Wool, in general, signifies the hairy substance which forms the covering of Sheep.
The growth of wool is always completed in one year, when it spontaneously decays, and is naturally renewed ; in which respect it resembles the hair of most of the lower animals; though that of sheep is considerably finer, and grows with more uniformity, each filament advancing at an equal distance; separating from the skin nearly at the same time; and, if it be not previously shorn, it tails off naturally ; the animal being already provided with a short coat of young wool, that undergoes similar changes in the subsequent year. Another circumstance, that distinguishes wool from hair, is its various thickness in different parts of the same sheep; being closer at the points than at the roots; and the part, which grows during the winter, being considerably finer than that produced in the summer. - Next to Spanish wool, the English sheep furnish the most valuable commodity of the kind in Europe.
Wool, when first shorn, is called a fleece, and every fleece is divided into three kinds, namely: The prime or mother-wool, which is taken from the neck and back; the seconds, or that of the tails and legs ; and the thirds, which is obtained from the breast, and beneath the belly.
The finest and most esteemed sorts of British wool, at present, are those obtained from the Ryeland, South-Down, Shetland, Cotswold, Herefordshire, and Cheviot-sheep: and, as this article forms the most extensive staple commodity of British commerce, various and successful attempts have lately been made to improve its quality. To effect this desirable object, recourse has been had to intermixing or crossing the different breeds ; and, by the patriotic exertions of the British Wool Society, the Board of Agriculture, Lord Somerville (see p. 62, of the present volume), and Dr. Parry, the British wool is now little inferior to the best kind imported from Spain.
Our limits not permitting us to detail the results of their useful and interesting experiments, we shall only remark, that those who are about to select a flock, of sheep, whether for fattening, or chiefly on account of their wool, should not vinture to purchase any animals without the assistance of an eminent wool-stapler; for such person, being conversant with the different qualities of wool, is doubtless better enabled to form an accurate judgment, than could be expected from any farmer or agriculturist. Besides, the situations to which sheep have been accustomed, ought to be carefully investigated. Those, for instance, which have been habituated to hilly or mountainous pastures, should not be removed to a verdant plain : nor must the reverse plan ever be adopted ; for it is not the gigantic size that constitutes the value of sheep, but an ability to withstand the seasons, together with a disposition to fatten kindly, and to produce the largeat quantity of fine wool, in poor lands. It is principally by attending to the natural habits of this noble animal, that the Spanish wool has acquired such celebrity. But, as a complete account of the management of sheep in Spain, would exceed the limits of this work, we shall only recommend to the consideration of our country readers, three remarkable circumstances, to which the superiority of Spanish wool is generally, and we believe justly, attributed.
The first, is the use of Salt : which, being spread on small tiles or slates, the animals are driven among them, and permitted to lick them at pleasure; though, when sheep depasture on lime-stone walks, no salt is required. Thus, all acidity in the stomach is corrected : as, however, the prohibi-tory duty on that article cannot to prove a material obstacle to its more general consumption for such useful purpose, Lord SomervillE proposes chalk to be substituted; and he judiciously remarks that, as this fossil corrects acidity in calves, it may, with equal advantage, be given to sheep.
Secondly, In the month of September, red or yellow ochre is, by the Spaniards, constantly rubbed into the wool, with which it incorporates ; and, while it qualifies the perspiration of the animals, that would otherwise impart a harshness to the wool, it forms a covering alike impenetrable to heat and cold.
The third, and most important, cause of the excellence of Spanish fleeces, is the rigorous observance of the mesta, or Code of Sheep-laws ; in obedience to which, the climate must be changed according to the season, so as constantly to preserve an equal temperature. Thus, the flecks are never turned out of the fold to feed, till the morning dews have evaporated ; because these are extremely prejudicial to the health of sheep, frequently produce the rot of the liver, and also the foot-rot. Farther, these animals are regularly sweated, one or two days previ-ously to shearing, in order to make the wool separate more readily; and are likewise carefully housed (particularly if the weather be cold, or rough) for several nights they hare been shorn ;. a management which, if it bo essential to the prospirity of sheep in the more temperate climates of Spain, is absolutely necessary in Britain. - Those of our readers, who wish to investigate this important subject, will meet with numerous and valuable hints relative to wool, in Lord SomERville's " System followed during the Two last Years by the Board of Agriculture, " etc. 1800 ; also in the 2d vol. of "Communications to the Board of Agriculture ;" and, lastly, in Dr. Parry's " Facts and Observations tending to shew the Practicability and Advantage to the Individual and Nation, of producing in the British Isles, Clothing Wool, equal to that of Spain, " etc. 4to. pp. 93. 4s. Cadell and Davies, 1800.
The utility of wool, as a warm and useful clothing (see Cloth, Flannel, etc.); and, when no longer serviceable as a garment, its shreds or rags in the manufacture of SOAP, having already been sufficiently explained, it will be needless to enter into farther detail : - as the various acts of parliament relative to the wool-trade, will not admit of an analysis in this work, we shall conclude with briefly stating the different exclusive privileges that have been granted for dressing, preparing, and manufacturing wool, and woollen cloth.
The following are the principal patents of which specifications have been published, namely: - 1. In March, 1787, Mr.John'Harmar's, for a machine designed to raise a shag on woollen cloth : - 2. Mr. Geo. Jeffrey's, -in March, 1791, for a new method of dyeing stuffs, and woollen cloths, of various colours: - 3. The Reverend Edmund CartwrigHt's, in May, 1792, for a machine designed to comb wool: - 4. Messrs. Henry Wright and John Hawkins, in June, 1793; for their invention of certain machinery, that may be employed in combing, dressing, and preparing wool. - And 5. Mr. ThomasCoN-NoP's, in January, 1795 ; in consequence of his newly invented machine for batting wool. - These various contrivances, however, being too complex to admit of plain descriptions, the inquisitive reader will consult the 1st, 2d, 3d, 8th, and 12th volumes of the " Repertory of Arts, " etc. ; where full specifications are inserted, and illustrated with several engravings.