Raising Sheep: How to Treat Wool Loss

Some Common Causes of Wool Loss

by Sherri Talbot
PHOTO: Older ewes can suffer wool loss, especially when carrying twins. Their body diverts nutrients from wool production into supporting the lamb they are carrying.

When raising sheep, wool loss can be a warning sign for shepherds. Also called wool slip or wool break, this usually presents as a thinning of the fiber, resulting in wool falling out, breaking easily and becoming patchy. In most cases, it not only reduces the value of the fleece but also suggests illness in the flock or problems with the animals’ caretaking. However, in a few, select breeds, this is a natural function of the sheep’s physiology. 

Reasons for Wool Break

When raising sheep suffering from wool break, the first thing to check is body weight. Sheep can lose weight due to illness, insufficient feed, or parasites. More indirect causes may include discomfort due to illness, injuries or pregnancy. In underweight sheep, wool growth is reduced to maintain the sheep’s own health. Returning the sheep to a healthy weight will usually cause growth to resume, though how quickly will depend on how long the sheep has been underweight.

Malnutrition is another common cause of wool slip, and while sometimes related to the animals being underweight, this is not always the case. Younger animals may develop so quickly that their bodies use up the nutrients needed for fleece development. Areas where the forage is nutritionally poor may result in malnourished sheep – especially those low on the “pecking order.” Poor forage or fodder quality can also result in animals having enough to eat, but developing wool break due to a nutrient imbalance. When raising sheep – or other grazing animals – it is good practice to have the nutrient contents of hay and pasture tested regularly to make sure they are of high value to the animals.

Soay sheep are one of the oldest sheep breeds in the world and naturally shed their fiber each spring

Sheep Can Have Mental Health Issues Too

Stress is a major issue for sheep that is often overlooked. Animals under stress – especially pregnant ewes – are prone to losing wool. Shearing in cold temperatures, predator attacks, and other stressful events increase the likelihood of wool break. As with underweight sheep, high stress will result in animals conserving energy by reducing wool production.

Wool loss can also be behavioral, though this is often related to one of the aforementioned categories. Sheep under high stress will sometimes pull the wool off each other as an act of aggression. Parasites or other skin issues will cause sheep to rub themselves against rough surfaces in an attempt to reduce discomfort. 

All Natural

While these are a few, common examples of preventable wool slip, it is important to remember that wool loss can also be natural. Older ewes will produce less wool during pregnancy, especially if having multiple lambs. As with many of the previous examples, her body needs to put its resources into the young, rather than fiber production. Older sheep are likely to produce less wool in general, which is why many large fiber producers cull older animals. 

Subscribe now

Some breeds of sheep also shed their wool naturally in the spring. These include some of the oldest heritage breeds, wild sheep or hair sheep – none of which require human intervention to remove their fiber. 


Raising sheep on small farms should involve regular health checks, but wool loss can also be an easily observable sign that extra attention needs to be paid to the flock. It can also mean a loss of productivity for farmers, so by no means should preventative care and examinations be ignored.

This article about raising sheep was written for Hobby Farms online. Click here to subscribe to Hobby Farms print magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *