Hello! Haley from Outback Station, here! As winter is starting to come toward an end, I have been getting a lot of questions about some of our local petting zoo animals and would like to talk about one of my favorite topics in domestic livestock care: fiber animals!

If you are wearing a sweater, it might be made of animal fiber. One of the most well-known animal fibers is sheep wool. Each breed of sheep produces a different fiber texture, with Merino sheep being known for their ultrafine and soft wool. Lambswool is the wool taken at the first shearing of a sheep and is also valued for its softness. However, did you know there are different kinds of wool from many different animals?

Many of the Camelid family are known for their fibers. These animals include camels, alpacas, llamas, and vicuñas. There are also two kinds of goat fibers: cashmere and mohair. Finally, there are two animals that you normally wouldn’t think of when you think of wool but produce some of the softest wool: muskox and angora rabbit.

Muskox wool is known as qiviut (kiv-e-uht) and is collected not by shearing but by brushing. In the spring the muskox sheds its soft undercoat and the farmers spend time every day brushing each muskox to collect the valuable fibers. Camels also do not need to be sheared the way other fiber animals do. Just like the muskox, they shed their coats and farmers collect it via brushing. Camel wool is very dense and rough, making for great outerwear, and is even used in rug backing.

Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have two kinds of fiber animals: sheep and alpacas. We shear our sheep and alpacas every year in the spring to prepare them for the summer heat. It is a very quick and painless process for the animal, not unlike getting a haircut at the salon. Since sheep and alpacas do not shed their wool for their well-being, they have to be sheared to prevent overheating. Afterwards we send most of the wool to our Carnivore Team to give out as enrichment to our carnivores. This can include putting it inside their toys for them to pull out, or giving it to them in their beds to roll around in.

Most farmers process the wool from their animals into yarn to then sell. While there are machines today that can do this much quicker, some people still do it by hand. Taking one pound of raw wool through a process that includes washing, drying, picking, dying, carding, and spinning can take four to six hours. If a sheep can produce approximately 10 pounds of wool a year, it can take several days to make yarn from just one sheep! After being processed, 10 pounds of raw wool is roughly 10 yards of yarn, which is enough yarn to knit six adult sweaters!

So, the next time you reach for that warm, fuzzy sweater, remember all the hard work the animal and farmer put into making it!

Haley B.
Keeper II, Ambassador Animals

The post Fiber Animals appeared first on Zoo Atlanta.