It’s fleece buying season again – some people think of it as shearing season. I have been buying a lot of fleeces every year for the last 10 years. I used them to sell when I owned a spinning store and I use them now for class materials. For the shop I generally had about 55 breeds and over 300 fleeces in stock at any time. All of this to say that I’ve had a lot of experience buying fleeces. Most of the time I was happy with the wool I got and sometimes I was highly disappointed in the quality. That’s another discussion.
Today, though, I just want to talk about the cost of keeping sheep and in turn the cost of a single fleece. I have several friends who are shepherds and so I consulted them for my numbers.
Many of the shepherds we buy wool from have small flocks and so we’re going to focus on a flock of around 10 sheep.
Grain costs about $4800 per year – $480 per sheep
Hay costs about $700 per year – $70 per sheep
Registration costs $35 per year/sheep
Shearing is about $15 per sheep
So now we are at a cost of about $600 per year for each sheep at a minimum.
That isn’t even taking into account the cost of the vet calls that begin at $100 per visit and the cost of constantly repairing fences.
If the sheep ar coated there are even bigger costs involved in changing the coats and repairing and replacing the coats on a regular basis.
Now yes, if the shepherd is raising sheep for meat also, there is some recoup of cost there and if they can sell a lamb to another farm there is also a recoup there – but lambs don’t usually sell for more than $300 to $600 so there is not really profit and almost alsways a loss in that case.
The reason I bring all of this up is during fleece season I see many people wanting perfectly pristine fleeces at bargain prices. The majority of breeds I buy sell for around $16 per pound. Let’s say the skirted fleece is about 10 pounds just to keep the numbers round and easy. I’m going to pay $160 for that fleece. That cost is about 25% of the cost of keeping that sheep for the year.
The shepherds who are keeping these small flocks and selling their fleeces are doing it because of love of the sheep and the wool. They truly love these animals. So, if you see a bit of poop that was missed during skirting, or some hay or some bits of grass in there that you need to pick out as you spin please, please, please remember that there is a person doing their best and with a little bit of work you will have an extraordinary yarn that you can’t get any other way than starting with a raw fleece.
I feel gratitude to these small farmers who are raising sheep and sometimes saving these breeds from complete extinction.