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How many sheep does it take to make a sweater?

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The number of sheep required to make a sweater varies by two things: 1. The yield of wool from the particular breed of sheep, and 2. How light or bulky the sweater is. Most "all-wool" sweaters weigh between about 3/4 lb. and 1.5 lbs., again, depending on the sweater's size and thickness. The most numerous sheep breed in the U.S. is probably the Rambouillet, which typically will yield around 12 to 15 lbs. of "grease" wool (that is, unwashed). After washing the wool, you may have about 5 to 7 lbs. left, of which 4 to 5 lbs. will end up in the yarn for the sweater. For those breeds you can likely get 3 to 4 sweaters--more if they're loosely knit and/or of small size. For wool sweaters that have more bulk, and are therefore warmer, one would move towards breeds such as Romney with stout-fiber, through to the Columbia with the slenderest fibers of the medium-fiber class of breeds. Medium-wool breeds yield slightly fewer pounds per animal in clip, but there's a good bit less grease (lanolin) that must be scoured out at washing. Most of the weight of grease is its adhering dust and dirt. With medium-wool breeds, you can't make really light and flimsy type sweaters. Still, you should get 4 to 5 sweaters, easily. One may also use wool from the true longwools--Cotswold, Leicester, Lincoln, Teeswater & Wensleydale. Wool from these breeds tends to be less "springy" or "bouncy," but sturdier, and can really stand the abuse of outdoor activities--particularly in the woods and brush. The first 3 mentioned are especially sturdy. All true longwool breeds produce very shiny, lustrous wool. Lincoln and Cotswold rams commonly produce well over 20 lbs. of wool per year; ewes, about 12 to 15 lbs. Some Lincolns--well fed with plenty of grain and top hay--could yield over 30 lbs. These breeds typically have a very high percentage yield, and you may very well end up with 10 or more pounds of yarn for your sweater, but it will likely be rather bulky and warm. A ballpark figure for longwool sheep should be about 4 to 6 sweaters per ewe per year, and for rams, probably 6 to 8 sweaters. Ask your supplier how much a specific ewe or ram yields each time it's shorn. Bear in mind that many modern longwool growers clip twice a year, so fleece weight may be only half the annual yield. Ask also how much the scouring yield is. From that figure, count on losing about 20% more or less in the carding and spinning operations. For numerous web-accessible articles on sheep, wool and how growers can supply them to buyers, search "sheep magazine" in any web search engine. Data in the magazine articles often show clip yields and uses for specific breeds. In the United States alone there are over 60 breeds, many of which don't yield wool at all, and certain crossbreeds' wool could be full of hair, which makes for a very prickly sweater.
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