DENVER, Colo. — Sheep turn grass into wool, and that amazing fiber is at the center of this month’s ASI Research Update podcast. Chris Posbergh, Ph.D. – an assistant professor of sheep production at Montana State University – is leading a number of research efforts that take a closer look at wool, its characteristics and its uses, and joins this month’s podcast to discuss those projects.
While there are a lot of factors that determine the value of American wool, the single most important is the micron – or fiber diameter – of the wool. Also important is the yield of the wool, length and strength, color, contamination, etc.
“Our goal with the research I have planned and what we’re currently doing is trying to take it two different ways. One is to improve the overall quality of the fleece,” Posbergh said. “As well as to improve production. If we can produce more with the same amount of resources – or fewer resources – then that makes our industry more efficient and hopefully then makes it more profitable for our producers to grow wool.”
Among the research projects is a study of the microbiome of wool. Microbes are everywhere, and researchers at MSU recently took samples from five different body parts of a group of lambs. They’ll collect microbes again in August at weaning and a final time when the sheep are sheared for the first time in March of 2023.
“What we’re going to do is track them from their first year of life through their first shearing,” Posbergh said. “We’ll extract the microbial DNA from that sample and send it off for sequencing to determine if there are particular microbes that associate with some of the factors we talked about, such as micron, yield or color, as well. This is something we can utilize for producers to use for figuring out other management tools to adjust that microbiome to provide a better return.”
–American Sheep Industry Association