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CHAPTER 1
TEXTILE FIBRE PRODUCING ANIMALS

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1.1 Sheep

1.1.1 Introduction to Sheep & Wool

One of the first animals to be domesticated were sheep, some ten to twelve thousand years ago. This very early domestication was due to a number of important factors. Sheep provided prehistoric man with two sources of food - meat and milk as well as producing a very useful fibre plus a pelt. Sheep therefore provided the two essentials for life - food and protection. In addition sheep also helped fertilise the fields of early man. In its primitive state, the sheep moults it's fleece in spring and early summer. Women picked up the shed wool, admired it, spun and wove it. The textile industry was thus born - almost certainly between 10,000 and 8,000 BC. and somewhere in the country bounded by the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and the Himalayas.

Sheep are a ruminant mammal of the genus Ovis whose likely ancestor has been traced to the Moufloniforuve Ovis Blyth. However, owing to the wide genetic variety of sheep, there is a range of opinion as to their exact origin. There are now about 200 different breeds and crosses producing a great variety of grades and types of wool. They range from the merino producing the finest apparel wool through to both developed and primitive carpet wool sheep and hair sheep.

Sheep are farmed in most countries around the world. From the hot desert regions of Australia, Asia and the Middle East through to cold, bleak conditions in Northern Europe, Russia, Iceland and Southern South America. They graze pastures in the high altitudes of central Asia and the Himalayas through to the low coastal regions of New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This adaptability has necessitated a variety of pasture types being utilised in these environments. Sheep are even farmed successfully indoors.

Today, the best wool comes from the International Wool Secretariat (IWS) member countries, ie. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay. These countries have practised advanced selective breeding programmes for many years and consequently their wool is of very good quality, with excellent colour and the incidence of melanin pigmentation is rare.

Wool now constitutes 5% of the world's textile fibre and the finished products made from wool are positioned in the top end of the market, whether they are apparel, machine or hand-knotted carpets or bedding.

Sheep are usually shorn annually in the spring/summer months, however in some countries such as New Zealand, shearing more than once per year is practiced. This may be twice per year or three times in two years. The time and frequency of shearing has a great affect on the quality of wool harvested as it can have a major influence on important fibre characteristics, and in particular the degree of fault(s) present. High preparation standards are also maintained in the IWS member countries. These standards focus on preparing wool to meet customer/producer requirements. As a result, the consistency of grower lots put up for sale is very good. The pre-sale testing to objectively determine a number of important fibre properties serves to compliment the quality of wool available. The advanced nature of the sheep and wool production systems in these countries ensures wool's position as a premier textile fibre is maintained.

As this bulletin deals with the harvesting of animal fibres the detailed differences between the principle sheep breeds of the world has not been covered. If this information is required, there are many excellent reference publications available.

In shearing wool from sheep one of two basic techniques or patterns is used:

r One is for Merino sheep, which constitute close to 50% of the world's sheep population.
r The other has been developed for breeds other than Merino.

It is this second shearing pattern that has also been modified to accommodate the shearing of the fat tailed sheep which are found primarily throughout the Middle East.

1.1.2 Sheep and Wool Production

The total world wool production in 1992/93 was 1.664 million tonnes on a clean basis. Production in Australia, the world's largest producer was 561 thousand tonnes clean in 1992/93. New Zealand's production of wool was the lowest level for 30 years at 193 thousand tonnes clean. Estimated production in the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S), the third largest producer in the world, was 170 thousand tonnes clean, while the production estimated for China, the fourth largest producer, was 124 thousand tonnes clean. Production in Argentina was 68 thousand tonnes, while Uruguay's production was 55 thousand tonnes. Production in the United Kingdom was 47 thousand tonnes clean while production in South Africa was 44 thousand tonnes clean.

