Wool: Beyond the Stereotype
This edition of Reid’s Ram-blings was composed by Jake Thorne, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Associate. Jake has been a contributing editor to this column over the past year and is a valued asset to the sheep and goat Extension team at the San Angelo center. Enjoy!
Wool is the best kept secret in the world of natural fibers. It’s more expensive than cotton, not as prominent as leather, and not as trendy as hemp… but in my opinion, it is the premier fabric on the planet!
It may not even be fair to claim wool as a secret, as it can be argued that wool is the original fiber used for clothing. However, only recently has wool started to shed its stereotype as a winter-only sweater with a make-ya-squirm itch factor of 10.
Thanks to improved genetics and super-wash technology, developed in Australia and popularized in the last decade, that removes the “prickle” caused by wool scales and sharp fiber ends, wool is popping up as a next-to-skin apparel item for all four seasons. You’ll find it under heavy down jackets on Mt. Everest, in a camo pattern in the woods this fall, as a reflection protectant around a fisherman’s neck in Belize, and of course, on millions of feet as both socks and shoes.
It doesn’t stink. Its absorbent. It’s fire retardant. Its biodegradable in 6-months. And most importantly, it keeps your body temperature in a comfortable range… not too cool or warm. #woolcandoitall.
The point of my heavily biased promotional statement is to lead into the fact that Christmas is right around the corner and I hope you look for American wool products for your loved ones. Save the polyester for the white-elephant exchanges!
Admittedly, the majority of the wool we grow in America gets quickly snatched up by China (in the absence of trade wars), but here and there, a few apparel companies have turned their eyes to the homeland to find a domestically sourced product, and a few sheep outfits and off-the-farm-buyers have stepped up to the plate as providers. If you are interested in purchasing an item that will last forever, can be worn year round, and is 100% made in the USA, I encourage you check out the following website; https://www.americanwool.org/
With that said, wool doesn’t just happen. It takes tremendous efforts on the part of farmers, ranchers, shearers, buyers, and marketers to grow, harvest, and sell this unparalleled fiber. Truly, if it was easy, everybody would do it and wool would be cheap. However, it takes dedication to ensure the well-being of the sheep who grow it and to care of for the fiber itself, all the way from sheep to shelf.
The production of wool in the United States is truly an inspirational story that the public, who is increasingly curious about where their food and clothes come from, are falling in love with. There is history in the wool business, there is beauty in the areas it is grown, there is magic in the way it performs as a fiber, and it is the true definition of sustainability.
In Texas especially, we are fortunate to have mohair and angora goats as a major component of our fiber industry as well. Some would say that sheep turning grass into wool is a superpower, but I would argue that goats are more impressive, they grow hair living off cedar and rocks!
Here in the San Angelo office, we make it a point to promote wool and mohair in every way we can, and that mostly comes in the form of supporting those who produce it. Besides relaying the latest scientific research, we also annually hold a shearing course in early January. To steal the name from our sheep friends up north, we should really rename the event a “wool-harvesting” school.
Students will attend from across the state and country to learn the ropes of becoming a shearer. They come with a sense of curiosity about the practice and leave with sore muscles, a belly full of lamb, a new skill, and most of all, an appreciation for what it takes to play a part in producing the greatest fiber in the world. We need you to encourage young people to participate and learn this skill, which requires strength, endurance, and perseverance – traits that most all ranch kids already embody.
In closing, I want to circle back to wool as a Christmas gift. I continuously mentioned it as a clothing item, but did you know there are wool surfboards? How about wool band-aids? I bet not. So, when Santa is furiously looking for last minute ideas, let him in on the secret that is American wool. Actually, let’s face it, that red robe alone doesn’t keep him warm all night traveling through frigid conditions … I bet he already knows!
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.