New coats for Christmas!

Brianna in front models her protective coat

Today I thought, “Hey, what a beautiful day, lets go wrassle some sheep!”   Well actually, Dave didn’t have to work and it wasn’t pouring rain, so it was time to change some of the sheeps’ coats.  Snowing and 21° just adds to the fun!

Evie models her pretty watermelon pattern

A common question surfaces when people see a flock of covered sheep, “Why are those sheep wearing coats?” They are amazed that the wool isn’t enough to keep them warm!

Evie gets a new coat

Sheep covers do not keep sheep any warmer in the winter, or make them any hotter in the summer. They essentially are a barrier protecting the wool from the elements, dirt, poop and hay. Clean wool sells for a significantly higher price to the hand-spinning market.

Dave peels off the too-tight coat. Compare her white back to her filthy legs.

Sheep will go through a number of covers through the year. As their wool grows back from shearing they will need a larger size several times. An adult sheep will need at least three size changes through the year. Lambs will need more than that as they grow.

Taking a quick opportunity to see how the fleece is growing

Something you will notice about the covers on our sheep are the funny patterned shapes, mostly on their backs.  This is simply a way for us to know at a glance what size they are wearing and what the next size they need next.

For other sheep producers– here is a review of my favorite brand of cover.

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8 Responses to New coats for Christmas!

  1. Glory Lennon says:

    Okay here’s a stupid question. Can’t you just give the sheep a bath? Or will the wool actually shrink? I mean cows are out there in all sorts of weather but leather shouldn’t get wet. Is it the same with sheep…sort of? Hope you understand what I mean. Told you it was a stupid question!

    • Julie Helms says:

      Hey, Glory, totally reasonable question! In order to competitively show wool it cannot be washed. Because of the lanolin content the judges can tell whether or not it has been washed. Also many handspinners prefer to spin it “in the grease”– I think that is because it handles differently with the lanolin. As soon as it is washed that lanolin is greatly reduced.
      Second problem is for sheep producers who use hay for winter feeding. Bits of hay get into the wool and CANNOT be washed out–they must be picked out by hand, a real pain.
      My wool that has been covered I am able to sell for 3x the price of the uncovered.

      As to whether the wool shrinks on the sheep– No, they are wash and wear! I *think* people who show the whole sheep are constantly washing and trimming their wool, but that isn’t my thing so I’m not sure.

  2. Lady Samantha says:

    Those sheep are so cute!!!!!!!

  3. Glory Lennon says:

    The answer is in the lanolin! Of course! makes perfect sense. You are a wealth of knowledge, Julie. Thanks so much.

  4. Laura says:

    As a handspinner, I would like to speak to the idea of washing the wool – maybe more than you want to know…

    First of all, the uncovered wool isn’t just dirty, like too dusty or something – it has all kinds of crud stuck in it that doesn’t wash out – vegetable matter, burrs, insect parts, things you don’t want to know what they are, whatever – it’s downright yucky and does not simply wash out. You wash dirty wool and now you have cleaner dirty wool (sometimes sticky) with clean hay/weeds and clean burrs and clean insect parts still stuck in there. You have to spend hours and hours trying to pick the stuff out. (And this is an outdoor job – it’s incredibly messy!) In addition, now you have lost the lock structure of the wool and have to card or comb it to prepare it to spin. Most of the people that professionally clean wool for you will add mineral oil to replace the lovely lanolin but it never has the same rich feeling. By the way, having it done for you adds $7-9 per pound (for medium, fine wool is more $$) plus shipping the heavy fleece to and from the company. That’s why a shepherd can charge more for a covered fleece – say a ten pound fleece costs $80-95 more to be cleaned and prepared so you can see that covered one is very much more valuable to the spinner.

    Spinning clean wool “in the grease” (the natural lanolin), that is heaven. You just pick up a lock of wool and start spinning – the natural lanolin lets the fiber slip easily and smoothly between your fingers and make luscious wool. At the same time, you are getting lanolin worked into your hands so they become very soft too (a nice side effect). Once you knit up wool that has not been washed, it is waterproof. It will shed water. The best fishermen sweaters/hats are made of unwashed wool.
    Generally though, I wash the wool as soon as it’s been spun into yarn unless it is destined for someone who will appreciate the lanolin factor.

    You need to wash wool in hot, yes hot, water to get it clean which is what wipes the lanolin completely out. It isn’t heat that makes wool shrink but friction. Don’t rub it when it’s hot or wet or you’ll be learning how to make felt! Washing in cool water allows the lanolin to have some staying power.

    By the way, NEVER wash wool in Woolite soap – it is alkaline and wool loves acid. I use soap if I can, detergent if I must, and add vinegar to the water. Now, even covered clean fleece will get sticky as the lanolin ages, and then it has to be washed. Time is not the friend of an unwashed fleece. It first gets sticky then hard, and pretty soon it has to be washed or tossed, but it’s never as good as a fresh fleece. Dishwashing detergent (it’s made to cut grease!) in hot water is the best for getting aged lanolin out.

    Bet you wanted to know all that, right? Sorry, I did leave out a lot though…

  5. Glory Lennon says:

    It’s fascinating actually! Thanks so much. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at spinning and all that lanolin couldn’t hurt this gardener’s hands!

  6. Stan says:

    WOW Laura, that is an impressive bit of knowledge.

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