A Wooly Problem


I received the following email from the lady who is processing my wool:

I need to talk to you about the wool that needed cleaning. We wouldn’t
agree to clean it again, because those burrs were very hard and nasty, and
were very rough on our hands. We tried getting them out wearing gloves, but
that didn’t work, and we both wound up with a lot of cuts and scratches on
our hands. If there is any way to get those plants out of your grazing
areas, that would be best for animals and humans alike.

Nothing like your sheep being fired from your wool processor!

The sheep were in the front barn yard (wherein there are NO burrs or anything high) all winter. In March, I moved them to their pasture, and in early April, I had them sheared. Their wool has been growing since last spring, so I’m not sure if they got the burrs here or not as I don’t know how deep the burrs were in the wool. I will have to look into the pasture a bit closer–it’s certainly possible they got them here, but if they did, I’m not sure what I can do about it.

I’ve thought of sheep coats. Calling all sheep people! Tell me about sheep coats. Can they wear them all year? Can I get sheep coats now and put them on? I’m thinking sheep coats will help???

The other option is to give up on having wool processed–because my sheep got fired their first time out.

I keep my sheep for three reasons. The primary one is that I enjoy them. I only have three “keeper” sheep–my ewes. I have a fourth sheep, my ram, who is interchangeable because I won’t ever keep an old ram again. A second reason I keep sheep is for meat. I like lamb. The third reason is for wool. But if the wool is too expensive to have processed, perhaps I should drop that reason. I know how to process wool myself–I learned. But. I’m busy and I know how much time it takes. I don’t choose to do this myself because of other more pressing demands (to me) on my time. If having the wool processed is going to be too expensive–or not even possible because my sheep are too messy, that facet may have to be dropped. I’d love to hear some advice on this, though, before I decide to do that.


  1. woolylamb says:

    Yes, coats will help! Nowadays all the really good wool processed for hand spinners is from coat wearing sheep, and they do wear the coats all year. I can’t speak to the coast, having only been the recipient of coated wool, and the friend of a woolgrowing sheep coater (is that a real term?) but she swears by it. You can buy one and use it to make a pattern for the rest, and it really cuts down on the veggie matter they pick up. I simply would never buy uncoated wool anymore…. and now you know why! :sheep:

  2. MJ Krech says:

    Found a great Make Your Own Sheep Coats website! :sheep:

    https://gfwsheep.com/sheepcoats/sheep.coats.html :sheep:

  3. countryfarmgirl says:

    I have “uncoated” wool processed all the time for my own spinning. You might need to find a different processor? A little bit of vegetable matter in the wool is no big deal, really. You just pick it out while you’re spinning and plying.

  4. boulderneigh says:

    I coat my Shetlands, but their wool is one of my main products so I breed for fine fleece (and sell out every year). I use Rocky Sheep Suits and have to have several sizes (at least two) for each sheep or else the coats wouldn’t fit as the fleece grows throughout the year. They aren’t cheap, but the coats last for years and I get a premium for my coated fleeces, so for me it is worth it.

    Some of the burrs out there really are nasty — way beyond the type of vegetable matter a processor can be expected to deal with!

  5. nursemary says:

    Ha. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as sheep coats. I don’t have any sheep but if putting a coat on a sheep is anything like putting a fly mask on a donkey, I’m out! Good luck. I hope they didn’t get their feelings hurt.

  6. bonita says:

    So…these sheep clothes…they come in wolf sizes?

  7. Mary k says:

    I know Nothing about sheep or their coats, but I am really laughing at Bonita’s comment….or question. Very clever.

  8. rurification says:

    Burrs are nasty. And sheep are like magnets to them. When I washed our fleeces, the burrs generally softened up, but some types of burrs might not. Sheep coats will give you very nice fleeces and are probably worth the cost. You can get premium prices for covered fleeces and you don’t even have to wash them at all. Skirt them, put them in a box and they’ll sell like crazy, especially if the fleeces are soft. Spinners love soft.

  9. caprilis says:

    It seems like the sheep would get terribly hot with a coat on in W.V.

  10. outbackfarm says:

    I was wondering about heat too. I guess they are made with a breathable fabric? I have some Finn sheep but their wool was pretty free of burrs. Haven’t sent it off to be worked yet though. I did read on Jenna’s blog a few weeks ago about one of her ewes that got stuck in a wild rose bush and got so tangled it died. That really scared me so I went out and cut all the wild roses and even thistles that I could find in my pastures. I don’t want anything like that to happen to anyone’s sheep. I have also had long blackberry branches get caught in their wool and those are hard to get out. We have some kind of plant that has the burrs at the top that also get in their fleece and those are really hard to get out. That may be what’s in yours. Those sticky burrs that catch on when you walk by. Good luck with your bramble and burr hunt! Take big cutters and wear gloves and long pants!

