Sheep are special farm animals that can provide humans with two important things: food and clothing. Since the beginning of time, people have been raising sheep to eat, for their milk, and to use their wool to make blankets, clothing and other things.
Every year, a sheep’s wool can be cut, or shorn off. This is usually done in the spring, so that the sheep can stay cool during the hot weather months, and then stay warm during winter after the wool has grown back. The wool is cleaned and spun into yarn on a spinning wheel. The yarn can then be woven into blankets or rugs, or knitted into warm sweaters, socks, hats, or other pieces of clothing.
Wool is an interesting material. When it comes right off the sheep, it is coated with a substance called lanolin, which made the wool waterproof while still on the animal. The lanolin can be removed from the wool, and used for many other things, like hand lotion. The lanolin can also be left on the wool to make it extra waterproof.
Wool can also be felted to make a sturdy, water-resistant fabric. When wool is felted, thin layers are placed on top of each other, and then rubbed together with warm, soapy water until they become one piece of fabric. Felted wool is used to make things like rugs, tents, shoes and more.
Wool absorbs moisture, so it is a very good fabric for things like socks or coats. It pulls water and sweat away from your body, so that you stay warm and dry. Wool also does not burn as easily as other fabrics, like cotton, so it is used in making clothes for firefighters, soldiers, and other people who might come in contact with fire.
A single sheep can produce anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds of wool each year. The wool from one sheep is called a fleece. The amount of wool depends on the breed, age, and gender of the sheep. Sheep that are primarily used for meat produce less wool than sheep that are bred for their long wool and heavy fleeces.
In the United States, over 27 million pounds of wool were cut from sheep last year. Idaho is in the top-10 states for wool production, with about 1.7 million pounds of wool produced. Wool production is an important part of Idaho agriculture!
Ideas for Teachers
- Bring samples of wool roving (un-spun wool), wool yarn, and wool products like sweaters, hats, or blankets
- Watch a video of a sheep being shorn, like the one of Dolly, found here
- Invite a guest to demonstrate wool spinning and knitting
- Compare pictures of different kinds of wool-producing sheep
- Make felt balls