How to Add Value
So the shearer has left and you have a pile of fleeces, what do you do now?
Take your fleeces one at a time and lay on a flat surface. Remove as much contamination as you can and take off the greasy outer edge (called ‘skirting’ the fleece). You may also need to remove any coarse britch wool which will spoil the quality of the fleece. Next take a staple of wool and give it a good tug, if it breaks the fleece is ‘tender’ and of no use. Breaks in a fleece can occur for many reasons; illness, pregnancy and stress being some of them.
Your fleece is now ready to be stored. With the wool skin side down, turn in both sides and roll from the britch end. Take the neck wool, and without twisting it, push it into the body of the fleece. The fleeces can now be put into pillowcases, duvet covers or paper sacks, but not plastic bags and kept somewhere dry. Beware of moths and mice!
What can you do with your fleece?
You may sell it as it is. Contact your local spinning group, advertise them on this website or the Shetland Sheep Society breed stand goes to many wool events, such as Woolfest, Wonderwool Wales, Fibrefest and Fibreeast and they are usually wanting good, clean fleeces to sell.
Another option is to send the wool away for processing. You could have it washed and carded into rovings, ready for spinning or felting. Spun and either left in skeins or balled with your own band added. The most costly process is to have it spun at a mill and then sent to be woven into throws, scarves etc. The minimum amount of fleece that many mills will accept is 20kg so you may wish to join up with some other Shetland breeders, especially if you wish to keep your colours separate. Some mills run a share scheme.
Finally why not use the wool yourself. Shetland wool is very versatile, fun to work with, and comes in many natural colours. Whether spinning, weaving, felting or using a peg loom, your fleeces can become a very absorbing hobby.
Lastly don’t throw away any wool that you cannot process, it is perfect for use in the garden; lining hanging baskets, mulching round soft fruit and putting into the bottom of large pots to act as a water reservoir.
See the Links page for companies that can process your fleeces.
In the right marketplace a Shetland sheepskin will retail at between £50 and £80 depending on size, quality and colour. This means it can be as valuable as the meat and with a little effort can double the return on your lambs.
You will need to arrange with the abattoir for the collection of the skins. You will also need to arrange a tannery and decide how you are going to get the skins there. Either delivering them yourself or sending them by carrier
The skins will need to be salted on the day of slaughter, preferably within 4 hours. If you are delivering them to the tannery the same day this is sufficient otherwise they require a second salting the following day.
Some abattoirs may do an initial salting, many will not which will leave this pleasant task down to you. Full instructions regarding salting can found here. Suffice it to say that it must be done promptly and it must be done well otherwise your skins may suffer wool slip.
It normally takes 8-12 weeks for the tannery to process your skins.
If you wish to use the skins lambs should be sent to the abattoir at the latest by the end of October in the south possibly mid November in the north. If left any later there may be rise causing a fleece break which although not visible to the eye will cause bald patches or matting on the finished product.
Older sheep can be sent late summer/early autumn when the fleece has grown sufficiently.
The testosterone in rams can make their skins a little more difficult and expensive to process depending on the process used.
The animal waste act 2003 stated ‘no animal skin will be returned to holding.’ By much lobbying this was overturned in England & Wales in 2005/2006 but is still in place in Scotland as nobody fought their corner.
Not surprisingly DEFRA insist on paperwork - ‘commercial document for transport of category 3 hide/skins under the animal by-product regulations 2005.’ This form has to be completed in triplicate with a copy for yourself, one for the abattoir and one for the tannery. A copy of this form can be downloaded HERE. Paperwork varies slightly in Wales so it would be best to check with your Animal Health Office. You may need to register if you plan to transport skins for business purposes. More about registration on the DEFRA website HERE.
Technically the skin is a by-product of the slaughter process and belongs to the abattoir and therefore you may be charged for the return of the skins. It seems it can be anything up to £3.00.
Shetland skins are an excellent product and the variety of colours and patterns make very attractive and luxurious floor rugs or seat covers.
There is also a demand for baby rugs to line pushchairs, car seats or just to lie on which it is said will calm a fractious baby! For this use your skin will need to be trimmed and processed for washing but the tannery will advise on this.
Some people sell their skins direct to farm shops, although at a lower price, it enables you to sell all your skins at once.
Otherwise there are the usual venues of craft fairs, farmers markets and shows where a display of skins can add visual impact to your stall.
There is clearly some work involved and the process is fairly expensive so you do need to assess your market before you begin.
Why not try just a few to start with, because in any event they do make very good Christmas presents!
See the Links page for companies that can process your skins.