Posted on 1 Comment

Olivers hat: musings on paying a fair price for our habit

IMG_20151130_152001396

This is Olivers hat.  I made it as a thank you.  I hope he likes chartreuse.  Everything I do at the moment seems to have chartreuse in it.  I can’t help it.

Now I knew Oliver kept a couple of pigs on the village allotments but what I didn’t know was that he had also recently started to dabble with sheep (Norfolk Horn).  These are they:

IMG_20151110_140630827_HDR

 

I found this out when he sidled up to me at a concert in the village hall and said ‘ you spin don’t you?’  and offered me one of his fleeces.  For free.  Gratis.  Niet.  Well you can’t turn down a man that makes an offer like that!  A few days later a potato sack turned up by the back door stuffed with one of the nicest fleeces I have seen in a long time.  It was better than many that I have paid for.  I have this thing where I can’t take anything for nothing.  I have to gift something back.  Its good form and helps keep the karma going in the right direction. Hence the hat.  But it got me thinking.

sheepcupcakes

In the UK sheep are primarily raised for meat, wool is perceived as a by-product of limited value. Shearing is done for welfare, to avoid stress from overheating and from fly strike. Shearing sheep is a cost that erodes still further narrow profit margins. I don’t keep sheep, I don’t have anything to do with the raising of sheep, I don’t shear sheep.  I just want their fleece.

So I don’t really have any idea of how much it costs to shear a sheep.  A quick trawl through the internet didn’t give much information, which normally means the data either doesn’t exist or its held in some vault somewhere so someone can sell it or hide it.  Someone somewhere must keep statistics on this – if you know where or have them please let me know.  However, the little snippets I did pick up gave a range from £1 – £2.50 up to £4 for longwool breeds. Which must eat into profit margins (if any) possible from the revenue that can be generated from sale of the clip.  There are many anecdotal stories of it costing more to shear a sheep than the wool was worth.

But, thankfully, things are changing.  According to the British wool marketing boards average clip value statistics in 2015 the average clip value was £1.05 per kg. Which makes 2015 a very good year for wool prices. In 2015 wool was actually worth more than the cost to get it off the sheep. Yay!

British Clip price historic

The table shows the actual wool clip value (£/kg) from 2010 to 2015 (guide). In five years the value has fallen and remained low but showed signs of an upturn this year.  I also did a very quick and very dirty average fleece weight to see roughly how much value there was in a raw fleece for each of the main breeds shown (Note this is not a robust investigation so please interpret accordingly and use wisely). You don’t need a PhD to see sheep farmers can’t be in it for the veritable gold mine that is wool…

For small holders – the main resource for spinners who like the raw stuff – the costs may be even greater. They are typically not participants in the BWMB.  They generally have smaller flocks.  The costs of shearing will be higher.   Typically smaller flocks mean a greater outlay in terms of transport and overheads for the shearer or a slower rate of clipping for the smallholder which increase costs.  Indeed, many smallholders undertake the shearing themselves. Often this leaves the small holder with fleece that has ‘no value’ or rather no market.  It is not unusual for fleeces to be burnt or disposed of in some other way.  If they are fortunate they will know someone who knows someone who spins and they will give it away happy in the knowledge that it will go to good use.

So if you get offered fleece for free. Bear all this in mind. Gift something back. Whether it be a crisp £5, some of your time, a cake to go with the cup of tea you will inevitably be offered or a beautifully hand spun hat/scarf/teacosy/gloves/doily or whatever you have made from said fleece.  Answer this question: Do you work for free?  Why would you think that someone else would not deserve the same?

 

Posted on 5 Comments

Fermented Suint (FSM) update

Ok, blimey crickey it works.  It really works.

I left the fleece in for 8 days, until Wednesday, as it wasn’t smelling as much as I was expecting.  It looked vile, brown with a kind of white scum on top:

DSC04053

DSC04054and yes it smells.  But then again they have just finished spraying manure on the field out the back and we have a turkey unit down the road that stinks to high heaven on days when the wind is in the right direction, so  if it comes to playing top trumps on stinkiness FSM tank is a good third place but not a hands down winner.  I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a lot of neighbours though or limited outdoor space …

I gave the feece a couple of rinses in rain water (which gave me water full of yummy goodness for my vegetable patch).  Then I put some of it into a hand hot detergent soak for about half an hour and some of it I didn’t.  Then I rinsed both until the water ran clean.  And this is what I got:

DSC04055

Pretty clean eh.  The detergent soak was definitely cleaner and less greasy.  But I can say that I now fully understand what “in the grease” means.  Its clean but still has some lanolin, and has slightly sticky feel.  Nothing like as much as before.  I might try a slightly hotter detergent soak on smaller bits when I want to use it.  I’ve got one half of the second Massam in the tank.  Will see it it gets stronger as we go.  I also don’t think it really saves that much on rinsing water but definitely saves on washing and heating water.

Will definitely keep using it.

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

It’s scouring time again

Its that time of year again when the shearing is nearly over and the raw fleece is ready.  As I’ve started to make more batts to sell this year I’ve gone and got considerably more fleece to clean up and process.  Five so far (1 Romney, 2 Norfolk Horn and 2 Massams).  There will be more.  Terrifying amounts of energy, hot water and time and soap.  It took 2 whole days, a vast amount of very hot water (I borrowed an urn with a temperature gauge) and lots of washing powder to clean the best bits of 1 romney and the 2 Norfolk Horns.  Too much me thinks.  I had thought about sending them away for processing elsewhere but the cost was enormous and I would have been better buying in top and roving, which really defeats the object of what I’m trying to do. I read along while ago, when I first started out on this adventure, about the fermented suint method of ye olden days.  Basically the method is bung raw fleeces in a vat of rain water and leave them to stew in their own juices for a bit of time.  I have never been brave enough to do this.  But this year it seems the most logical way.  Really low water consumption and nearly zero energy.  A warm wash will probably still be required- I don’t think greasy batts will go down well (do you?  opinions on this welcome).  A quick trawl through the internet and I found this great tutorial on the Fermented suint method (thank you kindly to Moz for this). Ravelry also has a fantastically huge resource on the FSM method in the Fiber Preperation forum.

As luck would have it we pulled out the water header tank from the loft when we moved in and I’ve kept it around because ” it looks so useful”.  And its perfect, with a lid and everything!  We have had a lot of rain in the past couple of days so filling it from the water butts was also easy.  Great upper body work out hauling the water too and fro.  I put it up by the chickens and the compost heap, just in case the smell is really that robust. DSC04049 DSC04051 I’ve started my vat with some really scuzzy ver ver greasy norfolk horn and Romney scrag ends (stuff that I was not going to waste my time washing hot) to get it going and popped the Massam on top.  Only the weather is great for April – shame its June.  And June is definitely not flaming this year.  Fingers crossed the sun will come out and heat it up for me.  I’m hoping for a seriously stinking culture by Sunday. Let you know how it goes.  At the very worst I will have some great fertiliser for the veggies.