Does shearing a sheep’s wool hurt the sheep in any way? If it did hurt the sheep, could you just “trim” the wool instead of taking it all off?

No. It’s like you getting a haircut.

Trimming is the same as cutting, in hair terms – except less hair is removed. Trimming wool does not help the sheep; it leaves most of the wool in place which is uncomfortable and unhealthy. In addition, the trimmed wool ends would be too short to have any commercial value and would end up in landfill. As wool flocks would no longer have any commercial value, thousands of sheep farmers would go out of business and their flocks would be slaughtered. Those industries dependent on sheep wool would have to turn instead to synthetic alternatives which are very damaging to the environment.

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Are goats hard to maintain when compared to sheep?

It depends what you’re looking for.

Goats are more like cats – only semi-domesticated. In some ways, that’s great – they’ll look after themselves. In others, it’s not so good – they’ll get into the veg garden or the laundry, and destroy all before them. They can be super-affectionate one minute, and charging at you malice aforethought the next. Just like cats, really.

Milk-goats are probably more domesticated, less damaging, and less homicidal than most. But they need to be milked at least once a day unless you want to deal with kid goats as well.

Sheep … well, temperament varies with breed. Blue-Faced Leicesters and Wensleydales are aristocrats and you are the peasant servicing their every need – they’re the cats amongst sheep breeds. Southdowns, Hebrideans and Valais Blacknoses are puppy-affectionate, if you’re willing to be a hands-on shepherd and spend time with them; they’re also great with children. The more feral Soay, Ronaldsay and Boreray are like wary domesticated dogs, or foxes. You can win their trust up to a point so they’ll come to you, but you will never be ‘pack’, and they will dash off at the first hint of something out of the normal.

However, virtually any sheep can be a pet provided you take them in and bottle-feed them from birth: ideally, pick a ewe or a castrated male – never a full ram, as they’re just as homicidal as goats, and often three or four times the size. Here’s a sheep that was raised with pups:

Its demeanour, body language, and movement is all dog. Hopefully, these dogs have all been trained not to jump on people – this boyo is only half-grown.

The downside is that sheep often require more veterinary input, and, of course, the shearing – unless you get a feral breed that naturally sheds its fleece, and are prepared to work hard on charming them.

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How many sheep does it take to produce a wool sweater for an adult human being?

None. Sheep are not used in the making of sweaters.

The fleece of sheep is used to make sweaters, following scouring, carding, spinning and dyeing.

As a rough rule of thumb, it takes about 600g of worsted weight yarn to make an adult sweater. As the process of making yarn is lossy – up to 50% loss by weight – this means roughly 1.2 kg of fleece is used to make a sweater. Different varieties of sheep produce different quantities of fleece, usually between 1 and 4 kg, so a worsted-weight sweater uses the fleece of between 0.3 and 1.2 sheep.

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Is wool production a profitable business?


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).

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 MillDiamond 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.

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Do we really need to brand cows with hot irons? I saw sheep painted in Ireland for identification.

Sheep aren’t painted for identification.

Rams carry marking devices in rutting season. The coloured sheep are the ewes that have been serviced by the ram. If you have more than one ram running with the flock, you might give each ram a different colour, to help distinguish which ewes are in lamb to each ram.

It’s a ram-diddling-ewe-dye-ID-little-lamb-doodah.

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Does all wool come from sheeps?

Sheep, not sheeps. It’s one of those weird English words that doesn’t take a ‘s’ when plural.

Technically, yes-ish. Wool is a winter undercoat which, in primitive sheep, is shed in spring. Most modern sheep have been bred to not shed their wool, although the genes do still exist in commercial breeds and one can often see sheep looking a bit ragged at this time of year, with clumps of wool coming away from their summer coat.

Not all sheep grow wool, and other members of the Caprinae family, such as Cashmere and Angora goats, do. Indeed, the undercoat of Angora goats, mohair, is so routinely sold as ‘wool’ – particularly in suits – that there’s no point in differentiating it now.

Confusingly, Angora rabbits, source of Angora fibre, not only have the name of the goat that does produce wool which is called mohair, but were originally known as wooled rabbits. (It’s also possible to spin Angora cat hair, but enough already).

So, there’s no reason why the undercoat of other animals cannot be called wool, too. However, in practice, these other fibres tend to take the name of the animal it comes from: alpaca, llama, guanaco, vicuna, camel, yak, bison, chinchilla, mink, possum. And finally, qivuit, from the musk-ox.

But if the fibre is from a plant, like cotton or linen, or is synthetic such as nylon or polyester, it is NOT wool, and I will get very sharp with you if you call it wool.

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How did sheep shed their wool before the emergence of humans?

They did, literally, shed their wool.

It was their fluffy winter undercoat, and, come spring, it gradually fell out – if you have cats or dogs, you’ll see this exact process happening all over your sofa and best outfits.

There is evidence that sheep were domesticated 9-11,000 years ago, and that they were being bred specifically for their wool 6,000 years ago in Iran. NB: this is what we have evidence for – sheep may have been domesticated and bred for wool earlier, but we don’t have evidence for that.

Primitive sheep still retain their ability to cast their fleece:

Wild Soay sheep mid-shed on the Island of Hirta

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What is the natural purpose of lanolin in sheep’s wool?

Like the grease in your hair, it’s there to lubricate and condition the hair (kemp) and undercoat, thereby keeping it soft, smooth, and damage-free.

Unlike us, the sheep does not strip off its natural moisturiser with harsh soaps and shampoos, and therefore does not suffer from frizz, fly-aways and split ends, therefore (again unlike us) they don’t need to re-grease their hair with oily conditioners, masks and serums and styling products, which often contain lanolin (or a near-identical chemical) as the moisturising agent.

However, some sheep do get the full salon treatment for shows:

Because they’re worth it.

Is it better to live a day as a lion than 100 days as a sheep?

This is one of these grand, aspirational sayings that makes fuck all sense when you get into it.

Half of all lion cubs die. At least a quarter are killed by incoming males taking over the pride. Lionesses sometimes kill other lionesses’ cubs. Others die of starvation, neglect, and predation. Occasionally, lionesses get killed by incoming males, or when venturing accidentally into another pride’s territory. A male lion gets kicked out of his pride on adulthood. Thereafter, he’s fair game for any male protecting a pride. The main cause of death of adult males is other males. If a lion survives long enough to take a pride from a weaker or older male, he faces a short, brutal life of fighting off potential successors – or worse, coalitions of young adult males. And if he does manage to reach some great age? Some fat fuck from Texas will have him drugged so he can shoot him for a trophy.

In between, it’s hunting and sleeping. Mostly sleeping. And a lot of starving.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of lambs – even in the wild – survive to adulthood. There’s much less of this murderous nonsense between rams. They live in friendly social groups, and don’t mind new members. Munching delicious grass and sometimes seaweed, hopping around on rocks and cliff faces, and even trees, making friends with the other animals,

and getting haircuts and mani-pedis from the hoomans.

Which would you prefer?

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What is the source of the mohair variety of wool?

Mohair is not wool, as such. Wool, strictly speaking, is a seasonally-growing undercoat from sheep, although the term is often used more widely to include fluffy undercoats from many other animals, including yak and buffalo.

Mohair is a hair fibre from the Angora goat. It has a silk-like sheen, dyes well, and does not felt. It is also very sturdy compared to similar-quality sheep’s wool, and for that reason is often used to make outerwear, and, historically, soldiers’ uniforms.

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