SheddingI have repeated this conversation about the sheep a million times. When someone finds out I have sheep, it always goes the same.

Oh, so you sell the wool?

No, they’re hair sheep, they shed their wool, it is of no value.

Oh…. So what do you do with them?

They are a meat crop- lamb, you know?

Oh, I see….

That is usually where a pause occurs. Most people don’t want to think too much about where meat comes from. Or, they’ve just never thought about it before this moment. Or, maybe they prefer to think the meat is a byproduct of something else- loin chops that simply must be eaten as an artifact of the need for producing wool… But to just raise meat solely for the sake of raising meat- for many people, that is something to chew on (no pun intended).

But a few arts-and-crafts types want to know more. They catch the mention that there is wool, just that it sheds. And they want to know, is there something that could be done with it? Well, yes, I suppose so, given the infinite creativity which some artists possess.

One of my coworkers is such a creative person, and she was interested to actually see what comes off these shedding sheep. So I brought her a chunk of shed wool in the spring. She quickly re-sealed the ziplock bag, making a face over the smell of lanolin and animal. Apparently the smell of grubby sheep does not seem very “natural” in the cubicle environment.

My coworker is a felter, and so this is what she made- just a sample rectangle, mixed with some Romney wool. It’s very scratchy  (and sheds), from all the hair fibers that hair sheep have, so certainly could not be worn as a garment. But it could make a cool craft or piece of artwork. It has a lot of texture, variation and depth.  Mixing colors could make an even more interesting piece. It doesn’t smell at all anymore: she washed it enough that it just smells subtly fresh, like soap.

The practicality of shedding sheep is that it’s not that easy to harvest their wool, unless you were to shear. And the whole point of shedding sheep is to not have to do the work of shearing, because it’s a lot of work. And if you’re going to do the work, then you might as well shear a highly productive wool breed.

When hair sheep wool sheds, it usually falls off in small bits,  more like how a dog sheds. Most of it is lost to the wind, wild birds, or ground into the soil by hooves. A few of the sheep shed in big chunks, but even that doesn’t render a lot of volume compared to a wool sheep. So, I think  it remains more of a crafting curiosity than something which has serious artistic potential.

I did have a lamb hide tanned once, with the hair on- pictured here with a yardstick to see the size. Tanners and taxidermists are few and far between these days; but I had learned about a woman in a remote part of Washington who does very good work. You freeze the hide and ship it to her in a box insulated with fiberglass batting; and she mails it back, finished, months later. I think the hide is pretty, and interesting to have on display. Something for people to touch, since  most of the live sheep are too wily and dirty to be touchable. The hide seems to have some potential, for making Eskimo-style boots, or something. I think this one cost about $75  to tan. That would make a few pairs of fancy Uggs!

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