Table 1.1 World wool production
(thousand tonnes clean)

Country or Region

1987/88

1988/89

1989/90

1990/91

1991/92

1992/93

Country

           

Australia

594

626

725

699

574

561

New Zealand

260

254

233

227

221

193

Soviet Union/CIS

207

215

216

212

188

170

China

105

111

119

120

120

124

Argentina

94

98

89

82

73

68

Uruguay

63

58

65

63

57

55

United Kingdom

42

44

47

48

47

47

South Africa

54

57

59

63

49

44

Turkey

43

43

43

42

40

38

Pakistan

22

23

25

26

27

28

India

16

18

21

21

21

21

United States of America

21

22

22

22

21

20

Spain

15

17

18

19

18

18

Brazil

18

18

18

19

17

17

Morocco

14

14

14

14

14

14

Iran

14

14

14

14

14

14

Romania

18

17

16

15

14

12

France

13

13

13

13

12

12

Mongolia

10

11

11

11

12

12

Chile

11

12

12

12

11

11

Bulgaria

14

13

12

12

11

9

Region

           

Other Western Europe

34

36

38

46

44

37

Other Eastern Europe

30

29

29

20

18

16

Other Asia

34

37

36

41

38

38

Other Africa

49

50

51

51

53

53

Other America

18

20

19

18

18

21

World Total

1,813

1,869

1,965

1,928

1,727

1,664

of which:

           

Merino

805

846

926

939

804

784

Halfbred

473

487

510

461

408

413

Crossbred

535

536

529

528

515

467

Source: International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO)
p - figures are provisional for the latest season.

Table 1.1 shows world wool production by major wool producing countries and regions for the period 1987/88 to 1992/93 season. World wool production is broken up into three breed groups: Merino, Halfbred and Crossbred.

Table 1.2 shows world woolled sheep populations by major producing countries and regions for the period 1986/87 to 1991/92 according to three breed groups. Australian wool is predominantly Merino and Halfbred while New Zealand is the world's largest producer of Crossbred wools. Graph 1.3 illustrates shares of world wool production in 1992/93 by the major producer countries.

Note: In table 1.1 and 1.2:
Other Africa includes Algeria,, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe. Other America includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Greenland, Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela. Other Asia includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cyprus, Gaza, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Yemen. Other Western Europe includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland.

Graph 1.1 World wool production

Graph 1.1 World wool production

 

  Graph 1.2 World wool production by category

Graph 1.2 World wool production by category

 

Table 1.2 World woolled sheep population (millions)

Year ending Sept. of second
year shown


Census Month

Average
1980-81/
1984/85

 

1986/87

 

1987/88

 

1988/89

 

1989/90

 

1990/91

 

1991/92

 

1992/93

Albania

Dec

1.7

1.4

1.4

1.5

1.5

1.6

1.6

1.6

Argentina

June

32.4

28.8

29.2

29.3

28.6

27.6

25.7

 

Australia a

Mar

132.9

153.2

156.6

165.2

175.2

166.6

150.7

141.4

Brazil

Dec

18.3

19.7

19.9

20.1

20.0

20.1

20.3

 

Bulgaria

Jan

10.7

9.6

8.9

8.6

8.1

7.9

6.7

 

Canada

June

0.8

0.7

0.7

0.7

0.8

0.8

0.8

 

Chile

June

6.1

5.5

5.6

5.7

5.2

4.7

4.6

 

China

Dec

104.8

99.0

102.7

110.6

113.5

112.8

110.9

110.9

Czechoslovakia

Jan

1.0

1.1

1.0

1.1

1.0

0.9

0.9

 

Falkland Is.

May

0.7

0.7

0.7

0.7

0.7

0.7

0.7

 

France

Dec

12.6

10.8

12.1

11.5

11.2

11.1

10.6

 

E. Germany

Dec

2.2

2.6

2.7

2.6

2.6

}3.2

}2.5

 

W. Germany

Dec

1.2

1.4

1.4

1.5

1.5

}

}

 

Greece

Dec

8.8

11.0

10.8

10.4

10.4

10.2

9.8

 

Hungary

Dec

3.1

2.3

2.3

2.2

2.1

1.9

2.3

 

India

May

40.0

39.0

39.0

39.0

40.0

40.0

40.0

40.0

Iran

Oct

34.2

45.0

45.0

45.0

45.0

45.0

45.0

 

Iraq

Mar

11.8

9.0

9.0

9.5

9.6

7.8

9.0

0

Irish Republic

June

3.5

5.6

6.7

7.7

8.7

8.9

8.9

 

Italy

Dec

10.1

11.5

11.5

11.6

11.6

10.8

10.8

 

Lesotho

Aug

1.2

1.4

1.4

1.4

1.5

1.5

1.5

 

