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Colour

Greasy colour is important to processors as only white product can be dyed to pastel shades, whereas off-coloured wool is restricted to darker colours.

Wool colour is appraised as being either scourable or unscourable.

Scourable colour is a discolouration that will wash out during processing. It is visible in the wool as a creamy colour or a very light yellow and is common in 'old' wool that may have been stored for some time.

Scourable colour will wash out in early stage processing (scouring) to give a creamy-white product. Scourable colour is appraised in the AWEX-ID type structure using the Qualifier 'M'.

Greasy wool with unscourable colour will result in an end product that will come out off-white or yellow, even after washing. Unscourable colour is usually visible as brighter yellow shades in greasy wool.

 
Hands pulling back fleece to show colour

Unscourable colour in wool can be influenced by climate (high rainfall and humidity levels), diet, animal health and external parasites. Unscourable colour is appraised in the AWEX-ID type structure using the Qualifiers H1 (Light/Odd colour), H2 (Medium colour), or H3 (Heavy colour).

Brighter wools have a wider range of uses and often receive a higher price. Discounts for unscourable colour depend on the severity, with larger discounts for brighter yellow colours. As with most faults, the finer the wool, the greater the discount.


Wool colour range in Visual Sheep Scores guide.

Colour discounts - fine wool


Graph of AWEX-ID colour qualifiers and clean price for fine wool.

Colour discounts - medium wool


Graph of AWEX-ID colour qualifiers and clean price for medium wool.

Wool colour trends

The following charts show discounts for wool with light (H1) and medium (H2) unscourable colour. The charts show large penalties over the last five years with discounts heaviest during the 2000 season. Since then, the significance of colour on price has eased considerably, particularly in the finer microns.

Recently, penalties for H2 began to increase, reflecting an overall market trend of buyers becoming more discerning in catalogues full of lower-styled, drought-affected wool.

Light unscourable colour is currently discounted by approximately 10 cents/kg (clean), with the finer types attracting the largest reduction. As expected, heavier unscourable colour attracts larger penalties, with these types 25 - 50 cents/kg (clean) lower than similar good colour types.

Colour discount trends - fine wool


Graph of trends for AWEX-ID colour qualifiers and clean price - fine wool.

Colour discount trends - fine wool


Graph of trends for AWEX-ID colour qualifiers and clean price - medium wool.

Wool colour management tips

Breeding and the environment influence the average whiteness and brightness of wool. Select sheep specifically for these attributes, but balance this against other breeding objectives with greater economic importance.

Fleece rot can result in unscourable colour and predispose the sheep to flystrike. Cull sheep with signs of fleece rot.

Over ten years or so, it is possible to greatly reduce the incidence of fleece rot and body strike with this approach, if your ram breeder is doing the same.

Further Information

Visual sheep scores - a standardised set of visual assessment scores, including wool colour, for all breeds of sheep: