Wool is not just a fabric used to make a sock to the South Dakota State Wool Judging team. Wool is a way of life for five team members traveling the country to gain valuable skills relating to wool and sheep for their future careers.
Being on the Wool Judging team gives its members the opportunity to make friendships, gain better public speaking skills and learn about wool.
“I didn’t know anything about wool, not a single thing,” said Jamie Beckstrand, a freshman agricultural business major and team member, “and now wool is life.”
The wool judging contest consists of judging six classes of sheep, three sets of reasoning, a grading round and three hand spinning classes.
“I had never done judging before where you have to give reasons and look at classes. I have gained a lot of new skills from wool judging,” said Kaley Nolz, freshman agricultural business major.
Team members are asked to grade 15 fleeces in the grading round. They have to determine the grade or the quality by the fiber diameter and the fleece percentage yield. Fleece wool percentage is important because the industry will want to know how much fleece is left after it is cleaned. They must check for three main things when judging: wool purity, color and crimp. When checking for purity of the wool they must look to see if there are other materials or substances in the wool. Color of the wool is judged by how white the wool is. Crimp is the number of bends within the wool fibers.
Three breed classes and three commercial classes are the classes of sheep judged. A breed class is a class for each specific breed where as a commercial class is a mixture of breeds. In each class the team members decide what order the four sheep should be placed from best to worst.
In the hand spinning portion of the contest, the team members essentially judge the prettiest wool.
“Hand spinning is very objective because it depends on what the hand spinner is going to use the wool for,” Grady Ruble said, a graduate student in ruminant nutrition and wool judging coach.
Wool is typically used for clothing, blankets and yarn. It is important that the hand spinner has the right type of yarn for each product he or she makes.
The four team members judge in each part of the contest and the top three scores count toward the overall team score.
It’s like wrestling, Ruble said.
Team members work for themselves but also work for the team as a whole, said Josh Brown, freshman animal science major and team member.
The South Dakota State University Wool Judging team took 10th place at the Denver Contest Jan. 14, 2016.
They started practice in October and practiced as many as eight to 10 hours a day the week before the contest. The team has not decided where their next contest will be hosted but members hope to participate in a few more before spring semester ends.