Last update: April 5, 2012 08:53:38 AM E-mail Print



WJ Hugo, JAA Baard


It is the duty of each and every woolgrower to protect the good reputation of the South African wool clip by conscientiously classing and preparing his clip as correctly as possible. With the wool season at present at its height, this is perhaps an opportune moment to address a word of caution to our wool farmers.

We wish to point out those common mistakes which not only mean a considerable financial loss to the farmers themselves, but also tend to make wool's battle against synthetic fibres still more difficult.

It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the classing standards of wool. On the contrary, its object is to accentuate the commonest errors which farmers make when preparing clips and about which the trade has expressed concern.



Proper classing of the clip, in accordance with prescribed standards is the pivot around which correct preparation of the clip revolves.

Mixing wool of different lengths and degrees of fineness

It is a common complaint that wool of different lengths and degrees of fineness is often packed in one bale. As this condition necessitates resorting at the factory, which is a costly operation, it is of the utmost importance that such wools be kept separate. In such cases, the buyer will understandably adjust his valuation to cater for the additional resorting costs incurred by his factory.


Poor skirting of bellies

Bellies should be thoroughly skirted to remove all Lox, as the trade feels that bellies contain too much Lox.

The farmer should prepare the BP and Lox lines as carefully as his main lines. They should not be considered inferior lines and left to incompetent assistants.

Belly lines often lack uniformity because the BP is not properly removed.



Shankings and head wool should be classed as Lox. Far too often this wool is classed as BP, or even Bellies.

It is advisable to open two Lox lines. Lighter Lox should be marked Lox 1, while the heavier, dirty pieces can be classified as Lox 2.



Hogget wool, i.e. wool from a year-old sheep which was not shorn as a lamb, should not be classed with fleece lines, even though it has a comparable length. If combined with fleece lines, this product's type is lowered from a spinner’s to combing wool.

Should a farmer not have sufficient Hogget wool to fill a bale, he should pack it in a bag and request the broker to group and market it together with similar lots from other producers.

Grouping is done very successfully by brokers and can safely be left to them.


Ram wool

Ram fleeces should not be classed in with main lines. Generally speaking, this wool is more greasy and has a characteristic odour.

The inclusion of ram fleeces in attractive fleece lines is detrimental to the appearance of the latter.

Strong ram fleeces can be classed with the XM line.



The total absence of the BKS line, or the fact that it is often too small in comparison with the size of the clip, is often a source of complaint from the trade. It is usually the case with long-wool clips that too little back wool is removed. Less back wool need be removed in a short-wool clip.



There is a constant tendency to mark bales containing shorter wool with symbols indicating somewhat longer wool, for example, a B symbol on bales containing a C-Iength wool. This is an error commonly found in 8-10 months and 7.9 months clips.

As the difference in length between the different length grades is half an inch, every classer should quite easily be able to distinguish between the different lengths.

However, when a fleece is a borderline case, it is always safer to use the lower symbol.

Growers should also be careful not to mark-up the fineness of a wool. Medium-fine fleeces should not be marked F. As mentioned in the case of length, boundary cases should always be marked lower.



All fleeces having a spinning count below 60s should be kept separate. The South African clip is renowned for its fineness. By including 58s or even 56s wool in the S (strong) lines, untold damage is done to this good reputation and considerable financial loss is suffered by the growers themselves.



Many farmers produce wools which differ in general appearance. Wool produced on mountain veld, for example, has, a cleaner appearance and, in fact, yields a larger percentage of clean wool than wool produced on the flats. The broker easily recognizes these differences when the wool is exhibited on the floor. Whenever possible such wools should be kept separate as this will create a better impression on the, floor.

The same applies to heavier, greasy fleeces with a poor colour. These should be kept separate and not classed in with lighter, cleaner wool.



Sections of fleeces containing seed should be very thoroughly skirted. The trade stipulates that a super-pieces line must be opened for such seed contaminated wool. Should the entire fleece be contaminated, only BKS, BP and LOX should be removed and the fleece itself classed as super pieces.



It is hard to believe that there are still farmers who practise bale capping, as it is known in trade circles. Capping means that the less attractive fleeces making up the bulk of the bale are covered by a deceptive layer of attractive fleeces.

We strongly condemn this form of false packing. It shatters the confidence of the buyer and places the broker in an invidious position.

The trade demands that 15 percent of the contents of bales be displayed, with the bottom of the bale facing the viewer. This protective measure is a direct result of the fact that such attempts at deception are still practised.



The packing of damp wool should be avoided at all costs. If sheep are caught in the rain during shearing, further operations should be suspended until they are dry.

Apart from the fact that damp wool is combustible and that its appearance is detrimentally affected by bacterial action, the buyer will invariably protect himself by estimating for a lower clean yield. This naturally means a 'financial loss to the producer.



Farmers are strongly urged to remove carefully all wool containing any form of colouring material. It is still the best practice to remove paint and other brands before the sheep is shorn. Don't try removing this wool on the skirting table as the smallest particle of paint you miss may be discovered by the buyer.

