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New Eco-Uses for Wool

The following two stories demonstrate how sheep producers can become part of the green revolution and take advantage of opportunities for wool sales or a local cottage industry. With regards to the first article on wool insulation the following properties make it a great product:

Material Advantages

  • Wool is natural, renewable and sustainable
  • Sheep Wool Insulation is perfectly safe to touch and requires no specialized safety clothing or equipment, making it easy to install
  • It causes no irritation to the eyes, skin or lungs and wool fibers present no hazard to your health
  • Wool fibers are breathable, meaning they can absorb and release moisture without reducing thermal performance unlike fiber glass based products
  • Wool does not support combustion and will extinguish itself in the event of fire
  • Sheep Wool Insulation does not settle due to the high elasticity of the wool fibers ensuring no loss of performance over time

Saving Energy

  • Wool is designed by nature to save energy
  • Sheep Wool Insulation also requires only a fraction of the energy to produce compared to that of manmade counterparts
  • This means that Sheep Wool Insulation will pay back its energy costs more than 5 times sooner (only 15 kW of energy are used to produce 1 m³)

Performance Benefits

  • Wool has a higher fire resistance than cellulose and cellular plastic insulation
  • It does not burn, but instead singes away from fire and extinguishes itself (Wool has a very high inflammation point of 560°C due to its high Nitrogen content of ~16%) Wool is self-extinguishing because of its high Limiting Oxygen Index (LOI=25.2), which means to completely burn wool an oxygen content of 25.2% is necessary whereas air only has 21%
  • Wool fibers are hygroscopic by nature, meaning the can absorb up to 35% of their own weight from the surrounding atmosphere depending on the humidity, helping to preserve the surrounding timbers.
  • While absorbing this moisture, wool releases energy in the form of heat, thus raising the temperature of its surrounding areas. Naturally releasing this moisture in the warmer seasons, wool creates a cooling effect on the same surroundings.
  • Sheep Wool Insulation rolls are produced to standard width requirements – saving time when fitting
  • Multiple layered wool fibers effectively reduce airborne sound transfer

Now that you know about the great qualities of wool for insulation on to the first of the two articles.

Turning Sheep's Wool into High-Quality Insulation

There is a portion of the U.S. wool clip that is too coarse for the textile industry. Bellwether Materials, a San Francisco-based startup company, has figured out that this coarser wool makes for high-quality home insulation.

Priscilla Burgess, Bellwether Materials founder, was at the West Coast Green conference where she encouraged folks to touch the new insulation.

"It's just as effective as fiberglass, but you don't need a respirator and it's cheaper to install," she says.

There are other advantages, too. Wool is allergen-free and naturally pest, fire and mold resistant. Bellwether isn't the first company to use sheep's wool for insulation, but competitors all use plastic additives.

Bellwether's product is ready to go, and customers have been lined up. Now the company just has to start its manufacturing process, which should be ready for commercial production by January. Instead of outsourcing the supply chain to China, Bellwether is hiring professional millers from the milling-reliant town of Adamstown, Pa.

"We're hoping to support one whole town that was going to turn into a ghost town," Burgess explains.

Reprinted in part from

Bricks Made with Wool are Stronger

Spanish and Scottish researchers have added wool fiber to the clay material used to make bricks and combined these with an alginate, a natural polymer extracted from seaweed. The result is a stronger more environmentally friendly brick, according to the study published recently in the journal Construction and Building Materials.

"The objective was to produce bricks reinforced with wool and to obtain a composite that was more sustainable and non-toxic using abundant local materials and that would mechanically improve the bricks' strength," said Carmen Galán and Carlos Rivera, authors of the study.

The mechanical tests carried out showed the compound to be 37-percent stronger than other bricks made using unfired stabilized earth.

This piece of research is one of the initiatives involved in efforts to promote the development of increasingly sustainable construction materials. These kinds of bricks can be manufactured without firing, which contributes to energy savings.

According to the authors, "This is a more sustainable and healthy alternative to conventional building materials such as baked earth bricks and concrete blocks."

Reprinted in part from

Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Pacific fisher kits returned to the wild

Four baby Pacific fishers were released in the forest this week, with the aid of UC Berkeley scientists who are studying the Sierra Nevada population of the rare weasel-like carnivore.

