Romney Marsh Wools: 4 seasons of sheep farming
Sheep farming is a hard job, which requires a great deal of attention and adaptability. With the arrival of each season, our farmers change their lifestyle to prepare themselves for new challenges. The seasonal calendar is marked by four major events: lambing, shearing, tupping and ewe management. At Romney Marsh Wools, we are fully committed to managing our sheep in the best possible way all year round.
Shearing starts around May and is pivotal for our business. With the warm weather, our farmers make sure the sheep are being shorn quickly to relieve them from the heat and to protect them against flies. A lot of work goes on at Romney Marsh Wools, considering that circa 2,500 sheep need to be shorn, including lambs! Thanks to new technology, shearing time per ewe is greatly reduced and with all of Paul’s experience he is able to shear a ewe in about 1 minute 30 seconds! (Only slightly longer than the 1 minute records of many professional shearers from Australia and New Zealand!) After shearing, the fleeces that we obtain are sent to Kent Wool Growers in Ashford, Kent where the fleeces are then graded and sorted.
The market value of the Romney sheep’s wool has changed considerably over the decades. Throughout history the Romney’s fleeces had been a major source of wealth for farmers, leading to the export of the Romney breed around the world. In the 18th century, the Romney’s fleeces were so valuable that the government changed its tax system and started demanding a large amount of money from the people who owned this wool, who avoided these taxes by smuggling the fleeces out of the country on the Kentish coastline. This historical period was marked by the smuggling activities of local people, who managed to export their precious wool all over Europe. The profits of smuggling also contributed to the construction of many churches and cathedrals, which are now still present in the United Kingdom and especially here on the Romney marshes!
The fascinating history of the Romney wool took a twist in the 1960’s and 1970’s: farmers had to face new challenges with the introduction of the synthetics in the fashion industry and the change in eating habits in families because of a growing population. The market competition led to a considerable drop in the price of wool. With the complexity of having over 60 different sheep breeds within the UK with varying fleece qualities, the economy has driven British Wool into the Carpet Industry and today 85% of all British wool goes into this market.
Romney Marsh Wools, a family business was founded in 2008 through a desire to diversify with our wool and go beyond preconceived ideas of all British Wool being coarse, showcasing a large range of woollen products. The majority of our wool still goes into the production of carpets, but the trend now seems to be changing because of the shifting interest of people towards sustainability. Wool itself is natural, local and sustainable and therefore contributes to the preservation of the environment and the original landscape.
Although the shearing season can be hectic, it is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding for our family farm: when our wool is being graded, we select the highest quality fleeces and the rest of the fleeces are sold on the open market through the British Wool Marketing Board, who work hard to achieve the best possible prices for British sheep farmers.
Written by Valeria Trabattoni, Psychology Student at University of Kent