The term colouring material is used to denote any kind of branding material, including blue, raddle, etc., which are scourable.

Remember! The buyer does not know which colouring materials are scourable and which not and consequently discriminates against y wool containing colouring material.

Even if the buyer were to miss small remaining bits of colouring material in the wool, and thus refrain from penalising the bale, the factory processing the wool would eventually discover the colouring material. Sometimes this scourable marking fluid is only noticed in the final material. This means a big loss to the manufacturer.

Can you blame him if he then comes a hesitant and suspicious buyer? Can we expect the good demand for our wool to be maintained if the manufacturer has constantly to run this type of risk?



No mongrel wool, i.e. wool displaying the obvious characteristics mongrel wool, should be baled together with Merino wool. Mongrel wool is characterised by poor colour, inferior handle, and the presence of kemp and/or coarse fibres. Any expert will immediately recognise such wool.

It is disappointing to see how an otherwise attractive clip is stigmatised by a few bits of mongrel wool.

Floating kemp is another phenomenon often found in the Merino clip. This condition arises because growers are not careful enough as regards the management of their sheep. Dorpers or Persians are often run together with Merinos. They often use the same kraals and are even shorn in the same sheds which have not been thoroughly cleaned after shearing each breed. In this way the Merino wool becomes contaminated with kemp.

The trade discriminates strongly against such wool and farmers suffer considerable losses as a result.



Bales are very often marked untidily and incompletely.

According to trade requirements, the district of origin should appear on the bale.

The accompanying sketch indicates the correct method of addressing and marking the bale. Use a bright, attractive marking fluid e.g. black, green or dark-blue.




Bales should not be numbered indiscriminately. Numbering should commence with the chief lines. The last Lox-line should receive the highest number.

Although this point may be considered insignificant, we have often found clips where the sequence of numbers does not in any way follow the declining order of quality in the clip.



A bale of light fleece-wool should preferably weigh approximately 270 lb. A bale can weigh up to 300 lb in the case of heavier wools, and even higher for the Lox-lines.

The reason why the weight of bales should be as near to the ideal as possible is that the volume of a standard pressed bale is 18 cubic feet.

Shipping agents are required to pay for cargo space by cubic measure. This means that they will be shipping a smaller weight of wool when loading lighter bales pressed to 18 cubic feet volume for the same price as heavier bales which are more closely compressed and yet take up the same space as the former.



Too much use is still made of white line in tying up bales and especially bags of wool. According to regulation, blue sewing twine must be used for this purpose as it is easy to see and remove it should small pieces accidentally be included in the wool This is not the case with white line.



The contamination of wool by jute fibres must be avoided at all costs. It is an excellent practice to turn bags inside out and shake them thoroughly to remove loose jute fibres.



Wool should not be handled too much in the shearing shed.

The appearance of the wool is detrimentally affected when handled too often as the fleece disintegrates and impurities, such as sand in the tip, tend to spread throughout the rest of the fleece.

A combing wool cannot be elevated to a spinners by over classing.



Upon forwarding his wool to the port a grower should provide his broker with complete details of his consignment. This information not only facilitates the broker's work, but enables him to display the wool in the best way.



Fortunately, stones are no longer included in bales. Nevertheless, the strangest objects do crop up from time to time. Poultry feathers, dead fowls, sheep shears, old shoes, etc., have all been found in amongst the wool.



Our table gives the composition within reasonable limits, of a well-classed clip of 12 months' growth. Every buyer knows that a well-classed clip should have more or less the same composition as that given in the Table. He will therefore, immediately become suspicious if he notices too little back wool in proportion to, for instance, the fleece lines and will assume that the poorer quality back wool has been included in the fleece lines. Alternatively, he will conclude that insufficient back wool was removed and will therefore adjust his valuation accordingly.


Table – Percentage of total


Good conditions with little seed

Poorer conditions with more seed

Fleece wool

Back wool

Super pieces (A+)

Combing pieces (C+)

Combing bellies (CB)

Bellies and pieces (BP)

Lox I and II

52 %

15-16 %

12 %

4- 5 %

1.6 %

6 %

8.5 %

43 %

21-23 %

14- 15 %

4- 5 %

1.6 %

6 %

8.5 %


Protect the National Wool Classing Standards

The Republic can be justly proud of the fact that it has a national standard for classing and marking its wool clip. This is an achievement unique to our country, and one which should be protected and maintained at all costs.

It is for this reason that an urgent appeal is directed to each and every wool grower to respect and strictly observe the prescripts laid down in the national standards.

The wool trade, the wool buyer, the wool processor and everyone who buys our wool should be able to rely on these standards. They should be a guarantee of sound classing and packing.

This will not only give people confidence in our wool, but also enhance the reputation of the clip as a whole and make our wool an indispensable and much-desired product.

It is the responsibility of every grower to ensure that our national wool classing standards really are significant. By accepting this responsibility we will be strengthening the case of those who are waging an uphill battle against the synthetic fibre.



Farming in South Africa 38 (10)