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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343

Bluefaced Leicester Ewe

Bluefaced Leicester ewe

Learning to class wool
Learning to grade wool

Merino ewes 
Merino sheep in New York

Tub of wool
Tub of wool

Unloading wool
Unloading wool at the wool pool

Wool garments
Wool garments


    Real men wear wool

  • One sheep
    One sheep produces anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds of wool annually. The wool from one sheep is called a fleece, from many sheep, a clip. The amount of wool that a sheep produces depends upon its breed, genetics, nutrition, and shearing interval. Lambs produce less wool than mature animals. Due to their larger size, rams usually produce more wool than ewes of the same breed or type.

  • Long wool sheep
    Long wool sheep usually produce the heaviest fleeces because their fibers, though coarser, grow the longest. Hand spinners tend to prefer wool from the long wool breeds because it is easier to spin.

    Medium wool sheep, raised more for meat than fiber, produce the lightest weight, least valuable fleeces. Medium wool is usually made into blankets, sweaters, or socks or it is felted.

    Some sheep produce very coarse fibers. This type of wool is called carpet wool, and as the name suggests is used to make carpets and tapestries.

  • Fine wool sheep
    Fine wool sheep produce fleeces which usually have the greatest value due to their smaller fiber diameter and versatility of use.

  • Hair sheep
    Hair sheep shed their coats and produce no usable fibers. The "fleeces" from hair sheep and hair x wool crosses should discarded. Their inclusion in the wool clip will contaminate the entire clip. Even raising wool sheep along side hair sheep or other shedding animals could affect fleece quality of the wool sheep. Hair will not accept dye.

  • Value of wool
    The value of wool is based on its suitability for specific end uses, as well as the fundamentals of the world wool market. Raw wool is usually purchased on the basis of grade. Grade denotes the average fiber diameter and length of individual fibers. The grade (or price) is reduced if the wool is dirty and contains a lot of vegetable matter or other contaminants.

    In the commercial market, white wool is more valuable than colored wool because it can be dyed any color. Even the wool from sheep with white faces is more valuable than the wool from sheep with dark or moddled faces because the fleeces from non-white face sheep may contain colored wool or hairs which cannot be dyed. In contrast, naturally colored wools are often favored in the niche markets.

  • Wool marketing
    Large producers of wool usually sell their wool to warehouses or directly to wool mills. Sometimes, the wool is sold on a clean (scoured) basis. Small producers often sell their wool (raw) through wool pools. A wool pool is a collection point for wool from many producers. At the pool, wool is sorted and packaged into different lots. The entire pool is sold to one mill, often via silent bid. Some producers sell their wool to hand spinners or have it made into yarn or blankets. When prices are low, some producers throw their wool away or give it to their shearer.

    Learn how a wool pool works=>

    In the United States
    In 2008, the average price paid for wool sold in the United States was 99 cents per pound for a total value of $32.5 million. 443 million head of sheep were shorn in 2008. The average fleece weight was 7.5 pounds.

    Wool is a freely traded international commodity, subject to global supply and demand. While wool represents only 3% of world fiber production, it is important to many country's economies and way of life. Australia dominates the world wool market. The United States accounts for less than 1 percent of the world's wool production and is a net importer of wool. The top states for wool production are Texas, California, and Wyoming.

    World Production of Wool, 2004
    Million pounds
     New Zealand
     Eastern Europe
     United Kingdom
     South Africa
     United States
     World total