March 11, 2009

Coating Experiment : Half-Way Measures!

Last year I decided to experiment with coating my sheep. Originally I was concerned about protecting the fleece from unwanted vegetable matter. But I did have another concern too. I've seen too many ouessant fleeces that are matted, leaving you with a fleece that is only good for the compost pile!
For example, here's Margaret, a three year old ewe. This picture was taken last June, right before shearing.

Margaret : June 2008

She had a wonderfully long and lovely fleece -- or so it would seem from a distance!
In fact, the fleece was matted into one big "carpet" on her back.
Matting, or cotting as they say in Great Britain, is among other things linked to exposure to rain. And of course, anyone who knows anything about Normandy knows that it rains a lot here!
So it's not too terribly surprising that cotting is a problem.
After coating RhumRaisin and 'TitBijou last spring, I noticed that even when it rained, the fleeces under their coats were dry while the fleeces of the uncoated sheep were wet. That being said, I only ended up coating these two in the spring as the smallest sized coats were too big for the sheep & I didn't want to alter any more coats.


I noticed three things :

1) RhumRaisin and 'TitBijou (the coated sheep) had beautiful, pristine fleeces : as far as I was concerned my coating experiment was a total success!

2) At the same time, the uncoated sheep were virtually free of vegetable matter .... but I was dreading the coming months that would rely more and more on feeding hay.

3) Finally, I noticed the first little signs of degradation of the fleeces of the uncoated sheep. This is very difficult to explain and even more difficult to photograph! But it's the first signs of what I will call "pre-cotting" of the wool.

I knew that if I didn't do something, all of the uncoated fleeces would be lost to cotting. So I thought that I would try a half-way measure : coating after 6 months growth and hopefully protecting the fleece during the last 6 months of growth, which is the period when vegetable matter and cotting are the biggest threats!

So everyone was coated in December.

One of the advantages of coating after 6 months growth is that I didn't have to alter any of the coats! So this was great news. But the best news of all is that by coating after 6 months wool growth and before feeding hay and before too much rain exposure, I will end up with a beautiful fleece. Okay, it's not quite as nice as a fleece that was coated from day 1 : but almost!
The fleeces coated after 6 months will have sun-bleached tips, but otherwise they are beautiful. I have a feeling that I will be doing this next year, although I might coat a little earlier, like in November. I will most likely also coat a few at shearing time too, particularly if I want to avoid bleached tips, otherwise, I will wait until November before coating.
I'll try to post a few photos of Margaret's fleece in a few days ... I will say that I'm really excited about how her fleece is looking! She will be four years old this spring and she is going to have a lovely fleece!
In the mean time, here are a few new photos to document the half-way measure of coating just during the winter and spring.
Here's the lovely little Praline in her coat (with her not so little belly!) :

Praline : Coated in December

And here's what her fleece looks like :

Praline : fleece after being coated for 2 1/2 months.
note sun-bleached tips!

And for good measure, here's a photo of Margot's fleece. .

Margot : fleece coated 2 1/2 months
Again bleached tips from the summer sun!

. . . and a fiber sample that I took today. Her fleece is ever so lovely : clean, long, and soft. It will be a true joy to spin this fleece later this summer!

Margot : Fiber sample taken after 2 1/2 months being coated.
Overall staple length 12+ cm (5") ... & she won't be sheared for at least 2 months!

I think that you'll agree that these are some lovely fleeces!
Of cource my coating experiment is far from over.
But so far, it's two thumbs up from the Spinning Shepherd!


Anonymous said...

Don't forget to save me a fleece! It's for the honor of the breed, after the horrible scratchy one I bought and thought was typical until you sent me sample from your sheep!
--jayne, the sgt_majorette

Diane said...

Hi Jayne!
Thanks for stopping by!
Don't worry! You're first on my list ... well that is after me! LOL!
I'm sure that I'll have something for you later this spring/summer.

Elizabeth said...

Hi, I may be visiting Normandy next month, would it be possible to buy a fleece from you? My email address is on my blog; thanks!

Thank you for visiting the Spinning Shepherd!