Wool, Fire, and Drought

Wool, Fire, and Drought  - how does weather effect our clothing?

Most people associate wool with cold wintery days. However – there is a lot happening during hot, dry summers that relate to wool.  Let’s start with some basic questions we often get asked:

  • How do sheep survive 90+ degrees Fahrenheit temperatures with 10+lbs of wool on their back?

The answer first begins with spring shearing which is a critical process in a sheep’s life to remove that thick wooly coat.   This means that in the summer a sheep only has about 1-2 inches of wool on their back in the peak heat.  It might sound like a lot but by winter they will have a full 3-4 inches of wool keeping them warm. 

This lighter summer coat provides the perfect amount for shielding from the intense summer sun while also wicking warm moist air away from the sheep’s body.  Think of it like a home swamp cooler (a type of air conditioning that moves air across a filter soaked in water to create Evaporative Cooling). 

Wool has the remarkable ability to absorb moisture and the wool pulls moisture away from the skin of a sheep.  As this warm moist air is wicked to the outside of the animal it evaporates resulting in a cooling effect.  Nature’s very own evaporative cooling system hard at work!  Now… keep in mind plenty of shade and water are paramount in a sheep’s life but the wool is playing its part too. 

This is also why I wear one of our Mountain Merino® wool hoodies (almost) every single day of the year.  This same cooling effect happens with wool clothing.  Wool can absorb an amazing 35% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet!  Check out this graph from the Woolmark highlighting the wool's exceptional ability to uptake moisture. 

Image Source: www.woolmark.com

I find that if the temperature is below 70 degrees I am quite comfortable in a wool hoodie and so in the mornings and evening even during the hottest parts of summer I’m often putting on my hoodie.  Want some more confirmation of wool’s amazing ability to keep you cool?

-from the Encyclopedia of Deserts “Wool is the best fabric choice in the desert environment”

-what do nomadic tribes in the Sarah and Arabian Deserts wear?.... robes made of wool

  • What is the optimum environment for sheep?

Most of the world’s supply of fine merino quality wool is located in regions with hot, dry summers and cold winters.  Sheep thrive in these environments and these environmental conditions help the sheep produce finer wool.

As of the writing of this post the western states are clouded with the haze from numerous wildfires.  Fire and wool have always seemed like a match for me.  I grew up in a family of wildland firefighters.  My dad was a career wildland firefighter.  My sister and brother-in-law are smokejumpers.  My mom worked on a fire crew in college.  And I too worked for several years on a wildland fire crew. 

The next generation might not be far behind - here is a picture of my little boy learning the ropes of fire prevention in his wool hoodie while dad and grandpa keep a watchful eye…. fighting fire and wearing wool… must be in the blood. 

When we first started making our wool hoodies my dad was the biggest advocate.  He wears his wool hoodie everywhere and I mean everywhere.  He says it is the nicest garment he owns so he can wear it to Church on Sunday.  It is the most durable garment he owns so he can wear it to work.  And… perhaps most importantly… wool absorbs odor so it never stinks so he says he can wear it any other time as well 😊. 

My dad would put this to the test wearing his hoodie to fire assignments 14-21 days sleeping in a tent, surrounded my smoke in the air and surrounded by everything else that was saturated in smoke (sleeping bags, truck seat, gloves, … everything).  What was the one product that didn’t reek of smoke for months afterwards…..  you guessed it – his Mountain Merino® wool hoodie.   

All that said – please keep the firefighters in your prayers and also the ranchers.  Drought and fire can be devastating to the animals and land.  Many ranchers are faced with the tough decision of selling off their livestock due to a lack of vegetation. 

As one wise rancher said to his son who was expressing concern about their future of their livelihood “We raise livestock.  It's what we know how to do and we do it well. And when this drought ends we’ll get back to doing it again”. 

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Susan in PDX July 22, 2021

Thank you for the interesting glimpse into your way of life, not just the part involved with wool. Every time I read one of your blog posts about life in ranching/wool production/bison pulling/fire fighting/adapting to a changing climate, my respect grows for you and your community. I’m impressed by how thoughtful the sheep ranching community seems to be in caring for the land and animals. God bless you! Be safe in these firey times!

Jenny July 22, 2021

Thanks for the interesting article! I also work in the wildland firefighting field, tho not on the line. It’s a noble and dangerous field. It’s great to know that, as ranchers, you the understand and value the impact and interaction the two activities have on each other and the land. Always fun reading your articles…stay safe!

Joanne Jones July 22, 2021

Wool, fire and drought was a wonderful article explaining the versatility of wool.
Thank you

Sara July 22, 2021

I pray that people and animals are safe and everything will rebound.

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