How do sheep get rid of their wool naturally?

Only some primitive breeds still retain natural wool* shedding.

Some, like the Wiltshire Horn, are primarily milk or meat animals. Their wool is short, kempy (full of hair) and usually of poor quality. The Wiltshire Horn has become more popular recently because their shedding saves farmers a lot of money on shearing and disposing of the wool – yes, it costs money to get rid of wool that’s not useful! Here are some WHs mid-shed:

The rams have glorious horns:

But otherwise I always feel they look like they have a skin disease…

Most of the rest are semi-feral Scottish breeds. There’s Soay, a rare-breed becoming popular as lawnmowers:

They’re tiny sheep, with decent enough fleece for spinning and knitting. Look at the weeness!

And the cootness!

They have mental horns too – any number, any shape.

Whoo thay fock are ye gleekin at, Jimmy?

Then there’s the Boreray:

Well, it’s either a Boreray ram, or the first sighting of a live haggis in the wild. Their wool has been described as a bit kempy, short and coarse, but handspinners I know who’ve worked with it RAVE about it. Some is next-to-the-skin soft, and it can have a pretty good staple of around 6″ or so – hardly short! The Boreray is critically endangered: there may be no more than 300 left in the world.

Some other Scottish breeds still have fleece-shedding genes that pop up in individual sheep, or in partial shedding. These include the rare-breed North Ronaldsay or Orkney (a seaweed forager):

The Shetland, which has probably best fleece for hand-knitting, in a wide range of natural colours:

Yarn spun from their fleece is widely used by Fair Isle knitters, and is one of my personal favourites. My birthday’s in September, gift vouchers are welcome.

Then there’s the Hebridean:

All hail our Dark Lord! These unfairly-disregarded lovelies have one of the densest natural black fleeces in the sheep world, their only competitor being first-shearing Zwartbles. This, of course, means the fleece is useless for dyeing – and many people don’t like to spin or knit with black yarn. I do, though, and it has a good sturdy hand.

Sometimes a shedding sheep will need some help to get rid of their fleece. It’s not necessary to call in a shearer, though: you can just tug the wool off, in a process called ‘rooing’:


* – I’m going to ignore hair-sheep, which shed naturally, because they don’t produce much wool.

Quora linky.

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