Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Goat Shearing and Spinning

   It's that time of year again. I've starting spinning again.  I find its almost like meditation when I'm listening to something. Besides,  I like to have my hands busy.  I usually don't spin very much in the summer as I am too busy trying to keep up with the vegetable garden. After taking the spring and summer off from spinning Miss Buzz Saw acts like the wheel is a brand new cat toy.  It is much more of a challenge to try to spin while the cat is playing with the wheel and slowing it down. I've had to throw her outside a few times so I could spin in peace.

    Linda and the grandkids sheared the goats on Saturday.  I'm going to try and get the fiber from this shearing and the previous shearings washed and carded in the next few weeks. I'm planning to card it together with some wool so it will be suitable sweater yarn. Wool has better "memory" than most other fibers so it can be blocked to a particular shape. Hence it works better in a sweater or socks than something like alpaca.  However, blending two different fibers together can give you the best of both worlds. Then I can have the memory of wool and the softness of our little pygora goats.  I'm sure some of the grandkids would enjoy having a sweater from one of their favorite goats.  Since Buster is white it will be pretty easy to find some relatively white wool to blend with his fleece.  Blackjack presents more of a problem. I either have to buy some charcoal grey fleece or dye some  of my current wool stash to match his fleece. There is also the third option of blending his dark gray fleece with white wool. I've got enough of his fleece saved up where I might try multiple options.
Not quite a crew cut, but hopefully short enough to help Buster's eczema.

   I hate to shear the goats this late in the season but they really do need shearing twice a year. If we let them go the entire year, much of their fleece felts up and goes to waste. Also Buster develops a nasty skin condition if he isn't sheared twice a year. A goat with serious eczema is a pretty pathetic sight. Consequently we have to shear them both late in the fall and early in the spring.  That still gives them a little time to grow a bit more of a winter coat before it gets seriously cold while the spring shearing happens after the worst of the winter is past. The twice a year shearing results in a shorter length for spinning but I was planning to blend their fleeces with wool anyhow.

     I have a pretty good supply of raw wool, thanks to another bee store friend. This fellow shears sheep for people who often don't want the wool. I'm not sure what the motivation is for someone to have sheep who has no use for the wool. If they were just interested in eating lamb once in a while there are specific breeds of sheep that are designated as meat breeds. As one would expect, the meat breeds have a meatier carcass. As a general rule, the wool from the meat breeds is also less attractive to hand spinners.  This summer my friend gave me three big garbage bags of Border Leicester fleece, definitely not a meat breed.  For those unfamiliar with the more common breeds of sheep, I believe Farmer Hogget's flock in the movie "Babe" were Border Leicester sheep (pronounced like the name Lester).

     There is a fair amount of labor that happens to turn a raw fleece into spinnable wool. There is an amazing amount of lanolin and dirt that accumulates in the fleece which produces a fairly strong odor. It doesn't turn from dirty, nasty, smelly into soft,clean and fluffy all on its own.  A certain amount of caution is required in "scouring", the technical term for washing a raw fleece. Temperature changes plus agitation can cause the wool fibers to felt together. Some wools are more inclined to felt than others. I always try to wash the fleeces by hand with a minimum of agitation and use cold water to avoid temperature changes.  Basically, I let the fleece sit over night in five gallon buckets of cold soapy water.  I remove the fleece the next day and transfer it to five gallon buckets of cold clean rinse water.  I repeat the rinse cycle until the water is relatively clean. I say relatively clean because the water from the first few rinses are Mississippi River brown. If I can see the bottom of the bucket I consider the rinse water to be pretty clean

    After the fleece has been scoured and has dried it still needs to be carded before it can be spun into wool. I have a pair of hand cards as well as a drum carder. The drum carder is faster but is located in the garage. The hand carders are slower but can be used upstairs while watching a football game.  It should therefore come as no surprise that I use the hand carders more often than the drum carder.

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