Wool Production

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Being a natural fibre, wool production depends on many different variables which determine the quantity, quality and specifications of wool which makes it so unique

According to the most recent available figures, around 1.160 million kg (2015) of clean raw wool are produced by more than 1.163 billion sheep (2015) around the world. Sheep numbers are up slightly from 2014, and 79 million above the recent low point in 2010; numbers are well above the long-term low in 2002.

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.

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. 

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.

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. Since 2008 more wool is produced for use in interior textiles than for apparel. 

Read more about how wool is manufactured into products by clicking here

Charts shown above are from the IWTO Market Informaton (Edition 12, 2015). To order a copy, click here.