A Wool Show...

Prize Fleeces

(1997's Best: Alice - State Fair Colored Ewe Champion. Sarah - Adams County Champion Commercial. Daniel - State Fair Colored Ram Champion. Freckles - State Fair Colored Ram Reserve Champion)

Have you ever been to the County Fair or State Fair and visited the Wool Show? Did it look just too confusing to figure out? Have you ever listened to the Wool Judge "giving reasons"? Did you know the judge had to?

What follows is Wool Judging for the beginner. An explanation of what the Judge is looking for, and a glossary of words likely to be used, as verbable reasons are given for the placing of the classses. When you attend a wool judging you are allowed to ask questions: about wool terms, fleece character, the judge's preferrences, etc.


Knowledge of wool and wool production is vitally important to producers. People who constantly increase their knowledge of wool usually encounter fewer problems in marketing their product. They are better qualified to execute breeding and management programs through which they can improve both quality and production and, thereby, raise their net income. Livestock judging students with knowledge of wool and wool judging are usually more capable sheep judges.


There are six Blood Grades of wool. Each grade is determined by the diameter of the fiber.

Another system, called the Spinning Count, is used to identify fiber fineness. This system is more exact, as each term refers to a narrow range of fineness. Grades are extremely important to the wool industry. Each type of wool fabric requires a different grade or blend of grades. Therefore, each grade has a different price value.

Each breed of sheep normally produces specific grades of wool. The wool grades are considered to be a "breed characteristic" of that particular breed. For example, the Rambouillet breed should have a spinning count grade of 64's to the finer 80's. (see "Blood Count" link for chart)

When you judge sheep or a fleece, look for uniformity of fiber diameter. Upon close inspection, you will find that the fineness of the wool fibers from the shoulder is different than that from the back. Wool from the breech (hind leg) is usually the coarsest. Degree of variation is the important factor. A wide variety of grades in the fleece results in lower quality yarn, and lower price paid for pound of raw wool.

It is difficult to give a general rule to follow in determining if a fleece is of average, good, or poor uniformity. In judging an animal, the wool should not drop more than one blood grade from the shoulder to the hind leg. (you should always check the wool on the shoulder, the side, and the hind leg) In judging a fleece, you would want to check as many as five different locks from different locations on the fleece.


Length of wool is extremely important to both the manufacturer and the producer. Various lengths are used to make different types of fabrics or products. This often requires different types of machinery. Longer length increases pounds of wool for the producer. However, exceptionally long, staple length within grade can cause waste when commercially processing wool.

Staple length is the easiest factor to resolve in wool judging. The recommended practice is to determine the length of a finger and then use it to estimate the length of a wool lock. NEVER STRETCH THE WOOL WHEN MEASURING. Uniformity of length is just as important as uniformity of grade. Therefore, you will want to examine the staple for length when you are looking for uniformity of grade from the different locks or staples which you have pulled from the fleece.


Two types of defects are primary causes of waste: tenderness and breaks. TENDERNESS refers to wool fibers that are weak throughout the lock. Wool fibers which are all weak in one specific region of a lock are referred to as a BREAK. Breaks result from stress such as sickness, lambing difficulties, or severe storms.

A sound fleece is free of breaks or tender wool. You test for these conditions by pulling the lock from each end. (If you pull hard enough, you can break any sound fleece) If the wool fibers separate easily, leaving ragged ends, they are most likely tender. If a distinct separation occurs, the fleece has a break. THE LENGTH OF A FLEECE WITH A BREAK IS DETERMINED BY ESTIMATING THE LENGTH OF THE LONGEST PORTION LEFT.

Environmental conditions can cause waste. The most common is weathered tips. Check the tips to see if they are tender. Another factor causing waste is second cuts. This is usually not very important in wool judging, but is a serious problem to producers. It is caused by a shearer cutting the wool fibers two or more times. These bits of wool, second cuts, or noils must be carded out or they make slubs in the finished yarn.


THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN JUDGING WOOL IS ESTIMATING POUNDS OF CLEAN WOOL. Think of this in two ways: grease weight or clean weight. Of the two, clean weight is the most important. All wool is sold on a clean basis whether by grease weight price or clean weight price.

Yield or shrinkage is used to determine what the grease price will be. If wool decreases from 10 pounds to 5 pounds when washed or cleaned, both yield and shrinkage are 50%. One half was wool (YIELD) while the other one-half was non-wool (SHRINKAGE).

Two ways to actually determine yield and shrinkage are by coring or scouring (washing). Both methods cost money and require time. Therefore, learning to estimate yield is very important in wool judging. How else can you determine which fleece has the most pounds of clean wool? A wool buyer has to estimate yield to calculate the grease price of a wool clip.

Shrinkage (non-wool) is caused by lanolin (grease) dirt, sand, water, and vegetable matter such as hay, straw, and burrs. Depending on these factors shrinkage of wool varies greatly. Fortunately, each grade has a range in which it will usually yield. Yield figures for each grade are easy to remember, but do not be surprised if you find fleeces which will exceed the range listed for each grade.

