On our 200-acre farm 9 miles south of Colville, WA, we have diversified to grow grain and hay and raise cattle, sheep, and cashmere goats.
In 1993, we bought our first cottage industry carding machine and started custom carding wool and other fibers. Our sheep stock consists of registered Montadale sheep and a few other ewes with colored wool for hand spinning and felting.
The purpose of this project is to determine the market potential for felt pads in the orthopedic device sector. A substantial market would greatly increase the income potential of wool that is currently of little value.
Wool is an alive and responsive fiber. It is warm in the winter and cool in the summer because of its ability to trap pockets of air and breathe while not retaining the moisture next to the skin. Additionally, wool is naturally flame resistant. The fiber will ignite but won’t flare or continue to burn when the flame is extinguished. It doesn’t melt when burned, so it won’t stick to the skin as some synthetics do. These characteristics of wool seem ideal for providing comfort for individuals wearing orthopedic devices using felt pads.
1) Make recommendations regarding grades of wool (or combinations of grades) that are appropriate for orthopedic pad use.
2) Provide guidelines for the processing of wool for producing felt pads.
3) Determine specifications for the orthopedic use of felt pads.
4) Work with suppliers of orthopedic devices to determine product uses.
5) Develop training materials and a web page to serve as an educational and marketing tool for wool producers.
Some questions we addressed in this project were what thickness works best, if the color of the wool makes a difference in comfort, what combination of fleece from different breeds of sheep worked best, if there is a difference in soaps for cleansing the felt, and if there was a noticeable difference in the durability of the wool felt pads.
A checklist we recommend using when fleecing wool is the staple length, the soundness or strength, the crimp, the vegetation matter, and the second cuts.
When I blended the different locally produced wools, several combinations could be obtained for testing. I found that if I put the medium grade fibers in the center layer and the finer wools on the outside layer, it made for a more comfortable batt against the skin.
The thinner two-layer wool felt pads seemed to be received better with more possible applications. For these wool pads I blended the finer and the medium wools together in the carding process with a 60 fine wool, 40 medium percent blend.
I want to encourage all who work with wool to wear a face mask. The wool fibers may get into the lungs and can cause real damage.
The soaps that I used for this project to wash the wool were, Ecoscour, and also soap from Mt. Hood Chemical Co.
I found a good shop vacuum cleaner to be invaluable around the carding equipment to keep the floor and work areas clean.
It is a good idea to keep up on your tetanus shot. Working with wool exposes you to all kinds of seeds and stickers in the fleece.
When washing the wool it is a good idea to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from hot water. The longer rubber gloves work best.
The marketing of the wool felt pads is moving forward with the hiring of a marketing agent. We are adding tri-fold brochures about the wool felt pads. Making contact with businesses that work with the orthopedic field to see what their needs are on the final size and instructions for the use of the wool felt pads, and setting up a web site are also part of the marketing plant. Our web site is www.me2farm.com.
I gave a presentation at the 1995 Washington State Sheep Producers yearling meeting, and had articles written up about this project in Capital Press, The Statesman Examiner, and the Montana Agri News. With this exposure, I talked to several people from around the United States who have requested a final copy of the grant booklet.