Do Soay Sheep Really Shed Their Wool?

Soays! Yay! my favorite sheepies. (That's Deneb, my blond boy, in the picture)

Yes, Soays shed their wool! The technical term is "roo". This is a primitive trait in sheep, mostly bred out of "modern day" sheep. However, the Shetland breed has this in it too, it's often called the "rise" by shearers of Shetlands since in them, it's a weak spot and not an actual break. You want to shear just before the "rise" hits in the early spring, otherwise the weak spot ends up in the fleece itself and it gets carded into neps at the mill. How lovely ... but enough on Shetlands, back to Soays.

Soay fiber is primarily medium grade and very short staple -- 1 to 3 inches. It is _very_ high crimp. Some soays have a ton of kemp/hair in their coats, some have less. When they roo, you can catch them (good luck! did I mention they are a feral breed? it's called rodeo day here when we catch my 3 to get their wool). I usually wait until I start seeing new wool on fences or trees, so I can be sure the roo is over most of their body. Once I've caught them once, they don't like to get caught again for a month -- very touchy!

If left to their own devices, they will rub on anything handy to get last year's coat off. So they do start anew each year. Some of it may hang on (couldn't reach a spot, I guess) but it's clearly last year's, and separates from this year's when gently pulled.

Anyway. To remove my guys' fiber, I pluck it, much like you do with English Angora rabbits. I started out with combs, but it's quicker to just pluck-pluck-pluck away. Most of the kemp stays on their bodies -- thank goodness, since "plucking" starts in February. So their hair coat keeps them protected. Whent heir coat first comes off, their skin is fairly pink. It darkens within a day or two (instant sun-tan!) and then by summer they have a light coat of wool again.

As soon as it warms up I hope/plan/want/will set time aside to wash and card more Soay fiber for sale at The Bellwether. I did what I could before the cold weather hit here, but it wasn't much -- we moved this last year, so carding was on an extended hiatus.

I don't dehair before I card, but plucking minimizes the hair in the fleece (over shearing -- yes, you can shear soay, and some do, but that's not why I got mine). It's fortunate that the PG Supercarder will drop most of the Soay hair remaining on the table rather than have it land in the roving -- instant semi-dehairing! But there is still some hair in it when it's being spun. Depending on my planned end use (tote bag or hat) I might leave the hair in, or pull it out.

The fiber's as greasy and dirty as normal sheep fleece, and does need the usual hot water wash to get the lanolin and dirt out prior to carding.

In terms of "crop" -- I get less than a pound of fiber per animal. They are small sheep, not full size by any means, but it's still pretty low yield as a fiber crop. I like their hardiness, their independence, and their rare fiber.

Fiber softness varies alot from animal to animal -- my dark brown Meteor is quite "medium" in hand like most Romneys, where Rigel and "blond" Deneb are a fair bit softer, almost a Romney/Corriedale cross.

There are great soay photos on the farm website where my boys came from:

(posted by me this day on spindlers)

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