WITH sheep shearing season in full swing, there is a noticeable increase in activity at Ulster Wool’s Muckamore depot in County Antrim.
In the midst of a summer heatwave, staff are hard at work sorting, grading, baling and bagging wool as it arrives, often by the lorry-load as is sometimes the case during peak times such as late June, ready to be sold on at auction.
A 40-foot lorry can deliver as much as seven or eight tonnes in one load, providing it has been packed correctly.
When a load this big arrives in one delivery it is a case of all hands on deck as staff work to get it accurately weighed, graded and checked into the system, ready for sale.
Just one bale of wool has the potential to contain as much as 15 or 20 different grades, meaning the graders face a tough task to ensure every fleece is checked for contaminations or faults before being assigned a grade.
At Muckamore, a grader can grade as much as six tonnes of wool a day.
Ulster Wool processes wool for nearly 4,000 producers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and last year handled 1.2 million kilogrammes of wool which was then sold on behalf of the farmers at auction. This year it is keen to eclipse this number.
Joint Depot Manager Jayne Harkness-Bones said: “A big aim this year is to increase our intake, to break that 1.2m mark. The more wool we can take in the more we can give back to the farmer.
“Things started to get busy after Balmoral Show, from then we have been taking in around five or six tonnes a week but last week this went up to 91 tonnes.”
She is encouraging producers with wool ready to be dropped off to take it in now rather than putting it in storage.
“The worst wool is anything that comes in wet or has not been stored well. The longer you store wool the less you are going to get for it. It’s like potatoes – the longer you store it, the less it will be worth,” she explained.
Part of the British Wool family, Ulster Wool underwent a major re-branding earlier this year which it is hoping will help attract new producers while promoting the benefits and uses of wool to a broader range of consumers.