Brrrrr... The snow is falling all around you as you run up the hill one more time. This time you double-dare your friends to a race down the hill, and with a whoop and a holler you all jump on your sleds and away you go! Bundled up in only a sweater, scarf, and mittens you ward off the cold for hours and sled until your friends get to cold and decide to go home.
Have you ever wondered how it is possible that a sweater, a scarf, and a pair of mittens can keep you so warm? Especially when most of your friends are bundled up in thick cotton coats and look like abominable snowmen? How can you stay so warm in just a sweater made of yarn? Do you have any idea what that amazing yarn is made of? Wool!
Wool is the fuzzy hair on sheep. Wool is a very elastic fiber that has a natural wave or crimp. Did you know that wool is so strong that it can be stretched more than twice its length without breaking? Wool is unique because it does not absorb water. That is why sheep stay so warm in the winter. I just bet you are trying to figure out how someone was able to convince a sheep to give up his warm wool "sweater" for the winter!
Actually, it takes a lot of sheep and they give up their "sweaters" in the spring so that they can grow a new one by winter. In fact, Montana produces more than 4 million pounds of wool a year. That's enough wool to make one sweater for every single person in Montana! The process of removing a sheep's "sweater" begins with rounding up the sheep and putting them in a pen. One by one their wool is shaved, or sheared, off of their bodies (it would be like having your hair cut). Then the wool is scoured and carded. Scouring the wool is the process of deep cleaning the wool with hot water and soap. This removes the dirt, twigs, and burrs from the wool. Carding the wool is the process of using a fine-toothed comb to make the wool soft and smooth.
The wool is then sent to a factory where it is spun into yarn using a large machine. The next step is to dye the yarn a variety of colors because I've certainly never heard of a red, blue, or green sheep! Finally the yarn is sent to a clothing factory and made into sweaters, scarves, mittens, and blankets.
Other products like carpet and furniture are now made with wool also. The wool products are then shipped to department stores and other outlets where they are purchased by people just like you.
Sheep are not the only animals that are raised for their wool. Angora goats and rabbits, as well as Llamas, also grow wool that is used for clothing and other products. Can you think of any other animals that give up their winter "sweaters" so that you can keep warm while sledding?