News Letter: Fall, 1998

Getting Ready for Winter...

"How we spent our Summer vacation" or ...

Wool Show Lessons:

What's the point of having a Wool Show after all? Ideally what is supposed to happen, is, the wool producer gets an unbiased, competent person to look at their end product and make suggestions about what might be an improvement. "Barn blindness"... (you know, we all love everything that is in our barn and don't really see with clear eyes) is hard to deal with. We all do need other input about our wool production and the way our genetics are headed.

Here is Mike Hayes judging the Boulder County Wool Show. This year, there were 42 fleeces entered: 21 coloured and 21 white. First, he looks at all of the fleeces in the class, and pulls out locks from each fleece.

He looks carefully at the locks, checking for evenness of crimp, staple length, dirt penetration (yield), and possible tenderness or break.

By lifting the fleece he gets an idea of the yield. If the fleece feels light and fluffy for its size, the judge will conclude it is a "high" yielding fleece. That is because it has less dirt and lanolin, and will produce more pounds of clean wool when washed.

But let's have a look at a typical show season of three different shows, with three different judges. At the first show, we showed 16 fleeces. That judge mostly did NOT like our fleeces. Take Alice as an example. Dear old tubby Alice has a Low 1/4 Blood fleece with pretty nice crimp, some luster, pretty even in grade, nice staple length and good enough handle for a coarse fleece (that's what I always sort of thought) He put Alice 6th place in a class of 6 and said her fleece was harsh in handle.

 Champion Alice

The next judge (Mike Hayes) said great things about Alice, and liked her handle well enough to make her 1st in a class of 6, and then Champion Coloured Fleece for the whole show. In the third show, Alice placed second.

Well...what sort of lesson can that be? I think you have to take a broader view, sort of sift through the comments and discussions about all of the fleeces, not just your own. I think the ONLY lesson CAN be: wool judging is not scientific, and IS rather subjective after all. When you buy a fleece, buy the one that you like, not the one with a ribbon.

At all of the shows there has been a good deal of discussion about Commercial versus Hand Spinning Shows. What is a commercial flock anyway? The consensus was that a commercial flock is thousands of sheep out there on thousands of acres, without much care, no barns, and no grain, and the guy in charge is making some sort of a living doing this. (They threw in that making a living part knowing that nobody in this country is really making MUCH of a living off of their sheep.) None of us at these shows are really commercial operators. We are all "farm flock" guys: probably less than 150 sheep, we feed hay and grain at least part of the year (that we had to purchase) and keep them up in pens, small pastures, and cover at least some with coats to keep the wool clean.

So, we really don't need to even have Commercial Wool Classes anymore do we? Ok, we will only have white hand spinning wool and coloured wool classes. Then there is the issue of tied fleeces versus untied (just loose in a bag) fleeces. See, THEY aren't going to make paper ties anymore, so we are going to have to go to showing our wool loose in bags. It was hard for the judges this year as we make this transition. Some of the fleeces were tied and some were loose. The tied fleeces "show" better in the sense that the fleece does not loose its lock formation and all of the "cut" side is facing out. When the wool is in a bag, loose, it sort of gets jumbled up and the locks fall apart and the best side of the fleece is not always up and you can't really see all sides of the fleece. You could dump it all out, but no judge is going to that, as that would really tear it up and make a mess of it. So... something new and challenging in the world of wool shows: the untied fleece and how to look at it.

There were some interesting discussions about nutrition and the effects on wool production. We all agreed that as our sheep get older their fleeces just do get shorter in staple, less dense, and usually go lighter in colour, inspite of our best efforts to feed them better, even by supplementing just "the old gals". Then, there are those shepherds out there that play that "lets see how fine we can get the fleece by under feeding, without causing a break in the lock".

Well, the net results of the wool shows went like this for us:

Wool Show







Estes Park Wool Festival: 4 Entries1 1 2
Platte River Livestock Show: 16 Entries5 523 1
Boulder County Fair: 13 Entries
(also Champion & Reserve Champion White Fleece & Champion Coloured Fleece)
9 3 1
Colorado State Fair: 11 Entries
(also Champion & Reserve Champion Coloured Ram Fleece, Reserve Champion Coloured Ewe & Reserve Champion White Ram Fleece)
8 1 2

Speaking of really old sheep... we lost old Nimbus this Fall. Here he is this last Spring, with Candy, and elk in the back ground. He was near 13 years old, (our first ever lamb), and had severe arthritis. We think that's what got him in the end: the arthritis. He lost the use of his back legs and there was no fixing him anymore. He was a dear old friend in the barn and I miss him.

The lambs have mostly gone on to market. We did keep back Harold, Kermit, Imagene, Roo, Polly, Flower, Effie, and Beanie. They are nearly as big as their moms... not really lambs anymore. Technically, they will be lambs until they are 1 year old, and in reality will not be through growing until they are 2 and sometimes 3 years old. When the evenings cool down, even the oldest can be seen running and leaping just as if they remember being lambs.

Fall is also the time the boys look forward to. They will have their "harems" sometime in the first part of October. Then it will really feel like Fall is here. Even now, the leaves are turning and high up in the meadows the elk are whistling.

As always, we hope this Fall is a good season for all of you as well...

Gleason's Fine Woolies

[an error occurred while processing this directive]