Notes from Windward: #55

Taking a fleece to the County Fair

Unless you know what you're looking for, it's quite possible to miss something that's right in front of you. That's almost what happened with our sheep. I learned how to spin wool this spring, and since our sheep are my main wool source, I became interested in all the different types of sheep and fleece selection.

I especially recommend In Sheep's Clothing, A Handspinner's Guide to Wool (Interweave Press) for it's close-up photos of over a hundred fleeces. Our shearing is held in April and we had a half-dozen fleeces stored "in the grease" (directly off the sheep and not washed or scoured). When I compared samples from those fleeces, I was amazed at how favorably they compared to photos of some of the highest quality fleeces in In Sheep's clothing.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I decided to enter a fleece or two at the Klickitat County Fair. My main interest was in learning how the process works with an aim toward a serious entry next year. I wasn't sure how to "present" the entry or how the fleece would be judged. Although WSU Extension gave me a brief pamphlet, I couldn't get much help on just what qualities the judge would be looking for. I decided to give it a try and to attend the actual judging to find out first-hand just what the criteria were. There were three possible categories: natural colored, medium grade and fine grade. I also thought "natural colored" meant dark colors, but I soon found out that it means any color at all.

I entered a Suffolk fleece in the Medium Grade Division and a Polypay-Columbia cross in the Natural Colored Division. The Suffolk sheep are old and I knew the fleece was pretty dry. The Polypay-Columbia was a good fleece, but I also knew it wasn't one of our best. The really good ones had been used during our Wool Festival in April. I went to the judging hoping to learn a lot, and I did. The judge had raised sheep for over twenty years and really knew his stuff.

I was back a ways in the crowd and couldn't tell for sure which fleece he was always talking about, so I just listened. When he judged the Natural Colored Division, I thought I could tell when he judged our Polypay-Columbia, but the more I heard, the more I thought I must be wrong. "Incredibly fine, lots of twist, good lanolin content, excellent spinning fleece. Give this one a first."

All fleeces earning a First Place in the division were then judged against each other. We were awarded the ribbon for Champion Fleece!

For those of you familiar with fine wool, I'm proud to note that our fleece won out over two Merinos, the breed which is widely considered to be the best. And, oh yes, our Suffolk fleece also won a third place ribbon. Since Suffolks are considered "meat sheep", we're proud of them as well.

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