Before Colin started merino shed classing his only ‘hands on’ experience in fleece classing was a season as head classer in a broker’s store and a season grading for the British Wool Marketing Board. However his experience in the wool trade is wide. It includes:
Several years as wool supervisor for a brokering company
Contract sorting in a wool scour
Production of woollen fabrics, garment manufacture
Technical manager of a tannery which produced suede/wool garment leather
Colin Wallace has classed wool across the world and always the end use of the wool is foremost in his mind.
“When I’m classing I’m thinking about the various processes the wool goes through across the world and the specifications required. After gaining experience in wool classing and valuing in New Zealand, I trained in wool processing in England and worked in English woollen mills. This knowledge and experience taught me it doesn’t matter what country you are in or the type of wool you are classing, the same principles apply.”
Without doubt the most important attributes are, in the following order:
Staple length and strength
In the production of worsted yarns, the evenness of fibre length and strength are paramount, as uneven length or unsound wool can present serious problems during combing, gilling and spinning. However when producing knitting yarns these parameters can be wider.
Evenness and type of crimp and evenness throughout the fleece. Perhaps there may be secrets among processors regarding spinning quality, but we do know that well classed superior clips (or lines within clips) are sought after and receive price premiums because they spin well.
Washing and dyeing and vegetable matter content.
This involves the quality of work on the board and skirting table, and thorough checking by the classer. It’s absolutely essential that no seriously discoloured wool, “sweaty ends” or high vegetable matter end up in good fleece lines. We hear of oddments being blended with fleece wool after great care has been taken to separate these types in the shed, however prior to scouring, various opening machines are used to ensure these various wool types are opened up correctly. Along with astute blending, opening helps to ensure that the surface chemistry is maximised in the scour bowls.
Wool is usually purchased within micron limits and priced according to the average fibre diameter (assuming other criteria are met) so it is essential that classers recognise the average fibre diameter:
within a fleece
between various mobs/flocks
Most experienced wool classers are very skilled in separating fleeces according to average fibre diameter (micron).
Both within clips and between clips, but most importantly on giving instructions to wool handlers.
Clip quality has improved over time
Colin classes 10 New Zealand merino clips. During the 16 years he has been wool classing he has seen an overall improvement in the quality of fibre being produced, despite the ongoing challenges of nature. Very briefly, the reasons for improvement are:
Genetically superior rams. Leading stud breeders providing rams now use computer-based recording programmes. They understand the importance of selection differentials, heritabilities and repeatabilities.
Improved breeding ewes. Most managers of merino flocks possess excellent practical skills in selecting breeding ewes (or wethers for wool production).
Health – overall standards have improved
Nutrition is better understood
Management practices have improved
Classer Select is an industry development initiative for the merino industry in New Zealand.
The seminar series is run annually. Seminars are typically four hours long and cover both theoretical and practical learning. Seminars are delivered by professional classers and key New Zealand Merino Company staff.
For further information visit www.classerselect.co.nz