For many sheep farmers, it’s not worth the cost of shearing their sheep, so they sell them as lambs for meat.
All fleeces in the UK – except for ‘hobby farming’ flocks of <6 sheep (more if rarebreed) – must be sold to the British Wool (formerly the Wool Marketing Board).
- British Wool can pay as little as £0.30 per kg ( $0.17 per pound).
- The type of sheep used for meat (e.g., Beltex, Welsh Mountain) will typically only have 1–4 kg of fleece, so that’s £1.20/$1.52 maximum per sheep.
- Shearers typically earn £1.20-£2 ($1.52-$2.53) per sheep.
In the best-case scenario, you break even. Small wonder, then, that farmers who do shear just bury the fleece on their land.
If you DO want to have a crack at making money,
- consider a smallish number of rarebreed sheep, raised organically and treated like pet dogs (baths, brushing, housing, coats, etc.) – I recommend the longwool breeds such as Wensleydale, Teeswater, Leicester Longwool or Lincoln Longwool.
- learn to shear them yourself – it’s not hard if you’re reasonably active.
- learn to grade the fleece – again, not difficult, just a bit smelly and poopy if you forgot the baths and coats.
- learn to prep and spin the wool yourself – not hard, but trickier than it looks – or find a reasonably-priced mini-mill which will take small batches, e.g., Griffiths Mill, The Border Mill, Diamond Fibres, or The Natural Fibre Company.
- learn to dye your own yarn – possibly the most straightforward part of the process, but also the most artistic: how’s your colour sense?
- sell the yarn for £20-£30 a 50g/100g ball/skein/hank, as rarebreed, single-origin, locally-sourced/low carbon footprint, organic, handspun, handpainted (delete as appropriate).
You should make enough money to stay in business, and maybe enough to buy those sheep coats.