirty fleeces. Have your wool bagged and labeled; check with the mill for their label instructions but typically includes bag number and lot number along with name and instructions and contact info on each parcel. Clear labeling will ensure you get your own wool back.