Staple length generally determines the end use of wool, that is, whether it will be used in weaving or knitting.
Longer wools are processed in the worsted system (weaving). These combing types are generally around 50 millimetres (mm) and longer. The worsted system produces fine, even, smooth yarns mostly for apparel, but also for upholstery fabrics requiring a smooth finish.
The worsted system consists of two main processes, topmaking and spinning. Topmaking leaves the fibres lying in parallel after carding, gilling and combing. Wool tops are then spun into yarn.
In contrast, the woollen system converts scoured wool into yarn in two steps - woollen carding and woollen spinning.
Wool types used in the woollen system are called carding types, and usually have a much shorter fibre length (below 40 mm) than combing wools. These include types such as locks, crutchings, bellies and lambs wool. Woollen spun fabrics are used for jackets, coats, skirts, upholstery fabrics, rugs and blankets.
Recently, discounts for shorter types grew, with the 60mm discount approaching 180 cents in the finer microns. Buyers are more selective about their purchases.
Environmental factors contributed to the price differentials with drought conditions affecting staple growth as well as shearing intervals.
Wool length - management tips
Woolgrowers can manage frequency of shearing, breeding and nutrition to control staple length. Staple length is unlikely to be altered in isolation of fleece weight, unless targeting a market with a specific length requirement that differs from average.
On exception is lamb shearing. Avoid discounts for short wool by leaving lambs unshorn. Wait until the second main shearing after lambing, or if this is more 14-15 months later, have an intermediate hogget shearing before bringing them into line with the main shearing.
An issue for certain sections of the industry has been over length fine wools. Buyers of fine wools generally prefer a relatively short staple. As breeders increase fleece weights of finer micron sheep, staple length increases, introducing the possibility of discounting.
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