Let Your Fleece Tell You Its Story
Your fleece has an important story to tell. It wants to give you valuable feedback on your nutrition, pasture, and herd management programs. So, let’s get started.
Gently lay out fleece on skirting table cut side up, tip side down. Pull 3 pencil width samples from the blanket remembering where they came from. Smell your fleece for any disagreeable odors.
Tenderness and Weakness (Fiber Breaks) – Check first. Tenderness is usually stress related and uniform throughout the fleece -- discard fleece. Weakness or rot spots (moisture, moths, storage issues) are usually environmentally induced -- appear in small contained areas of the fleece, remove these areas.
Stress can be caused by high fever, illness, internal/external parasites, weaning, showing, pregnancy, feed changes, etc. What you feed more than how much you feed can adversely affect your fiber. High protein, over fertilization of pastures, inadequate or over feeding vitamins/minerals, inadequate sunshine, high humidity can adversely affect your fiber.
Test each of your 3 pencil width samples. At a minimum do Test 1, but doing all 3 is best.
Test 1 - hold one end of a sample in each hand between thumb and forefinger. Pull hands apart putting consistent and increased tension on the sample (don’t jerk). Tenderness is indicated if all 3 samples pull or break apart in the same place along the staple (length) of the fiber. Weakness is indicated if 1 of the 3 samples pulls or breaks apart along the staple of the fiber. Pull another sample or 2 from the same area as the weak sample and retest. Examine area and determine size of weak/rot spot.
Test 2 - hold one end of a sample in each hand between thumb and forefinger. Pull hands apart putting consistent and increased tension on the sample (don’t jerk). Flick the sample along the staple of the fiber with middle or forth finger while holding it up to your ear. If you hear a snap, crackle, pop tenderness or weakness is indicated. Follow same indicators as in Test 1.
Test 3 - crunch test. Squeeze handfuls of fleece without pulling. If you hear and feel it crunching tenderness or weakness is indicated. Follow same indicators as in Test 1.
External Parasites – Usually herd management issue. Lice, mites, ticks, moths, beetles.
Medications used to control these parasites can discolor the fleece, break down the desirable characteristics of the fleece, and give it a disagreeable odor.
Nits or tiny insect eggs stick to individual fibers. They are dead and won’t contaminate other fleece. Discard fleece.
Lice are tiny, flat, white to tan insects that move slowly. Mainly seen in heavily fleeced areas like the top line.
Mites are usually microscopically tiny and tend to congregate in lightly fleeced areas like the belly or inside of the legs.
Ticks are usually easy to see. Can stain the fleece.
Moths and beetles are usually a storage issue. Check your stored fleece frequently.
Weathered Tips – Usually environment related. Tips taper to a point (not matted), usually dull, chalky, brittle, and coarse. Cria fleece (1st shearing), white and colored animals are susceptible, but predominantly in colored animals. Tips most often become weathered due to amniotic fluid (crias) or by excessive, repetitive environmental issues (sun, moisture).
Mud, Dirt, and Dust – Usually related to bedding or pasture management.
Dry lot or pasture? Dry lot accumulates more mud, dirt, and dust in the fleece. Pasture accumulates more vegetable matter.
Bedding - hay, straw, dirt, sand, concrete, or wood shavings? All have good and bad points. I wouldn’t use concrete for bedding as it nicely files down alpaca toe nails so you can imagine what it might do to their fleece. Wood shavings twist and burrow down in the fleece and the jagged edges make it almost impossible to get out.
Keeping pasture, dust hole, loafing shed, and barn areas clean will reduce mud, dirt, and dust.
Vegetable Matter (VM) – Usually pasture or herd management related. Seeds, thistles, burrs, hay, straw, pine needles, twigs, and leaves.
Pull weeds or mow, mow, mow! Use chemicals with extreme caution. Don’t let weeds go to seed. Noxious weeds in our area include the cocklebur, sand burrs, bull thistle, sticker burrs, beggar lice, and beggar-ticks. Feed hay close to the ground (not on the ground) so it won’t get on their backs. Keep pasture, dust hole, loafing shed, and barn areas clean. Gather and dispose of leaves, twigs, straw, and pine needles.
Cocklebur Sand Burrs Bull Thistle
Grass Sticker Burrs Beggar Lice Beggar-ticks
Stains and Impurities – Can be pasture, herd management, or environment related. Urine, fecal matter, suint (sweat residue), external parasites, grass, weeds, medications, bedding, mildew, small scabs from cuts or scrapes, oil from shears. Depending upon where the stains/impurities are located, what they look like, and their size, removing these small areas from the fleece may be all that’s needed.
Urine stains can occur on the belly, but if on the britch or back leg fiber it could indicate bladder/kidney conditions. Fecal matter on britch or back leg fiber that isn’t bean-like in appearance could indicate diarrhea caused by stress, nutrition, or internal parasites like coccidia. Dandruff or sloughing skin could be caused by external parasites, skin conditions, or sunburn. Bedding can stain belly and leg fiber. Suint can stain all parts of the fleece.
Cotting or Matting – Usually environment or herd management related. Excessive moisture, rubbing, rolling, external parasites, skin conditions. Fibers entangle and bind together and can’t be pulled apart easily. Found mainly on britch, lower legs, and belly. In blanket area, this occurs more often in Suris. Remove cotted areas.