About Our Sheep

We select for economically productive traits – MATERNAL, GROWTH, CARCASS and



About Our Sheep

Wool Traits

Next to lambs born and raised, wool production is important to our operation.  Just as producing a quality wool clip takes planning and preparation, breeding individual sheep with quality fleeces involves similar efforts.  Wool traits are highly heritable – whether they are desirable or not.  We identify wool traits in our sheep and select for those which will meet our breeding objectives.

Gene and Mary with the Champion Purebred Ram Fleece over 18 breeds at the 2004 North American International Livestock Exposition, Louisville, KY.

Some of the 49 Columbia fleeces exhibited at the 2011 National Columbia Wool Show, Great Falls, MT.

Our first Supreme Champion Fleece at the 1995 Montana State Fair, Great Falls, MT.  Several of this ewe’s offspring have also been wool show winners.

Through 2012, we have exhibited fleeces 11 times at National Columbia Sheep Shows with:
                        6 National Champion Fleeces and
                        6 Reserve National Champion Fleeces.

There are several traits that we feel make a good fleece:
            distinct crimp formation;
            uniformity of fiber diameter and crimp throughout the fleece;
            long staple length (3 inches or more);
            bright white color;
            higher volume of clean wool with less lanolin (60% clean fleece yield or greater);
            free of kemp (stiff, brittle, coarse fibers);
            good handle (feels soft when squeezed.

We want our Columbia wool to meet the breed standards since the Scorecard for Judging Columbia Sheep allots 40 percent to fleece qualities.

Columbia Sheep Breed Standards state, “the fleece should grade 1/2, 3/8 or 1/4 blood…”  Today, the blood grade system is outdated and has not been recognized by USDA since 1955.  Fiber diameter is now expressed in spin counts and microns.  Wool Grades, Guide B-409, from New Mexico State University, provides equivalent values for these units of measure.  (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_b/B-409.pdf ).

Using Table 1, Columbia fleeces grading 1/4 to 1/2 blood would range between 50 and 62 spin count or 30.99 and 22.05 microns.


While we don’t focus on producing sheep with fine wool, we do try to minimize really coarse wool in our flock.

Based on core samples of our baled wool, our 2012 Columbia wool clip averaged 25.7 microns or 58 spin count, with clean fleece yield of 60.10%.

We micron test all sheep in our flock at least once -- at their first shearing and whenever we bring a new sheep into our flock.  We micron our replacement ewes again at their second shearing as lamb fleeces are often finer than their mature wool.

The NSIP mean value for Columbia fiber diameter is 25.5 microns (58 spin count).

We take samples of wool to micron from the mid-side area of the sheep.  We use shears or scissors to remove the sample.  Pulling wool from the sheep tends to stretch the crimp formation.  If pulling is your only resort to getting a sample, pinch the sample as close to the skin as possible.

On shearing day, we place the wool sample on an index card using a clip clothes pin to secure it.  We label the card with the sheep’s tag number.

These wool samples were taken at our 2013 shearing.

We send the majority of our wool samples for microning to:
                        Montana Wool Lab
                        PO Box 172900
                        Bozeman, MT  59717-2900
                        phone:  406-994-2100
                        email:  mtwool@montana.edu
Informational results (vs. certified ones) are tested for $1.50 per sample (Montana) or $2.00 (other states).

We always save a portion of each microned wool sample in our ewe or ram production records.  In subsequent years, we retain a fleece sample from each sheep every year at shearing for as long as they remain in our flock.  We have saved these samples, stapled on a sheet of paper and inserted in a plastic page protector, every year since 1995.  Using these sample pages we can review and compare wool traits without having to bring in the sheep.

The micron test measures an average of the diameter of individual fleece fibers in a sample.  Fiber diameter can vary depending on the sample location on the sheep.   We usually sample wool on the mid-side.

Below is a micron report, or histogram, from one of our ewes.

This ewe, 102, was born in 2001.  Her 2006 fleece was the Grand Champion Fleece at
the 2006 International Columbia Wool Show held in conjunction with the Ohio State Fair.

Terms used in the Micron Report -- and values we like to see in our flock

SD = Standard Deviation.  SD indicates the uniformity of fiber diameters within the sample.  The lower the number (the narrower the base of the bell curve), the more uniform the fiber diameter.  For our flock, we like to see the SD below 5.0 -- below 4.0 would be excellent.

CV or CVD = Coefficient of Variation (of Diameter).  This value is calculated by dividing the SD by the mean fiber diameter, and expressing the result as a percentage.  For our flock, we like to see the CV below 20.0 -- below 15.0 would be excellent.

CF = Comfort Factor.  CF is the percent of fibers equal to or less than 30 microns.  The higher the number, the less prickly the wool product would feel against your skin.  The prickly sensation is attributed to fibers with diameters greater than 30 microns.



2008, Saxtons River, Vermont.  Lucas Fletcher purchased a small registered Columbia flock of 2 yearling ewes, 2 ewe lambs and a ram we selected for him for their wool qualities.   This flock quickly increased to 10 ewes as shown in this March 2010 photo.

Handspinners pay $10 per lb for well-skirted mature fleeces and $15 per lb for lamb fleeces from this flock.  In 2010, seven of the 11 fleeces sheared in March were already sold by mid-April.

The Columbia fleeces are not the only thing the owner likes.  “[In] 2 lambing seasons….I have yet to see anyone actually deliver their babies.  I have found every single lamb up, dry and nursing.  The lambs grow quickly…”



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