Sheep Farmer Article April and May 2016 - Maximising Wool Value

The British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) has spent 65 years securing wool producers the best trade for their fleeces.  Whilst marketing quality British wool is its core role, it also works closely with producers to help them maximise returns.

Producers can rely on the BWMB to obtain best value, however they themselves must also do their bit to produce a high quality, saleable product.  The two key areas which make a difference, and significantly improve clip quality are good preparation and good presentation.

Wool preparation starts with the shearing.  Ensuring sheep are shorn efficiently is essential for both flock management and to generate the best returns at farm level.  Once learned, shearing is a skill for life, and is currently enjoying a revival amongst the younger generation.  Approximately 1,000 people attend BWMB shearing courses each year, either to learn afresh or to brush up and perfect their shearing skills.

These courses are run by instructors with 20-25 years’ experience, who advise on techniques which boost the value of the fleece.  Colin MacGregor, the BWMB’s Shearing Manager, gives some further background:

“It is essential to shear the sheep cleanly and on the skin. Cutting the wool staple only once gives the maximum staple length and therefore potentially more uses, increasing the value. Our courses give individuals the proper techniques that, with practice, will ensure they shear cleanly, and present their wool in the best form to maximise revenue.”

For the 2016 season, BWMB shearing training courses will run from May to the end of July, and bookings are already coming in.

Each year, numerous shearing competitions are held throughout the UK. Colin believes these events take shearing to the next level and are the pinnacle of the industry.

“These competitions are hugely popular with the public, and are very good PR for the industry.  They also provide a great opportunity for young British shearers to meet and learn from shearers from across the world.”

Presentation is the second key contribution the producer can make to improve wool quality.  To achieve highest returns, fleeces should be presented and wrapped correctly, and in the best possible condition, before sending them to the BWMB.  Only fleeces which have been wrapped can be graded and paid for at fleece wool prices.  Unwrapped fleeces can only be valued as ‘broken’ wool, which has a lower value.

Mark Powell, Chief Operating Officer at the BWMB gives further details:

“A fleece should be shorn from the sheep in one piece.  To avoid a price penalty, all claggs and daggings should be removed before being wrapped on a clean, dry surface.”

The sides should be folded in before rolling as tightly as possible, from the britch end to the neck.  The fleece can then be secured by tucking the neck wool back inside the fleece. Fleeces should be wrapped skin side out, with the exception of Scottish Blackface, Rough Fell and Herdwick, which should be presented staple side out. 

Mark concludes: “There are several key factors to avoid during packing.  Wool from different breeds and types should be packed separately, as should any oddments.  Packing hill wool alongside lowland wool can cause cross fibre contamination, as can coloured wool with white wool.  Both scenarios will reduce the value of higher quality fleeces.  Additionally, hog wool should be separated from ewe and wether wool. Finally, remember to label each separate wool sheet before delivery.”

On request the BWMB also offer free ram fleece assessments.  Each ram’s fleece should be labelled individually, packed into a separate sheet and delivered to any of their grading depots to be assessed by the Regional Manager.  For a small fee, on-the-hoof assessments are also available on farm.

The BWMB offer a range of training programmes and educational resources designed specifically to improve the quality of wool.  As part of its UK-wide quality control process, two years ago it introduced a Clip Presentation Certificate which recognises the cleanliness of wool, standard of wrapping and overall presentation and packaging of fleeces.  In 2015 it awarded 1,500 certificates, and with the on-going commitment from producers this is expected to continue to rise.

Through these many initiatives the BWMB is committed in continuing to support shearers at all levels and in ensuring wool producers maximise the value of their wool.

British Wool Promotion

Raising awareness amongst consumers about the unique benefits offered by the fibre.

Since its launch in 2010, The Campaign for Wool has influenced a new demand for wool on an international scale, and it’s efforts have seen an outstanding threefold increase in the price farmers receive for their wool.

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