If the billion sheep on Earth knew that $80 billion was being made annually from their body covering, they’d surely want a cut, but instead they get fleeced. Wool (called fleece when attached to the animal) is made of keratin, the same as human hair and most varieties of antler. Wool however, is thinner in diameter than human hair and has greater density per square inch. Before domestication 12,000 years ago, sheep were covered in a random mix of the stuff. But through selective breeding, a single sheep now possesses a single fleece type. Sheep-shearing is an art form, as the wool must be kept in one piece. Shorn material is graded, sorted and sent to three potential destinations. Miscellaneous fibers are compressed into a sheet to form felt. Short lengths are straightened and twisted into yarn and the longest fibers are used to weave “worsted” cloth. Historically, Britain was king of wool, but Australia now holds the title, producing enough wool annually to make about one billion sweaters.
words: michael isenbek photo: stephen lang