THE BEST METHOD OF ESTIMATING YIELD IS BY LIFTING THE FLEECE. If the fleece is extremely heavy for its size, it will have a low yield. If the fleece is extremely light for its size, it will have a high yield. You should look for helpful clues such as excessive grease content, depth of dirt penetration, type of dirt, and staple length. Soils are heavy and cause the fleece to shrink- more than corral dust which is mostly vegetable matter. Learning to estimate yield will take much practice, so do not give up if you are having trouble.


Character refers to the general appearance of a fleece. This includes crimp, handle, and color. Crimp is the natural waviness of the fibers. It is one of the first qualities usually seen by the eye, and thus gives "eye appeal". Crimp Is important for breed character and is indicative of wool grade. Fine wool has the most crimp per inch while common and braid have the least. Many people associate crimp with grade but it is only an indication of grade.

Handle refers to the feel of the wool. Does it feel soft or does it feel harsh and "wiry"? Rule of thumb is that a soft fleece makes a soft fabric and is worth more.

Color is very important, primarily for accurate dyeing of wool. The most desirable wool to dye is white. This permits wool to be made into light colored fabrics. Fleece with stained wool must be discounted. You should separate (skirt) tags and belly wools at shearing and sack separately.


Purity is freedom from colored fibers, kemp, and hair-like fibers. Black and brown fibers are easily identified by their color. Kemp is usually short, coarse fibers pointed at both ends. Their color is chalk-white. Black fibers are normal in black-faced or black-faced crossbred sheep. All of these fibers reduce the fleece value because they interfere with dyeing. (Leg and face hair should always be discarded)


Three types of wool classes are judged: commercial, breed and hand spinning.

COMMERCIAL classes consists of judging fleeces of the same grade. When you look at a commercial class, you should place the fleece that is worth the most money because of QUALITY and QUANTITY at the top. A fleece of improper grade is rejected and placed last. Watch for a break in the fleece as it may change the staple length classification.

BREED classes are judged with genetic qualities in mind. QUANTITY is still first in importance but a little more emphasis is directed toward QUALITY. If a break is found in a breed class, it is ignored because it is not a genetic factor. The grade has to be acceptable for the breed.

HAND SPINNING classes are judged more on handle and character. The fleece with the most pounds of very clean wool will certainly appeal to a judge, but character and handle may decide the class. All grades of wool are considered to be of equal value (unlike Commercial classes, where the judge may feel that only the finer grades are of any Commercial real value). All colored wool classes are considered to be hand spinning classes.


1. The first thing a good wool judge does is look at the class from a distance. Many times you can pick out such things as top, middle, or bottom pairs. This often saves time and confusion. You can sometimes spot from a distance the largest fleece bundle and the cleanest appearing fleece of the class.

2. When handling the fleeces, the first thing to evaluate is which fleece has the cleanest wool, second cleanest, etc.

3. You are now ready to inspect the wool more closely. A lock of wool the size of your finger is sufficient. Always draw locks from no less than three different areas on the fleece. When you remove these locks be careful not to tear up the fleece. A fleece that has been badly torn looks frowzy (fuzzy) .

4. After you have removed the wool locks, the first thing to inspect is the length. Second, check the grade by spreading the fibers apart so that you can see many individual fibers. Third, check for breaks and tenderness.

5. Watch for impurities, waste, and character when you inspect a fleece for weight, grade, length, and strength.

For a more detailed explanation of the blood count system and wool grading please read the information and look at the tables found here at the "blood count" system for grading wool.


Apparel Wool - Wool suitable for manufacture into apparel fabrics.

Bellies - Short and often times defective wool from belly of sheep.

Black Wool - Fleeces from sheep containing grey, brown or black wool.

Blood - Denotes fineness: "more blood" means finer wool.

Braid - Long, coarse, lustrous wool.

Break -The fibers are weak at a certain point, but strong above and below the weak spot; opposed to " tender" , which signifies a general I y weak fiber.

Breech (or Britch) Wool - Coarse hair fibers on lower hind legs; generally the lowest quality wool of the entire fleece.

Bright - Light colored wool relatively free of dirt and sand.

Brittle - Harsh, dry, "wire - like".

Buck Wool - Wool shorn from rams or wethers.

Bulk Grade - The largest percentage of grade in a lot of original - bagged wool .

Burry Wool - Wools heavy in burrs which require special and expensive processing in their removal.

Canary Stained Wool - A yellowish coloration which cannot be removed by ordinary scouring methods. Certain types of bacteria] growth are believed to be a contributing factor.

Carbonizing - Removal of burrs from wool by immersion in sulfuric acid.

Carpet - Wools too heavy and coarse to be made into apparel; suitable for carpets and rugs.

Character - A general term describing the total of all characteristics that make wool attractive to the eye such as color, crimp, brightness, and sound tip.

Clothing - The shorter length wools within a grade; used chiefly in the manufacture of woolens and felts.

Color - The actual color of the wool; a bright white to cream is most desirable; canary stains, brown or black stains are undesirable.