  11. SwissMiss says:

    You would get a prettier, cleaner fleece with coats. (thinking of the show sheep I was acquainted with) You can even get little hoods for them so they can rob feed stores and remain unidentifiable. 😆 As long as the sheep have access to shade and water I don’t think they will overheat. Probably would be best to coat them before it turns hot so they can adjust as the temps rise.
    I think I would check the pastures regardless of what you decide to do with the fleeces for the burrs. Is it possible for the burrs to work their way through the wool to end up irritating the sheep’s skin? I have very little experience with raising sheep, but was just thinking from a long hair/thick coat dog angle. By the the time you realize the burrs have worked in, they can cause quite the skin sores on a dog because the coat keeps the burr rubbing right against the skin. Wonder if the burrs were cockleburrs. Those are horrible to remove from dogs, cow tails, horse manes and tails. The barbs on the burr are hooked and they tangle in really well. Anyway it is a weed and weeds can crowd out grass so I’d do some pasture investigation over the summer and fall to see if you can spot any burr producing plants. If you check the fleeces next year and you are burrless, then you know the weeds were from Stringtown. Also I’d keep checking for a year or three because many plants propigate by hitching a ride on a mobile host and moving to a new area to seed it.


  12. Leck Kill Farm says:

    I am certain my father never put coats on any of his sheep and can only imagine his reaction to such an email! I would think clearing them from the pasture would go a long way in keeping the fleece clean. I remember how bad the burrs were to get out of our springer spaniels fur.

    I do see coated and hooded (robber! ha, that is funny Jeanne) sheep in my area. I assumed they were show sheep. I learned something new today.

  13. wormlady says:

    Yes, coats. Not that hard to make, you will need to either put tucks in (like dresses in the olden days for girls) to let out as the wool gets longer or have larger ones to accomodate the wool as it gets longer. Not that I’ve ever had sheep, but I’m a handspinner and have known many different people with many different breeds of sheep, and I think not to worry about heat in the summer. The wool insulates in both directions, so keeps heat out as well as in. And you shear in the Spring, so their fleeces are shortest over the summer.
    On burrs: the burrs in my overgrown south 40 that are worst are the ones from burrdock, and if that’s what they had, the lady was right that they are painful and difficult to get out.
    On the other hand, she could have thrown out (or saved to return to you) the sections with burrs in them rather than trying to save every single fiber.
    The one covered fleece that I ever spun had real blocky tips, because the coat prevented the tips from getting scraggly. And if you have black fleeces, a coat cuts way down on sunbleaching the tips, so the yarn spun from it ends up a deeper color.

  14. Nobarnfarm says:

    If you don’t want to use coats you can brush-hog the pasture (you’ll have to use the tractor!)& then graze your goats with the sheep. The goats will eat the brushy plants that snag in the wool.

  15. Landodixy says:

    Since you like sheep and you like lamb, if you continue to have problems with burrs, you could always switch to HAIR SHEEP. We have (4) Katahdins and LOVE them. Although we won’t eat them, they are meat sheep and they shed naturally so we don’t have to worry about having them sheared.

  16. Jersey Lady says:

    Hi-I asked my super sheep cousin about your burrs. She says: For Cockleburrs spray the pastures with a broadleaf spray. They grow, sometime not high, and then bloom out the burrs before it freezes. They are nasty. The only other thought would be if they were sand burrs, that grow on light sandy ground. They are terrible and I don’t know how to get rid of them

  17. Merino Mama says:

    I’ve been contemplating coats as well. It takes so long to skirt my wool, but I have Merinos which is probably some of the finest wool you can have and I’m thinking it would make it much more valuable. It’s really weird because I have Jacobs and Merinos and it seems that the Merino wool will pick up this bur that is pretty small, elongated and smooth for the most part but has a couple of spines on the end of it that grabs hold of the wool. The Jacobs tend to pick up the round burrs, kind of like a cocklebur but not as big. Really and truly my biggest problem is that the Merinos get so dirty on the ends. The wool inside is beautiful ivory white with a lot of lanolin, but the ends are a dingy grey that you really have to wash hard which kind of felts the ends. I don’t know. I’m just learning how to wash. I don’t even have carders. I’ve never sold any of my wool although I did trade some old wool for a lesson in felting. Nice to see the comments from spinners.

  18. Michelle B says:

    I would ask the wool processor if she would send you some wool with the burrs in it, and then take that to the county extension to have them identify what plant you are looking for. Until the burrs form, later in the summer here, you can just pull this plants up and burn them. I know this because the people we bought our place from thought that cockleburrs were so pretty! UGH! I know nothing about sheep coats, but I have seen them at shows. I have been thinking of making a few for our show cattle to wear at shows, very light weight to keep the flies and dirt away.


  19. Stick Horse Cowgirls says:

    At my daughter’s farm, at certain times of the year, the dogs pick up these horrible burs that ARE very painful–to the dog and the person picking them out! I took the scissors to the smallest dog because she was so miserable! I would definitely go with the sheep coats!

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