This is a new venture for me. In previous years I have sold a few fleeces to hand spinners for £5/£10. I only ever sold shearling fleeces and they were well received but barely covered the cost of clipping the young stock. Now I pay £5 a head on 40 sheep the clipping charges of £200 are alarming at a time when it has been ages since the sheep brought in any money [plenty goes out in the run up to lambing!]

At 2010 Woolfest I sold a fleece to a lady from Cambridge for £10. It was from my shearling called Love -in -a -Mist. This lady freely told me, when I asked after the sale, that she had paid £30 for her last fleece. I was still happy. I’d sold for 100% more than usual. A month later she managed to trace me and asked for two more! Of course I hadn’t got anything similar but she told me that 1/2 the fleece had gone to California; 1/4 to Winsconsin; the last 1/4 she had shared with a friend in Sweden.

Asking around I learnt that George Yeats was very interested in Ryeland fleece and he was judging in Dumfries and Galloway in the late summer. He agreed to come to Lightwater and look over the fleeces of that crop of lambs. It was as though the scales fell from my eyes as we looked. A good fleece soon jumped out at me as I parted the wool. I learnt to check the ‘saddle’ of the animal [ middle of the side] and then check the above the front and back legs to see if the fleece was consistent. I could see that the rams fleeces had a stronger crimp and most of the ewes a much finer one. I could identify kempy fibres that were stronger and straighter than the rest of the fleece.

Of course that was all just the beginning and I feel I have a lot to learn. I was lucky enough to buy a ram lamb from Steven Hipps whose dam [Hardgate Jasmine] won ‘Wool on the Hoof’ at the Great Yorkshire Show as a shearling. The fleeces on my lambs are greatly improved this year. There is still variation in them but the best are much better than previously.

My latest input has come from a childhood friend visiting from Canada. She breeds alpacas that have been winning prizes for their fleeces in Canada and the States and she went over my lambs with me and helped me identify the best. Then she put me in touch with a fibre laboratory that would analyse my fleece. My first plan of having 3 samples from each of 3 ram lambs I was running on took a tumble when I heard the cost, but I’m having one done from each animal and taking samples for myself of all this years lambs to make comparisons.

I don’t think this will make me a fortune. There will be conflicts between the desire for a good fleece and a good conformation. There is still little regard for fleece from most buyers of Ryeland stock. Selling fleeces can be a lot of work for little return. Classes for wool on the hoof and shorn fleece are rare [in my experience] I just feel it would be good to recognise a quality for which Ryelands are famous [underwear for Elisabeth 1st; Leominster coats for Henry VIIIth] Let’s keep the best!

I’ve started preparing fleece to use on a peg loom by washing and drying it in the house. No entry to dogs and children whilst the process is ongoing!

I shall update you on the analysis results when I get them.