Combing - Manufacturing process in which the short fibers (noils) are separated from the longer fibers which are combed into a continuous strand of parallel fibers called top.

Combing Wool - wool that is strong and long enough to be combed.

Condition - Refers to the amount of grease and dirt in a fleece 'heavy condition" means heavy shrinkage.

Core-testing - The coring of bales or bags of wool to determine the clean content and yield.

Cotted - Fibers that are matted together.

Crimp - The natural waviness in fibers: distinct crimp - crimps are sharp and clear - fine wools have more crimps per inch; bold crimp - larger crimp spaces widely apart - coarser wools have fewer crimps per inch.

Crossbred Wool - Wool from sheep produced by crossing Merino with English long wool breeds: Columbia, Corriedales, etc. with wool grades from 1/2 to 1 /4 blood fineness; usuaIIy has plenty of length , luster and softness.

Dingy - wool that is dark greyish and lacks luster.

Doggy - Short, harsh, coarser than type should be; lacks crimp and elasticity.

Down Wool - Wool from breeds that originated in the Downs of England; the wool is medium in grade, short, wiry, lacking crimp and often contains black fibers.

Felting - The process of locking wool fibers together to make felt t .

Fleece Wool - Usually all fleeces grown in the states east of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

French Combing - Wool of medium staple length, suitable for combing on the French comb but too short for the English Noble comb.

Frowzy - wool that is dry and lifeless without distinct crimp due to weather and or poor quality.

Grading - Separating fleeces into groups according to fineness and length.

Grease Wool - Wool as it is shorn from the sheep, before any processing. Gummy - Grease wool that has excessive amounts of yolk which has set and is stiff and sticky.

Handle - Refers to the actual feel of the wool; a good "handle" has great resilience and softness, fineness, length, and is pleasing to the touch.

Hank - A 560-yard unit of wool yarn wound on a spool or reel.

Kemp - Chalky white, brittle, weak fiber which may be mixed with normal fibers in a fleece; kemp will not take dye and is objectionable.

Lanolin - Refined yolk or wool grease.

Lock - A tuft or group of wool fibers that cling naturally together in the fleece; also known as a "staple".

Lofty - "Full of life", springs back to normal position, very elastic, and bulky compared to its weight.

Luster - Natural gloss or sheen in a fleece; very desirable .

MeduIIated Fibers - Fibers having more meduIIa (center cell area); such, fibers are coarse and uneven in diameter, harsh, low in elasticity.

Noils - Short wool fibers removed in the combing process; the noils are used in woolens and felts, usually blended with longer-stapled wools.

Off-sorts - Fleeces or parts of fleeces that are rejected because of being badly stained, undesirable in color, or carrying excessive vegetable matter; same as rejects.

Open Fleece - Fewer fibers per square inch; opposite of dense.

Pelt - The skin of the sheep with wool still attached to the skin.

Pencil Locked - A fleece with narrow staples or lock formation: indicates an open fleece that has less density and probably more vegetable matter. This type of lock formation is genetic and is passed on to offspring.

Pulled Wool - Wool removed from the skins of slaughtered sheep.

Purity - Refers to the absence of dark fibers, kemp or hair.

Quality - Refers to the degree of fineness.

Raw Wool - Grease wool in natural state before scouring.

Scouring - The actual separation of dirt, grease, and vegetable matter from grease wool; usually this is done in a hot, mildly alkaline solution followed by a rinse.

Second Cuts - Short pieces of wool that result from the shearer clipping off the wool left from a previous stroke; increases the noilage

Shrinkage - The weight raw wool loses when scoured, expressed as a percentage of the original weight.

Sorting - Most fleeces contain more than one grade of wool; as grading is the classification by fleece, sorting is the classification of wool within a fleece.

Soundness - freedom of the fiber from breaks and tenderness; relates to strength.

Staple - (has two meanings) 1. The length of a lock of shorn wool. 2. The longest length wools within a grade.

Tender - Wool that is weak and breaks anywhere along the length of the fiber due to poor nutrition or sickness.

Tippy Wool - The tip or weather end of the fibers are encrusted making the wool wasty in processing (increasing the noilage).

Top - A continuous strand of partially manufactured wool, which previously has been scoured, carded, and combed; an intermediate stage in the process of worsted yarn.

Virgin Wool - Wool that is used to make fabric for the first time; not reprocessed

Wastiness - The loss of fiber in carding and combing due to vegetable matter, weakness, or tenderness or shortness of fiber.

Woolen - Large amounts of shorter wools, such as noils, wool wastes and reworked wools are used in addition to virgin wool; woolen yarn is not combed, hence fibers lie in an uneven fashion.

Worsted - Longer length wool fibers that have not been processed before are made parallel during combing into a product called top, then spun into a worsted yarn.

Yield - Opposite of shrinkage; the percentage of clean wool fibers after scouring.

Yolk - The combined secretion of sebaceous (oil) and sudoriferous (sweat) glands in the skin.

If you have any questions you can e-mail them to Joanna & Keith Gleason at gfwsheep@gfwsheep.com
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