The Wool Passes the Test

A little while ago, I took fiber samples from each of my ewe lambs and the two ram lambs and sent them in for testing at Yocom-McColl Laboratories.  The results came in yesterday.

 Earl Scruggs from Rupperts Corriedales   19.5 microns  18.9CV  0.9% over 30 Microns

Valentine  25.0 microns   21.6CV 13.9% over 30 microns

Agnes  25.4 microns  22.1 CV 15.9 % over 30 microns

Ida 26.8 microns   18.7CV  22.3% over 30 microns

Esther  27.4 microns  18.9 CV     27.2% over 30 microns

Doc Watson  29.0  Microns  20.4 CV  36.0% over 30 microns

Minnie  30.9 microns   18.5CV   54.8 % over 30 microns

Okay, in English, please?

The wool test measured the diameters of a sample of fibers, measured in microns.  In general, finer wool diameters feel softer on the skin.  Anything over 30 microns imparts that prickly, itchy feeling.  Which is not to say that fibers over 30 microns are inherently bad, they just aren’t as nice to wear next to the skin and are more suitable for jackets and sweaters.   Among the lambs, Earl Scruggs is the clear micron winner – 19.5 microns is really, really soft and reflects his Merino background.  Among the lambs that I raised, Valentine has a soft, consistent fleece while Minnie’s micron count definitely tends towards the “Jackets and Rugs” end of the spectrum.

Not only does the testing indicate the average micron count of the fiber, it also indicates how variable the fiber is within the fleece.  A 30 micron fleece with fibers that range between 28 and 32 microns will make a better and more consistent product than one that ranges from 20 to 40 microns.   Interestingly, Ida and Esther, twin sisters, have less variability in their fleeces even though they are just a touch coarser than Agnes and Valentine.  I don’t yet know if it is easier to achieve fineness or consistency through breeding, though clearly Earl Scruggs offers both!

Finally, the testing company shows a percentage of fibers in the fleece that are over 30 microns.  If I were selling this fleece commercially, the percentage over 30 microns would likely determine if my wool becomes a jacket or long underwear.   I’d like to get all of those percentages down to less than 5%.  Valentine and Agnes are clearly leading the way to that goal.  Their fleeces are a little more variable in diameter than Ida and Esther, but they are far less likely to qualify as coarse.

Sheep and Pickle Farm 2013 lambs
Do I keep Ida, the round sheep in the foreground, or her pretty brown sister in the background?

These results leave me with some questions to ponder:

  • I kept Doc Watson because he appears to have good meat potential and decent fleece.  Very, very few rams have both good meat and good fleece, and Earl Scruggs is not going to improve meat growth in my flock.  It is normal for rams to be a little coarser than ewes, but will Doc’s coarser fleece character counteract fleece improvements made by Earl Scruggs?
  • I want to keep eight ewes going into the fall.  With Janet leaving and Martha joining, I should choose three ewe lambs out of the five above.  But which three?  Agnes and Valentine are shoo-ins – They have finer fleeces and I need Agnes to keep Janet’s genes in the flock.  Minnie will be culled for coarseness, but do I keep friendly, chubby, weird Ida or unusual and attractive black-brown but skittish Esther?

I’m pleased with how the young flock is shaping up fleece-wise and I’m excited to see what Earl’s lambs look like next spring!

Agnes and Martha will stick around.
Agnes and Martha will stick around.