Wool Production

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World Sheep Numbers

According to the most recent available figures, around 1.155 million kg (2018) of clean raw wool are produced by more than 1.177 billion sheep (2018) around the world. Sheep numbers rose by 2 million from 2017, continuing the rising trend since 2009. Sheep numbers in 2018 were the highest since 1992. See the chart below for trends and and numbers by country.

Some 500 different breeds of sheep grow wool in a range of colours, textures and lengths. (Some sources cite an even higher number - more information here.) Breeds vary by country and environment, making it very hard to generalize about sheep and wool. 


Wool Production

Sheep are usually shorn once a year in the spring/summer months, although in some countries shearing may take place as many as three times a year. Where production systems are advanced, the wool is rigorously tested to determine properties and different grades are packed separately.

Wool is first assessed in its rawest form, when it is referred to as "greasy" wool. This is because the first stages of wool processing involve cleaning the wool and removing the "grease" or lanolin. Lanolin is used in personal care products (lip balm. moustache wax), can be used to produce Vitamin D3 and a number of other applications.

The wool is then weighed and assessed again in its "clean"  form.


Types of Wool - Microns

The industry classifies wool by average fibre diameter using the micron measurement (abbreviation µ).

The classifications of wool are:

  • Fine wool – wool fibre of <= 24,5 µ (fibre diameter)
  • Medium wool – wool fibre of 24.6-32.5 µ (fibre diameter)
  • Coarse wool – wool fibre of >32.5 µ (fibre diameter)

These classifications are very broad and general while various wool growing countries may grade their wool into more distinct categories. 

The micron range of the wool fibre typically defines the product application it is used for. Wool used in apparel is typically finer than wool used in interior textiles. 

Charts shown above are © IWTO Market Informaton Edition 15 (2019). To order a copy, click here.