Did you know that, like their ancient cousins, today’s domestic sheep and goats also molt? Although many breeds do not shed their fleece, the fibers are released or weakened at this molting point, which can create problems during tanning. In a skin from a sheep that has molted, the loose wool from the older fleece felts onto the new growth underneath.
The exact date of molting varies with a number of factors, including breed, climate, feed, and specific flock genetics.
You can avoid problems caused by molt by scheduling slaughter dates at the correct time of year, when fibers are grown out, but before the next growth has started. For most breeds, this will be in early fall: September or by mid-October at the latest. Some hill breeds may molt later, but it is best to err on the side of an early date rather than a later one.
If your skins were harvested at a different time of year, tanning may still be a possibility, particularly if the fleece length is less than 3 inches. If you’re unsure, you can test the fleece by parting the fibers along the back, and then combing a lock with a fine-tooth comb. You will know if you have a molt point if the fiber comes away from the skin and begins to clump. Chances are this will not tan as nicely, and may even felt in the washing process.
Unsure what to look for? Send us a photo of the fleece spread apart (like the one above) and we’ll do our best to help. Contact us.