CAIRO: Sheep-shearing is becoming the target of desert animal experts who say that the process has not been systematic enough to make fleecing contribute to national wealth derived from animals.
This may be a result of the indifference animal breeders have towards the issue or the public’s lack of awareness of the importance of local wool.
Traditionally, fleecing has been a process driven only by individual shepherds. They were hardly encouraged to trade with the wool of their herds because the revenue generated was not commensurate with the effort or demand.
“But this attitude is slowly changing and efforts are currently directed towards turning sheep and camel wool into mass production which can contribute to national wealth, said Emad El Islam Talat, of the animal production department at the Desert Research Center.
“Our wool production is provided by breeds owned by the center’s different stations located in Sinai, the North Coast and other parts of the desert, as well as by the Bedouins living in these surroundings, he added.
Talat explained, “Before these stations started to operate at full capacity, the Bedouins used to throw the wool away or burn it. This was simply because they did not know how to use it.
“Now we have taken the initiative of encouraging them to show up at the centers during the fleecing season. But the small gain for each fleece still discourages them from doing so. We are trying to advise them on the utility of the process.
Talat is concerned at the implementation of the research results. “Worldwide the breed improves because the animal owners follow the instructions of the researchers. They need to understand that they have to work hard so that their breeds will one day generate some revenue.
At the desert station the herds are shepherded for fleecing which has to be undertaken by a team of specialized shearers.
It would take an experienced shearer less than 10 minutes to shave a sheep. After tying the legs, he puts it flat on one of its sides, stops it from moving with his legs and starts removing the wool with sharp scissors. Four hundred sheep provide one ton of wool.
Camel shearing, however, is more challenging due to the animal’s size, ferocity and the number of shearers required.
The camel has to be isolated in an enclosure where four men bring it down on its knees by encircling its legs with ropes.
As four or five shearers start get to work, someone has to grab the head firmly to prevent it from resisting the shears. One camel provides three quarters to 1 kg of wool.
Whether it is a sheep or a camel, the process is divided into two parts: Skirting, which consists of removing the hair around the legs and the belly, and fleecing, which involves the densely hairy parts. The high yield obtained from the latter makes it better suited to processing.
Talat commented, “In Egypt, manual shearing remains the ideal option as it is the cheaper than chemical and mechanical fleecing. Chemical fleecing is carried out by dipping the animals into pools of chemically-treated water.
“However, its effect on animals’ health is controversial. Because of the type of wool produced by our herds, the mechanical method has been ruled out. I would like to note that prior to fleecing, the sheep or camels have to be properly soaked in soapy water so as to clean the hair of dirt, he added.
People seem to think that all animal wool can be used for industrialization, but experts say that only wool with quality staple is suitable. This quality can be generated in animal wool through the kind of nutrition available. The stronger the staple, the better it is for pulling and balling, two important elements in processing wool.
“This is why we advise the shepherds to select the type of fodder that will improve animal wool. The cost, however, is always an issue as each shepherd owns only a few sheep.
According to experts, Egyptian wool is close to ideal, especially for carpets that require wool with rough staple. Smoothing the material would prevent it from use in both the garment and carpet industries. When smoothed, the wool is not optimal for garments, nor will it be coarse enough for use in carpets.
Although some animal lovers associate fleecing and shearing as acts of cruelty, Talat said, “So many are not aware that if not trimmed or shaved, the hair of these animals would fall by itself. This is one part of a biological process in which the hair renews itself.
“Human intervention, however, is more than necessary. Naturally the hair falls during the peak of summer, meaning that the animals are subject to the ill-effects of the hot climate, especially in the desert, he noted.
The expert continued, “We start the fleecing in May when the climate is mild. By the time summer comes around, a thin layer of hair will have grown, giving the herds the necessary protection against heat. The dense wool on the animals’ bodies during the summer is an undesirably big load.
“Some villagers know instinctively that the sheep have to be sheared twice a year because the process reveals many skin problems and parasites that might be lurking under the animals’ hair. Also, the process is one factor that helps improve the breed’s general health.
Talat regrets the fact that all the skin and wool of the sheep and buffalos sacrificed during Eid El Adha are collected and sold on an individual basis.
“This is a loss that comes as a result of allowing immolations to take place outside the public abattoirs. If we make a point of collecting wool and other animal parts by banning sacrifices in private places, we will help the authorities increase the national wealth derived from animals.