Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sheep Week - The Sheep

After warming up by the fire, Juan took me out to meet the sheep. They have a special system to mark all the sheep by color and micron count and size and breeding -- some of the sheep are artificially inseminated, others aren't, and that changes the mark on the back of the flank (red, or blue that washes off when they clean the fleeces) -- micron quality is designated by marks on the sheep's nose and head. Two blue marks for super fine, one blue mark for fine. The sheep with two blue marks are the best of the best.

My favorite part about meeting the sheep was how the gauchos really didn't expect me to stay in the pen with them while they wrangled the rams around. They figured, I guess, that I should be more worried about getting possibly headbutted, and that I would probably stand on the other side of the fence. But everyone else was in the pen, and I needed to see things up close, too. So when one of the rams tried to stare me down, I didn't even flinch. I'd like to imagine this was impressive, but more than likely everyone missed it.

The rams are far more interesting than the ewes, though they still pile in the furthest corner like frightened children and push so close to each other that they might risk suffocation. I guess there's no such thing as a claustrophobic sheep. The gauchos would grab the rams by the horns and pull them forward away from the herd, a stubborn, difficult task. Then, someone would rifle through their fleece and show me the best sections of the micron. Micron samples are taken like core samples - a circular disc of fiber is removed from the center of the fleece (don't worry, it doesn't even touch the animal), and used to count the microns, or waves that designate fine-ness, in the fibers. On average, the micron count near the shoulder of the sheep is lower, and the fleece near the tail and on the belly is higher. Lower is good. Very good. This farm has won a lot of awards, so the fleeces were beautifully white, in most cases, and the micron counts low. We saw one ram that was around 14, and he was already a year old. You don't usually see something like that after the first fleecing.

11 comments:

  1. Wow - the light fiber under the dark brown curliness is just so cool. I love the color contrast. And I think the ram was probably very intimidated by you! ;-)

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  2. I love the fleece shot. Maybe I need a new screen saver...

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  3. High there!! Thanks for the photos showing the wool under the outer brown coat....amazingly white, isn't it!! Such an amazing experience you must be having. Treasure every moment! :)

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  4. Are fleeces from ewes and rams equally used for yarn production?

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  5. Are the tips of the fleece naturally colored darker? Or are the sheep just dirty? (I am sure they like to roll in all sorts of muck - most animals do.)

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  6. Ha, I was going to say pretty much exactly what Devin said! Love these 'behind the scenes' posts about our favorite yarn. Thanks.

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  7. The white fleece is surprisingly beautiful!

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  8. Core sample - now you're talking my [Engineering] language! I'm glad that you worked your way into the pen, I'll bet you had the experience of a lifetime. ~ Trish / QAGeek @ Ravelry

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  9. I'm not sure which I enjoy more- your personal accounts of visiting the sheep farm or the information about the yarn/really lovely color card from today on the Malabrigo blog. It's awesome to be able to truly see the origins of one of my favorite things in the world- Malabrigo!

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  10. it is unbelievable that the fleece really is snow white under the dirt.

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  11. The sheep look so cuddly! Especially in that fleece shot. I want to snuggle him!

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