The facts m'am just the facts... (as it pertains to our Merinos)
1. It takes one year for a sheep to grow a fleece. An average weight before skirting for a ewe's fleece would be from 6 to 9 pounds, a ram's 10 to 15 pounds
2. A shearer comes to your farm, to "shear the sheep" or remove the wool. Depending on the number of sheep, it can range from 2 -3 hours to a 6 hour day. and requires the help of many people. Its a "full service salon" including stations for pedicures (hoof trimming) and detox (deworming). The sheep have to be caught, their coats removed , the tossed parts (top knot, belly wool) picked up, the clean wool whisked away and labeled, the floor swept, and the "naked" one let outside.
Now, the shearer charges for each animal shorn; one price for ewes, another for the rams. ( horns) ($) Merinos have neck folds, unlike other breeds, which makes the task trickier. Prices have also increased because of the distance traveled and increased fuel costs. ($)
3. Now your piles of fleeces, need to be "skirted". You place the outstretched wool on a screened table. You begin to walk around the fleece pulling off the outer 2-4 inches. You are removing dung tags, leg wool and stained wool. You can also remove the heavy areas of vegetable matter around the head and/or back. Now you fold in the sides to the center and roll it up from tail to head. Done. Repeat with next fleece.
4. If you have more than 10 animals you will probably send it to a mill to have it "processed". You bundle up the rolls, pack in boxes and ship it out. ($) Because Merino is a fine wool and has a higher grease content, it cannot be sent just anywhere. Some mills only work with wool that has a longer fiber. The crimp on Merino tends to be tighter and the lock length usually only 2 t0 3 1/2 inches max. There are fewer mills today and some either don't have the necessary machinery, or prefer not to process it.
5. At the mill there is a minimum amount of pounds that will be accepted or additional charges are added. ($) It will be washed, two or more times for Merino ($$) (you lose up to 1/2 the raw weight on this breed) , picked ($) carded ($) combed (for finer wool to prevent pilling) ($)and then spun.($) There is a set up charge for the spinning equipment. ($) If you want more than 1 ply wool, there is a charge for each additional ply ($). If you want the yarns made into skeins instead of put on cones, there is another fee. ($) Then it is shipped back to you. ($)
6. Also, did you know that most farmers need to have jobs outside the farm to keep things going? We do not include in the cost of the yarn (or other products), the daily raising of the animal itself. This would be breeding stock($), feed: grass, hay or grain- ($) the health of the animal- (vaccinations, worming, foot care, etc) ($) and sheep coats to keep the fleeces cleaner (several for each animal) ($$). The cost of fiber shows and transportation and advertising (like this website) ($)
But it is all worth it! We count ourselves fortunate to be able to live in the country on God's beautiful land. To be able to work with our hands and our hearts and raise some of His beautiful gentle creatures is special indeed.