Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jacketing Sheep

Readers may have noticed that my sheep wear coats. People have asked me if they are wearing coats to keep warm. Not a ridiculous question if you know nothing about wool and spinning. A sheep's fleece is more than adequate to keep the animal warm. The coat is to keep the bits of hay and grain (called vegetable matter in spinner lingo), out of the fleece. If you have ever spun a dirty fleece, followed by a nice, clean jacketed sheep fleece, you'll never go back. Some farmers are able to keep their fleeces clean through management practices but try as I might I cannot seem to manage that. One sheep always has to yank a hunk of hay or a mouthful of grain and chew it over her buddies back. Then all the chaff drops off into the depths of the fleece. It's not fun to pick this stuff out of a fleece. Logistically, coating sheep is a challenge. As the fleece or the sheep grow, the jackets have to be changed to a larger size and jackets are not cheap! One way that we extend the life of a jacket cycle is to make a larger jacket smaller by tying the back up with some twine, thus tightening the fit a little. This can give us an extra month or more of use between jacket changes. We use baling twine and my husband always has his safety utility knife on hand to cut it once tied. This process is a two man operation, one holding the sheep, the other tying the jacket. We generally do this after the sheep have come for their grain so that they are distracted. Is the extra expense and labor worth it, people have asked? Absolutely, because the fleece is so pristine come shearing time that very little skirting (removal of dirty areas) is necessary. Spinning is a breeze!

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