Advantages of Using Natural Wool Fiber From Sheep, Goats, Rabbits and Yak

Updated on April 7, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Sheep have long, thick wool coats that provide insulation against the cold.
Sheep have long, thick wool coats that provide insulation against the cold. | Source

Characteristics of Wool

Resists wrinkles
Wool springs back quickly
Resists soiling
Because the fiber is complex
Retains shape
Resilient fibers return to size
Resists flames
Fibers will not support combustion
Is durable
Multi-part fibers resist wear
Repels moisture
Fiber sheds water
Is comfortable in all seasons
Keeps layer of air next to skin
Information from "Characteristics of Wool Fact Sheet" American Wool

What is Wool Used for?

The quality of wool produced by each breed of sheep is different and so is suited to a variety of uses. Sheep are sheared annually and their fleece is cleaned and spun into wool yarn. Knitting converts the yarn into sweaters, beanies, scarves and gloves. Weaving changes the wool into fine fabric for suits, coats, pants and skirts. Coarser wools are used to make carpets and rugs. The fibers can also be used to make blankets and comforters (duvets) which are warm and naturally cosy.

Wool is very versatile and is used for roof and wall insulation in some new buildings. It is also begun to be utilised as an insulator for chilled box food home deliveries. If the animal has been killed for meat, the entire skin can be used with the wool still attached. The un-sheared fleece may be used to make floor coverings or to produce decorative winter boots or clothing.

Untreated sheep's wool after shearing and before cleaning.
Untreated sheep's wool after shearing and before cleaning. | Source

What is a Natural Textile Fiber?

Wool is a natural fiber produced by sheep (and a few other animals) that is harvested as a crop by humans. It’s made from a protein called keratin which is also found in human hair. Wool can be spun or woven to form material. This textile fabric is then stitched or formed into clothing, shoes and accessories. Wool is a natural product and is renewable as sheep regrow their coat each year.

The video below shows how wool from a sheep’s back is turned into fabric that can be used to make clothes. The raw wool is first cleaned before being carded (untangling the fibers). It is then combed and spun to create a continuous length of wool yarn.

Wool Production Process

Wool Fiber is a Good Insulator

The primary characteristic of wool is that it is an excellent insulator. A woolen sweater will keep you cozy and warm by trapping air between its fibers. It also allows moisture (perspiration) from your body to evaporate (wick) through the fabric. This helps keep your skin dry and comfortable. Wool can be worn in both winter and summer conditions as these insulating and wicking properties help you maintain a steady body temperature.

As the price of wool has fallen, farmers have found new markets for their product. Wool insulation is now sold as to builders as a quality roof and wall insulating product. Wool fleece is also made into wool insulation cool packs to keep fresh food chilled in home box deliveries.

UK Farmer Turns Wool Into Insulation

Wool is Renewable and Recyclable

There are environmental benefits to using wool fiber rather than synthetic. Wool is a naturally renewable product; sheep grow a new fleece each year. This is true for all wool producing animals. The most common commercially produced wool crops are sheep, goats and rabbits. Wool from the various animals have different properties. Apart from sheep (which are the majority flock) there are goat and rabbit wools. Of note are Cashmere goats that produce a fine silky wool known as cashmere which is 3 times warmer than sheep’s wool. There are Angora goats that produce a fine, soft wool which confusingly is called mohair. Then there are Angora rabbits that produce a soft, fluffy yarn known as angora.

When wool fabrics are discarded they can be recycled by being made into other products. For example, old woolen clothing can be remanufactured and made into roof insulation. If they are not suitable for recycling they can be added to compost. The wool fibers will decompose into fertilizer and so save adding to unproductive landfill.

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Beautiful as it is, wool is also immensely practical. A flammability test was carried out on a wool duvet, jacket and carpet and their synthetic counterparts. In the 1st test, synthetic jerseys produced a dramatic blaze, while their woolen counterparts merely smoldered.

In the 2nd test I personally buried two jerseys in a flower bed. 6 months later, a ceremonious exhumation revealed an intact synthetic jersey, while the woolen jersey had quietly and usefully biodegraded away to nothing.

— HRH Charles Prince of Wales (2016)
Wooly sheep in a field. Wool fiber is biodegradable unlike synthetic fibers.
Wooly sheep in a field. Wool fiber is biodegradable unlike synthetic fibers. | Source

Why Is Wool a Good Fiber For Winter?

Wool sweaters are ideal for winter as they are provide insulation and at the same time allow for natural wicking of moisture. A synthetic fabric can trap your sweat next to the skin and make you feel sticky and uncomfortable.

There are many different types and grades of wool. To name just a few, the wool for your sweater can come from sheep, goats, rabbit, llama or yak. You may know specific breeds of these, such as angora (rabbit), cashmere (goat), mohair (angora goat) and merino (sheep). Each one differs in softness, durability and washing characteristics.

Sheep's wool is the fiber most commonly used as it is often a by-product of meat production. The cheapest and coarsest fibers are used to make carpets. Only the longer and better quality wool staples are turned into clothing.

Woolen Fibers are Soft and Safe

Wool Comforters (Duvets) Give a Good Night’s Sleep

Research by the University of Leeds, UK (published 21/04/2016) found that using a 100% wool duvet (or comforter) rather than a synthetic one results in a better night’s sleep. The natural insulating and wicking properties of wool fibers control each sleeper’s microclimate. The keratin protein molecules in wool are able to absorb up to a third of their own weight in water before the fabric feels damp. Partners sharing one duvet produce moisture and heat at different rates, but the amazing thing about wool is that each fiber responds individually. So both partners under the same duvet are able to maintain a comfortable sleeping micro-environment.

The study looked at the thermal insulation and moisture management properties of woollen duvets compared to other materials. Dr Ningtao Mao, of the University of Leeds, said “The results showed that wool allowed 67 per cent more moisture to escape over an eight-hour period than a feather/down wadding, and 43 per cent more than polyester. Wool was able to cope with nearly double the amount of perspiration per hour than feather/down and around 50 per cent more than polyester.”

With its high water and nitrogen content, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, will not melt and stick to the skin causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection.

— Campaign for Wool
Angora rabbits have very soft fur. Just like sheep, their coats can be shorn.
Angora rabbits have very soft fur. Just like sheep, their coats can be shorn. | Source


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