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Grade Is Everything With Wool

With a little extra attention to detail to get the higher grades, wool can pay for the $3.50 to $4 cost of shearing a sheep, according to sheep producer Brian Greaves.

“Unfortunately, the price of wool has been down for a number of years and a lot of people have become discouraged,” said Greaves. “A lot of them throw it away.”

He showed a copy of his shipping receipt from Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers (CCWG) in Carleton Place, Ontario, in a presentation at the Manitoba Sheep Association AGM. It showed that his shipment of about 1,000 pounds of wool shorn from 150 Polypay-Corriedale-cross ewes paid an average price of $1 per pound, shipping included.

“I’m not making big money, but I’m more than covering my shearing costs,” he said.

The receipt from CCWG, which handles 95 per cent the wool produced in Canada, was signed by the wool grader, and showed which of the various grades his wool matched.

Starting with Merino wool at the top, it showed the pay scales, from $1.20 per pound for fine staple, $1 per pound for half staple, 90 cents for range three-eighths, all the way down to range clothing at 45 cents.

Wool is simply excess protein produced by the sheep, much like hooves, he said. Most of the wool is put on by the animal in summer when the grass is thickest, so the cost is minimal.

Breeding also has a lot to do with wool quality, he added, because the finer-fibre grades bring the highest prices.

Preparation at shearing time goes a long way. By pulling out as much “rubbish” from each fleece, the grader has fewer reasons to downgrade the wool.

Ewe lambs grow less wool than mature ewes, but on average, his sheep produce just over 10 pounds per head.

Sheep must be sheared at a minimum of once every three years, or the animals may be seized by animal welfare authorities, he added. At any rate, it is also much easier to judge body condition in sheep that are regularly shorn.

“By law, you’ve got to shear them anyway for health reasons, so you might as well do that little bit of extra.” [email protected]

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