Pacific fishers were once an abundant species, but the population has been in decline for more than 20 years. As part of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), an ongoing study aims to determine what factors are influencing the fishers' fate, such as habitat loss, timber harvest, disease, development and climate change.

"We are extremely excited that the four fisher kits have been repatriated back out in the forest, where we hope they will survive and become part of the fisher population in this area," said Rick Sweitzer, UC Berkeley Research Wildlife Biologist and Adjunct Associate Professor.

Last May, two fishers being monitored as part of the SNAMP study were killed – one by a bobcat, the other hit by a car on Highway 41. It just so happened they were both nursing mothers.

“We knew that the female fishers had kits, and that these animals are rare in California,” Sweitzer said. “We couldn’t in good conscience let the baby animals perish in their den cavities knowing we might be able to intervene.”

The scientists staged two daring rescues and spirited the babies to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo for care. In time, the young animals were moved to a large pen and taught to hunt live prey by a regional wildlife rehabilitation organization.  The young fisher kits have been under the care of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, by agreement with the California Department of Fish and Game.  Last week, the Department of Fish and Game gave approval for the "juvenile" fishers to be released back out into the forest.

"We aided this process by finding the most appropriate release areas where the animals will be most likely to find food in good quality fisher habitat," said Sweitzer.

Two of the fisher kits were released in the west Kaiser area. Two others were returned to the Beasore Road/Chilkoot Lake area of the Sierra National Forest, close to where their mother was killed in the SNAMP study area.

Unusual circumstances precipitated the two fishers' release into an area where their population is being researched. Late last year, two fishers died during captures when they were given anesthetic agents from a particular production lot that, unbeknownst to the scientists, had been causing serious problems with domestic pets and other animals and were subsequently recalled, but not until after both fisher deaths had occurred.  With permission from the California Department of Fish and Game, two of the fisher kits replaced the two that died because of the research project.

Read more about the UC Pacific fisher study.

Posted on Friday, October 8, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Fall is Often Bluetongue Season on the North Coast

Fall is often bluetongue season on the North Coast. Recently a colleague of mine forwarded me an excellent summary article by Robert B. Moeller Jr. DVM of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Tulare, California. I've included it below for your reading.

Bluetongue is an endemic disease in California and is a common problem of unvaccinated sheep living in the San Joaquin Valley of California.  The disease is seasonal and is usually seen in the late summer and early fall months.  Most clinical cases are usually seen during the months of August through the end of October. Bluetongue disease occurs worldwide and has recently caused serious economic problems in livestock in northern Europe.

Bluetongue is caused by a virus that is a member of the Orbivirus genus.  This disease is not contagious from animal to animal and must be spread to

susceptible animals by the bite from an infected insect vector. The insect vectors are biting midges (Culicoides species), which are common throughout California.  There are 26 serotypes of Bluetongue virus present in the world, but only 5 serotypes are currently established in the United States. However, this could change fairly rapidly if virus containing midges or virally infected animals are introduced into the United States. Bluetongue strains 10, 11, 13, and 17 have been identified in California.    

Although Bluetongue virus infects many different domestic (cattle, sheep and goats) and wild ruminant (deer) species, sheep tend to be the species most seriously affected.  One particularly serious bluetongue strain of virus (Bluetongue virus strain 8) that was recently introduced into Northern Europe from Africa is currently causing significant disease in sheep, cattle and goats.  The strains of bluetongue virus in California tend to produce no disease symptoms in cattle and goats while causing apparent and severe disease in sheep.

Symptoms in infected sheep include elevated body temperatures (105oF to 107oF), excessive salivation, swelling of the face, lips, and nose, ulcers and erosions of the dental pad, tongue and lips, swelling and discoloration of the tongue (blue tongue), difficulty in standing and/or lameness with swelling and/or ulceration of the coronary bands and hemorrhaging of the mucus membranes of the mouth and tongue.  Some sheep may have respiratory difficulty due to pulmonary edema in the lungs.  Other sheep with significant lesions in the mouth, tongue and esophagus may occasionally vomit with aspiration to the lungs which can lead to severe pneumonia.  Mortality can be variable with death rates approaching 30% to 80% of the infected animals.   Infected pregnant animals that survive clinical disease can have abortions or deliver young that are deformed, blind, weak, or have serious neurological defects.

