- Wethers from a mixed bloodline flock in western New South Wales were coated for 12 months between August 1998 and August 1999. The coated and a similar number of uncoated control wethers from each of the 11 bloodlines (2 medium, 3 fine and 6 superfine) were grazed together as part of a larger mob. Dye bands were placed in the fleeces of each wether before fitting of the coats and were removed before shearing when a mid-side sample was taken and a number of subjective assessments made of each fleece. The major effect of the sheep coats was to improve the style of the coated wool by about 1 style grade. This was largely the result of the coated fleeces being whiter, with less tip weathering and lower levels of dust and vegetable matter. There was no significant difference between the 2 treatment groups in wool production, fibre diameter, staple strength or resistance to compression. A partial budgeting approach was used to evaluate the economic returns from using sheep coats based on the observed differences in wool quality. Clean prices and wool values per head for the coated and uncoated sheep from each of the 11 bloodlines were calculated using NSW Agriculture's wether trial software and the flock least squares means for each wool trait. The analysis established it would be economically viable to coat all the sheep except the medium-wool sheep. Even allowing for 20% improvement in the price differential for medium wool, coating them was not economically viable.
- The associations between fibre growth characteristics and wool staple strength were investigated in groups (n = 10) of Merino wethers with either low or high staple strength. Sheep grazed together on pastures based on subterranean clover and annual rye grass for about 13 months. The sheep were weighed and injected intradermally with [35 S]-cysteine at about 14-day intervals. Mid-side patches were harvested and dye bands placed in the wool at about 28-day intervals. Patch clean wool growth, pasture digestible dry matter/ha and pasture crude protein/ha had similar seasonal amplitudes of production (287, 286 and 267% of respective minimum). These were significantly higher than the seasonal amplitude in liveweight (24.5%). The seasonal amplitude in fibre diameter was significantly greater than that for rate of fibre elongation (71.4 and 41.4% respectively). This seasonality in fibre length and diameter resulted in statistically significant seasonal fluctuations in the ratio of fibre length growth to fibre diameter. Fortnightly variability in fibre diameter was not significantly related to variability in fibre length growth rate between sheep for individual time periods. However, for the pooled data over the experimental period a statistically significant relationship (R2 = 0.13, P < 0.01) was improved with the addition of parameters for sampling time and staple strength group. Staple strengths for the low and high staple strength groups were 25.6 and 32.8 N/ktex respectively (P = 0.057). There were no significant differences between the staple strength groups in seasonal change in liveweight, wool production or fibre parameters measured in this study but the low staple strength group had longer fibres. Staple strength was most highly correlated with mid-side fibre diameter coefficient of variation (R2 = 0.50) followed by seasonal amplitude in liveweight.
- The effect of maintenance v, submaintenance diets of pregnant ewes in 1991 and 1992 on establishment of the wool follicle population in their progeny, and its effect on the progeny's wool production (quantity, quality and variation across the body of the animal) to 1.4 years of age was examined. The experimental protocol used cloned animals created by bisecting embryos at day 6 of pregnancy. Each clone was placed in a ewe, which was subsequently fed from about day 50 to 140 of pregnancy at maintenance or submaintenance. Ewes on maintenance nutrition maintained liveweight throughout pregnancy, while submaintenance ewes were 12.1 kg lighter (P < 0.001) 10 days before lambing. In 1991, a total of 74 lambs were born, including 17 sets of surviving clones. In 1992, 102 lambs were born, including 18 sets of surviving clones. Only data for the 35 sets of genetically identical 'twin' progeny and their dams are reported. Birth weights of lambs born to ewes fed at the submaintenance rate were 0.5 kg lighter (P < 0.01) than their 'twins' born to ewes fed at maintenance. Midside secondary:primary (Sf: Pf) ratios for mature wool follicles were less (P < 0.01) at birth, lamb and hogget shearing (1.4, 1.5 and 2.1 units respectively) for the progeny born to ewes fed at submaintenance. Progeny from ewes on the submaintenance treatment produced less clean wool, 0.1 kg to 0.4 years of age (P < 0.01) and 0.14 kg between 0.4 and 1.4 years of age (P = 0.10), than their maintenance counterparts. Hogget wool was 0.1 pm broader (P < 0.05), with a 0.5% units lower coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (P < 0.01), and a position of break closer to the staple tip (P < 0.001) for progeny of submaintenance ewes than their maintenance counterparts. There were no significant differences in yield, staple length, staple strength and percentage of fibres greater than 30 pm in diameter. Differences in mean fibre diameter arose between 1 and 1.4 years of age, coinciding with the period that the animals were grazing high quality pasture. Effects of maternal undernutrition on mean fibre diameter and Sf: Pf follicle ratios of progeny were most pronounced on the hind leg (P < 0.01), and not significant on the front leg. However, variations in other wool quality traits across the body of the hoggets, expressed as a percentage of the midside value, were not significantly affected by maternal undernutrition. Clearly when evaluating management strategies for the pregnant ewe, the effect on lifetime production and quality of wool of their progeny needs to be considered. Merino hoggets that produce an extra 0.14 kg clean wool that is 0.1 pm finer will compensate for some extra management and feeding of their dams during pregnancy to prevent weight loss. If these effects continue throughout the life of the animal, then it will increase the cost effectiveness of feeding to maintain maternal weight over pregnancy.
- Alpaca and llama fleece are classified as specialty or luxury fibers, but sheep fleece or wool tops the list of animal fibers used today. The camelids (alpaca and llama) are quite similar to each other in fiber and background, and though they bear some similarity to sheep, the differences between the fibers of these herding animals are outstanding.
- The commercial value of unprocessed wool is determined by its intrinsic quality; an indication of capacity to meet both processor and consumer demands. Wool quality is evaluated through routine assessment of characteristics that include mean fibre diameter, coefficient of variation, staple characteristics, comfort factor, spinning fineness, fibre curvature and clean fleece yield. The association between these characteristics with wool quality stems from their correlation with raw wool processing performance in terms of speed, durability, ultimate use as apparel or carpet wool, and consumer satisfaction with the end-product. An evaluation of these characteristics allows wool quality to be objectively quantified prior to purchase and processing. The primary objective of this review was to define and explore these aforementioned key wool characteristics, focusing on their impact on quality, desirable parameters and methodology behind their quantification. An in-depth review of relevant published literature on these wool characteristics in sheep is presented.