Sourcing other markets that can handle bulk quantities of wool is a huge challenge which means tonnes of this year’s unsold material could lie in storage until next year.

As we know, wool is a 100% natural fibre with rare properties and has been skilfully crafted into garments, carpets, bedding and other uses as long as history can recall.

There are about 22 million sheep and lambs in the United Kingdom producing millions of tonnes of fleece wool each year with varying quality depending on the breed.

Softer, finer wools are more commonly used for garments while the more coarse fibres are used in carpets.

These traditional outlets account for the main markets for wool but when China closed its order books once Covid-19 hit countries like New Zealand and the UK were left with mountains of wool that could not be sold.

Alternative uses

Just as sheep use wool as a barrier to keep out the winter chills the same principle can be adhered to for buildings using the material as insulation.

Creating a barrier from the outdoors, insulators such as foam, fibreglass and wool help to improve the energy efficiency of homes. Wool allows millions of tiny air pockets to form which creates a thermal barrier, regulates humidity and keeps both the sheep and buildings warm.

It works in precisely the same way when used for building insulation and has a thermal conductivity of between 0.0035 – 0.04 W/mK, whereas typical mineral wool has a thermal conductivity of 0.044 W/mK.

Sheep wool is also a good air purifier as it has a great ability to absorb and neutralise substances which may be harmful. Wool is a natural protein made up of 18 different amino acid chains of which 60% have a reactive side chain.

These reactive areas allow the wool to absorb harmful and odorous substances including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and formaldehydes and neutralise them through a process known as chemisorption.

Not only can sheep wool absorb one third of its weight in moisture, it can do this without compromising its ability to insulate. Water vapour is absorbed by the core of sheep wool fibre, making it great at combating condensation.

Plus, sheep wool is really easy to work with when using as insulation in buildings. Both glass wool and rock wool cause major irritation to bare skin and can cause damage to lungs and eyes. Therefore it is strongly recommended that a mask and goggles are worn when installing either of these.

However, using sheep wool insulation is safe and harmless.

Wool pellets as fertiliser

Using 100% raw wool in pellet form as a garden fertiliser is becoming increasingly popular and is another good use for the material.

The pellets can have a fertiliser value of 9:1:2 (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), while also containing sulphur, iron, magnesium, calcium and a range of other micronutrients.

Some of the main advantages of using wool as fertiliser include its ability to hold 20 times its weight in water.

As wool soaks in water, it puffs up and expands helping to increase the porosity or oxygen in the soil. This gives space for roots to spread out and grow becoming deeper and stronger, reducing the need for additives.

They are slow release, typically breaking down in six months, meaning they help plants grow all-year and are 100% natural helping to improve the soil.

Wool pellets are a natural repellent to slugs, snails, and weeds when placed around the base of plants and mixed into the soil.

Looking at the wool fibres under a microscope shows they are barbed which is the perfect battle armour that will keep the soft bellied pests away from plants.

Natural food cooling

During the Covid-19 pandemic a number of independent food retailers and farm shops started online sales of their produce to reduce the need of consumers mixing in supermarkets.

Many opted to use 100% wool in the food packaging for delivery to protect the produce and help keep it as fresh and cool as possible.

Wool fibres are incredibly effective at absorbing moisture from the air which minimises humidity and condensation to maintain stable temperatures, and create a natural cooling system.

Using wool in fleece liners or insulated cardboard boxes has been independently proven to keep food contents below the all-important 5C for at least 24 hours and longer.

This makes them ideal for delivering chilled food products such as meats, cheeses and chocolate, as well as fruit and vegetables.

Keeping pets warm

Last but not least wool makes the perfect warm bedding liner for those precious pets that also deserve a good night’s sleep especially on a farm where the sheepdogs are the hardest working employees there.