Soay Sheep Wool Fiber

Wool or Hair....What's the difference? [[wysiwyg_imageupload::]]


When I first starting reading about British Soay sheep, this was a confusing point because some people referred to Soays as 'hair sheep, while others refer to them as wool sheep.  So what are they?  This is what I have discovered........


I think the confusion comes from the fact that  Soays molt their wool.   The important point to remember is that British Soays have a highly developed inner coat and it is difficult to distinguish an outer coat.  This characteristic has led researchers to believe that Soay sheep were domesticated in prehistoric times. Soay sheep represent an important step in the domestication and evolution of modern sheep.


The term 'hair' sheep is a catch-all term used by some researchers and vets to describe any breed of sheep that sheds it's wool.  However, this term fails to differentiate between the different types of  fibers that these sheep have.  Some 'hair' sheep actually have coarse hair that is unsuitable for spinning, felting, or weaving.  This is not the case with British Soay wool that can be spun, woven and is excellent for felting.


So because British Soay sheep are a wool sheep that molt their wool, they are sometimes 'misclassified' as a 'hair sheep' when in fact they are the first domesticated wool sheep in existence. [[wysiwyg_imageupload::]]


Rooing Soay sheep is very simple and easy.  Putting a bowl of feed in front of the sheep and holding one of its horn, the sheep stand pretty still as you pick the wool off.  We tried several times to roo our sheep before they were ready, but the fiber was still somewhat attached and the sheep reluctant to give it up.   When the sheep are ready to be rooed, the wool is no longer attached so it comes off without any effort. Within 10 to 15 minutes of rooing, we had a pound of wool fiber from one of our ewes.  It was like slipping her out of her wool coat and she seemed pretty glad to have it off.   Soays will give up their wool between May - June after the lambs are born.  Yearlings or ewes who were not bred may not shed their wool that year.  It is thought that the shedding is related to hormones.


It is amazing how thick Soay wool is and how soft it is.  Wonderful fiber!  The wool quality is 44's to 50's,  and staple length is 5 to 15 cm.   Soay fiber is short but is spinnable.  It is excellent fiber for felting.


Wool is collected and vegetation is picked out of it prior to washing it.


Recipe for washing wool:

Once all the debris has been picked out of the wool, it is soaked in a tub of hot water with a teaspoon of dawn to get the lanolin out of the wool.  Only give the wool a little swish while it's in the tub - not too much agitation- otherwise the wool will felt.
Drain the water & repeat another wash.  Make sure to add the wool to the hot water - not the other way around.
Rinse in hot water, vinegar rinse, then hot water again.
Spread wool out to drip dry.  If it's a nice sunny day, this can be done outside.

Viola!  Now we're ready to card!