Sheep producers can add 10 cents a pound to their wool check by cleaning fleece |

Sheep producers can add 10 cents a pound to their wool check by cleaning fleece

Most producers shear before lambing to prevent lambs from sucking on stray tags.
Photo by Teresa Clark |

Spending 30 seconds cleaning up a fleece after shearing can add 10 cents a pound. If a fleece averages 12-13 pounds, a producer can add $1.30 to his pocket in just 30 seconds. However, 95 percent of U.S. producers will just take what they can get.

Cody Chambliss, who runs a 600-head Merino ewe operation near Gerdes, S.D., told producers during the Nebraska Sheep and Goat Tour near Ravenna, that spending that extra time is well worth it. “If I didn’t take that extra time on my Merino fleeces, I would lose 50-55 cents a pound, which would be at least $15 a fleece.” Merinos are one of the finest wool breeds of sheep in the world, and their wool is considered quite valuable.

Depending upon the market, Chambliss sees producers gaining 15-20 cents a pound just by handling the wool properly. “Wool is paid by yield, cleanliness, length and micron,” he said. “My goal is to change peoples’ perception that their wool is worth nothing. Many people don’t do a good job preparing their wool because there isn’t a buyer or market in some areas,” he said.

Chambliss said while the Merinos will consistently return $30 a head for wool each year, coarser wools can still return $8-$10 a head after shearing costs are taken out. “When a sheep hits the shearing floor, the first thing a producer should do is throw a tarp down or some plywood,” he said. “Don’t use a blue poly tarp or a brown tarp, because poly will contaminate the wool,” he said. “I use an old tarp off a grain semi. A concrete floor works well, too, but make sure and sweep it off before they start shearing.”

Poly and twine cannot be sorted from wool, Chambliss said. “I once saw a Pendleton blanket on a shelf for $800, and it had a line of poly right through the middle of it. That makes a $800 blanket worth $10,” he said.

Hair is the biggest contaminant in wool, and it can be hard to separate. It comes from the shearer cleaning up feet and legs and around the butt, Chambliss said. “The dirtiest part of the fleece is the belly. That needs to be separated from the rest of the fleece. The easiest way is to ask the shearer to take the belly wool off and throw it into a side sack.”

Other areas that should be separated is wool around the butt, because balls of feces and urine stain the wool. Hay and dirt get wedged in the neck area right above the shoulder blade up to the top of the neck. “By removing the neck wool, you can increase the yield on the rest of the wool because you’ve removed the vegetable matter,” he said. Straw also needs to be removed from the fleece.

“You can basically add 10 cents a pound to each fleece by removing vegetable matter, belly wool, tags, urine pieces, hair, wool on the lower legs, face and cheek wool and armpit wool, which is full of lanolin. Also remove any cockle burrs or sand burrs from the fleece. Basically, remove any pieces that don’t fit,” he said.


During the tour, Neal Amsberry, who manages a sheep and goat operation near Lexington, discusses the importance of managing goats and sheep for parasites. Parasites can be devastating, so identifying infected animals immediately is important, he said. With spring approaching, new grass is growing, and parasites are coming out of hibernation. If the grass they plan to graze is tall, Amsberry says producers should delay grazing goats and sheep until late morning after the dew dries. Parasites tend to congregate in the dew at the end of the stem, and will be consumed by the livestock when they eat the grass. “If the grass is short, worms usually aren’t a problem,” he said. “The sunlight and heat will help control the parasite population.”

“Anytime you see a wormy goat, you should cull it,” he said. After battling parasites in his goat herd for a few years, Amsberry purchased a microscope and centrifuge, and started analyzing fecal samples himself. What he found was surprising. “Five percent of my goats were carrying 99 percent of the worm eggs,” he said. “Once I culled those 5 percent, which were does, worm issues became non-existent.

Like most producers, Amsberry thought goats needed continuous worming. “I would tell producers to just worm the animals that need it to prevent resistant worms from developing,” Amsberry said. “Anything that needs to be wormed more than twice a year needs to be culled,” he said. “It is an inherited trait. If a doe does well as far as parasites are concerned, her offspring will also do well.”

Producers can tell if their goats and sheep need worming by pulling down the eyelid and looking at the color of the skin underneath. Pink is good, but if the skin is more white in color, the animal needs to be wormed, Amsberry said.

Randy Saner, an extension specialist in North Platte, tells producers there are some good products on the market to control parasites, but using them over and over again, or too frequently, can cause goats and sheep to build up a resistance to the insecticide. “If that happens, you may need to switch to a different class of insecticide,” he said.

“Also, it is important to use the right dosage. Under-dosing can also cause resistant worms to develop,” Amsberry said.

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at

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