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China's wool industry a mix of primitive and modern

China is the world's biggest wool producer, biggest wool processor and the powerhouse economy driving global woolen textile consumption. But the country's wool industry is also an enigma. It is a mix of high-technology processing mills and modern fashion-conscious consumers with wool growing and harvesting techniques that don’t appear to have changed in 100 years.

China has the world's biggest sheep flock estimated at about 140 million head and producing about 363,000 tonnes of wool. But the gritty dust typically reduces clean fleece yields from many Chinese farms to as low as 40 per cent. Merino sheep in the Yang Chan district are typically housed in winter (October to April) to ensure their survival, but long months on earthen floors and in yards also add to the dirt and stains in their wool.

While state-owned farms have traditionally produced much of China’s better wool, the vast majority of Chinese sheep are now owned by private farming groups or families. Mechanical shearing gear is rare in China. Farms use blades or scissor-type shears. Wool growing ideas in China are still pretty basic. Grain can be drying in the sun on the edges of highways. There are indications China is seeing its sheep for meat production rather than fiber.