The Power of WOOL

As this week is Wool Week we thought we’d release a blog about the super powers of wool and also introduce to you all our new woollen product…

Wool and sheepskin is simply the most amazing natural fibre and just isn’t getting the publicity it deserves. In the last year alone UK wool prices have more than halved with farmers getting an average of 32p per kg of wool and on average (each sheep fleece produces 2kg of wool). I recently read a BBC article on wool. They had spoken with a wool expert Jo Dawson, who has spent over 20 years in the wool trade. Jo said ‘if a scientist came to us today and said I've invented this brand-new product called wool then they'd receive a Nobel Prize, because it is such an incredible fibre’.

It is a common misconception that shearing sheep for wool is cruel and farmers only do it to make money from their flocks. In fact it is very much the opposite. Sheep have been bred over thousands of years to retain their wool (because wool was once a valued product) and so now they have to be shorn for their welfare. If a sheep isn’t shorn the wool just grows longer and longer matting and putting the sheep at risk of overheating in the summer, getting caught up in brambles, stuck on their backs and even worse getting fly strike. Something all farmers detest. Fly strike, (for those of you who don’t know) is when flies lay eggs on a sheep’s fleece, when these eggs hatch as maggots they burrow into the sheep’s flesh in their thousands and quite literally will eat the sheep from the outside in if they are not shorn and treated. It is simply horrific for the sheep and the shepherd dealing with it. So believe me when I say, sheep have to be shorn.

As many of you know here at The Dartmoor Shepherd we keep the three native Dartmoor sheep breeds, The Whiteface Dartmoor, Greyface Dartmoor and Devon and Cornwall Longwool. They are now sadly all rare breeds with the Devon and Cornwall Longwool being at risk of extinction with only 800 breeding ewes left in the world, of which we have 60. One of the main reasons these breeds are rare is because they were bred for a time when wool was not only profitable but actually worth it’s weight in gold. Our Dartmoor breeds have some of the thickest and heaviest wool clips of any breed of sheep in the world and we not only have to shear them twice a year (this is very uncommon) for their welfare but we are charged more per sheep to shear them because they are such an effort to shear. Now wool is worth so little, farmers are consciously choosing sheep breeds that have less wool making them easier and cheaper to keep and thus our native Dartmoor breeds have (along with other reasons) become very unpopular. Last year each of our sheep on average cost us £1.40 to have shorn, if we had sold our wool to the British Wool board we would have got between 15-20p per kg of wool. Meaning on average we would lose X for shearing our sheep. Many farmers are now putting their wool on a compost heap.

It is such a shame therefore that wool isn’t more appreciated. No animal is harmed in shearing, it actually benefits them and wool is the most remarkable fibre. Here are a few facts about our nation's most sustainable fibre. Prepare to be blown away by the power of wool...

Renewable - Wool is 100% natural, renewable and science has yet to produce a fibre that can match it’s very clever and useful properties. As long as there are fields to roam and pasture to munch sheep will keep on producing new fleece. This makes it a completely renewable option for the future.

Fire Resistant - Wool is able to stretch to around 70% of its natural length and then spring back into its original shape, even after years of stretch, wear, and washing. As a result, wool is a brilliant fibre for outdoor activity clothing, carpets, blankets etc. Wool has an amazingly high ignition point of 600°C/1,112°F. Wool requires more oxygen than is actually available in the air to burn and thirdly, wool does not melt, drip, or stick to the skin should it catch fire. The very construction of the cell membranes in wool also prevents the spread of flames, and produces less smoke and toxic gas than any synthetic fibres.

Biodegradable - If you and your knitwear do decide to part ways, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, naturally fertilising plants as it degrades and releases nutrients back into the earth. Woollen products usually completely degrade after six months in the ground; by contrast, products made from synthetic fibres can take approx 200 years to degrade.

Regulates Temperature - Wool can regulate your body temperature and woollen garments naturally reduce body odour taking away body moisture, it will also naturally stretch and accommodate your body no matter what exercise you do. Wool fibres have a crimped texture so when it’s packed more tightly together lots of tiny pockets of air form. This structure means that it can absorb and release moisture, allowing your skin to breathe. As it reacts to your body’s temperature too – you can wear it in summer or winter - Andy Murray now plays tennis in 100% wool garments.

Resistant to Staining - The protective coating on wool fibres makes wool products more resistant to staining than many other materials. They also pick up less dust as it’s naturally anti-static.

Although I have gone on about the qualities of wool I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface of it’s wondrous abilities. Wool really is the natural solution not only to the global apparel and footwear industry but to many other industries too, for example wool insulation for buildings. Britain is one of the largest producers of wool in the world and so garments can be produced without even leaving British soil which is also environmentally friendly.

As a consumer we need to use our money as a tool that acts like a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. Many modern businesses are using wool for it’s amazing qualities such as Finisterre the clothing brand founded in Cornwall, The Dartmoor Bed Company using 100% British Wool to make eco friendly mattresses, Thermafleece insulation, and locally to us Lily Warne Wool.

In July The Dartmoor Shepherd celebrated it’s 5th birthday and over the last 5 years we have been focusing on retailing our gourmet, ethical hogget and mutton and our vast range of sheepskin interior items and accessories. We are now looking to the future and have just launched our first woollen item, check out our woollen throws and blankets on our online shop. They are all woven using our own lambs wool blended with other 100% British wool. They are all made in England by a family run mill. Measuring at 200cm X 150cm these large throws can go over the double bed and will be the most sustainable choice for your home.

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