Yearly vaccination of animals in the spring protects most sheep from becoming seriously affected by this viral agent. Since the Bluetongue vaccine is a modified live vaccination it is not recommended to vaccinate pregnant sheep because the virus in the vaccine may cause abortions or deformities in the fetus.

If you suspect bluetongue in your sheep you should contact your veterinarian immediately and discuss further testing of your flock.  Testing of sick or dead animals for this disease can be accomplished through your regional veterinary diagnostic laboratory.

Posted on Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 5:16 PM

4-H member named a 'Young Hero'

Mariposa County 4-H member Sydnie Edwards, who coordinated efforts to reforest land devastated by the 2008 Telegraph Fire, was named a distinguished finalist by the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. She will receive $500 for higher education or service work.

The Barron Prize honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to people and the planet. Sydnie is one of five students across the U.S. chosen for this honor from a pool of 400 applications.

For her "Emerald Tree Project," Sydnie, 15, secured donations of lodge pole pine trees from Cal Fire and private nurseries and arranged with landowners to plant the trees. Fellow 4-H members, Girl Scouts, school friends and community members joined Sydnie in planting 2,000 trees.

The project is part of the national 4-H Million Trees Project, which hopes to inspire 4-H youth to plant one million trees as a way to slow climate change.

Posted on Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 10:05 AM

Agriculture’s Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Capture

The American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of A

merica, and the Soil Science Society of America recently released a joint document entitled Agriculture’s Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Capture. The full document can be downloaded at:

The effort summarizes current knowledge of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and capture as influenced by cropping system, tillage management, and nutrient source (including manure) in six US agricultural regions. The six regions are the Northeast, Southeast, Cornbelt, Northern Great Plains, Southern Great Plains and the Pacific. The Pacific region includes California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Additionally, topics requiring further research have been identified.

The report's interpretive summary states that: "Approximately 6% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions originating in the United States (U.S.) come from agricultural activities. These gases are in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). However, by employing proper management techniques, agricultural lands can both sequester carbon and reduce CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions, thereby reducing their GHG footprint.

Cap-and-trade climate change legislation, currently under discussion in the legislative and executive branches, may have broad and long-term implications for the agricultural sector. In order to determine the role of agriculture in GHG emissions and capture, a full life cycle accounting of GHG sources and sinks is needed."

The report does a great job in explaining the effects of GHG on climate change and documents the rise in each of the three GHG's. It further offers methods of reducing agriculture's production of GHG or sequestering carbon including:

  • Reducing fuel consumption;
  • Enhancing soil carbon sequestration;
  • Improving nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE);
  • Increasing ruminant digestion efficiency;  and
  • Capturing gaseous emissions from manure and other wastes.

Livestock producers, rangeland managers and hay producers will value many of the specific suggestions for them in both reducing GHG’s and sequestering carbon.  A few of these include:

  • Harvesting forage by livestock grazing rather than mechanically - reducing fuel consumption;
  • Using legume-based rotations or organic agricultural systems to reduce N fertilizer applications - reducing fuel consumption;
  • Conservation tillage, winter cover crops and perennial pastures - enhancing soil carbon sequestration;
  • Leguminous green manures (like clovers) can convert nitrogen gas from the atmosphere to plant available N for crop use (like hay and pasture or between vineyards) - improving nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE);
  • Adjusting the portions of animal feed to decrease digestion time - increasing ruminant digestion efficiency;
  • Using edible oils or other feed additives to reduce metabolic activity of rumen bacteria that produce CH4 - increasing ruminant digestion efficiency;
  • Capturing CH4 emissions from livestock waste using covered lagoons and converting to electricity – capturing gaseous emissions from manure; and
  • Applying manure to the soil as a nutrient source rather than storing it as waste – capturing gaseous emissions from manure.

It's encouraging to know that grazing livestock and some of the typical practices we presently employ can have a positive impact on our environment. I hope all of you will download and read the entire report.

Posted on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 11:36 AM

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