Mongolia

Dec

14.5

13.2

13.2

13.5

14.3

15.1

15.1

 

Morocco

Mar

15.2

13.8

13.8

13.8

13.8

13.5

14.0

14.1

Namibia

Aug

5.3

6.2

6.3

6.4

6.5

6.7

6.7

 

New Zealand

June

70.0

64.2

64.6

60.6

57.9

55.2

52.5

50.3

Pakistan

May

22.6

26.6

27.5

28.3

29.2

30.2

30.8

 

Peru

Dec

14.7

13.1

13.2

12.9

13.0

12.3

12.2

 

Poland

June

4.1

4.7

4.4

4.4

4.2

3.2

2.4

 

Portugal

Dec

4.4

3.0

3.0

3.2

3.3

3.4

3.4

3.3

Romania

Jan

16.9

(17.0)

16.8

16.2

15.4

14.1

13.5

 

South Africa b

Aug

27.3

23.8

24.2

25.9

25.6

24.4

23.2

22.3

Former Soviet Union c

Jan

143.0

142.2

140.8

141.0

138.9

134.6

119.8

117.4

Spain

Dec

16.3

17.9

20.3

23.1

22.7

24.0

24.3

 

Turkey

Dec

48.3

48.7

48.8

49.0

48.8

47.5

47.3

 

U.K.

June

33.1

38.7

40.9

43.0

43.8

43.6

44.0

 

U.S.A.

Jan

12.4

10.6

10.9

10.9

11.4

11.2

10.8

10.2

Uruguay

June

20.6

24.4

24.1

24.9

25.2

25.9

25.6

25.0

Yugoslavia

Jan

7.4

7.8

7.8

7.6

7.6

7.4

7.5

 

Other Africa c

 

113.8

119.0

121.3

123.9

121.8

126.9

125.7

 

Other America c

 

22.9

23.4

23.7

24.3

24.6

24.7

24.9

 

Other Asia c

 

48.0

45.9

45.3

48.2

49.9

50.8

50.2

 

Other Western Europe c

 

5.8

5.5

5.8

5.7

6.1

6.3

6.4

 

World Total of which:

 

1104.7

1.129.0

1145.3

1.172.7

1172.7

1.165.1

1.123.6

 

Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe

 

299.8

290.5

291.6

299.0

299.1

292.1

273.1

 
Source: International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO)
a Covers all farms.
b Official series plus fixed estimate for woolled sheep in Bantu areas.
c See note below for country coverage.

1.1.3 Fibre Characteristics of Wool

Wool is a protein fibre chiefly composed of keratin. The fibre is made up of overlapping cuticle scales and an inner cortex. Both the cortex and the cuticle influence the fibre properties of the wool and the fibre is slightly elliptical, unlike other animal fibres. With the wide range of sheep breeds, the fibre properties of the wool produced are equally wide ranging. The particular fibre characteristic of specific breeds can be exploited by processing the fibre into appropriate end products. In a general sense, wool varies from the super fine Merino producing a fibre similar to cashmere, very high lustre English breeds producing mohair-like fibre, and coarse hairy wools similar to the guard coat of some goats.

The range of fleece weights produced annually by sheep in the IWS member countries is from 2-5 kg clean depending on the breed of sheep and the farming environment. In the countries where sheep owners income from wool is less important, the annual fleece weights are lower, ie. from 1-3 kg clean.

The first shearing of the sheep as a lamb occurs from 3-11 months of age and produces lambs wool which is the finest diameter wool the sheep produces. The diameter is from 2-6 microns finer than the second time the sheep is shorn usually at 9-18 months. The amount of change that occurs is influenced by the interval between shearing, feeding levels and animal health and possible breed effects. The third time shorn, the wool maybe from 1-3 microns coarser that the previous shearing . From then the change in diameter is small. The range of fibre diameters between the different breeds of the sheep varies from 15 microns grown by superfine Merinos through to 45 microns produced by the carpet wool sheep.

The length of wool produced is influenced by breed and fibre diameter. Merinos range from 60-110 mm if shorn annually through to the coarse carpet wools ranging from 100-200 mm annually.

Scientific breeding programmes in the major producing countries have almost eliminated melanin pigmentation and consequently the wool is of very white colour. However, this is not the case with wools grown in many of the other producing countries.

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