Coated coats

Infrared Barn cameras provide us with a view into the barn at night

Infrared cameras provide us with a view into the barn at night

I was on my way to bed the other night when, as is my usual habit, I turned on the monitor in the bedroom to peek at our bred girls in the Sheep Barn. At this time of the year, having one last look before bed can avoid a whole host of problems, so I typically check to ensure that all is well before we turn in for the night. The black-and-white display from the barn’s night-vision cameras flickered on, and I suddenly noticed something that I hadn’t seen before: not all of the coats on our sheep looked the same. And that, I think, is a reflection of something very important!

I quickly snapped a photo of the screen so that you, too, could see the difference. Do you see how there seem to be some coats that are sparkling white and reflective while others are various shades of medium to dark gray? What is interesting is that all of our sheep are wearing the same brand of coat (Matilda). I love the way that brand fits, so I made sure that every ewe wore a Matilda coat after our last shearing. It was an easy decision to make, since we obviously had enough of them and they do such a good job of keeping the hay chaff out of the wool at the shoulders.

Over the years we have owned Matilda coats made of at least five different fabrics, and the purchases last summer were constructed of a silver space-age-looking fabric. I really don’t care much about the fabric if it lasts well and keeps out the UV light, thereby protecting the fleece. The coats’ UV resistance is hard to verify. The company tells us the coats are coated with a UV protective substance, but there is really no way to know for sure—I have to take them at their word.

When I turned on the monitor the other night, I noticed that although all of our sheep are wearing the same brand of coat, obviously some of those coats are doing a better job of reflecting than others. On the night-vision setting, the cameras use infrared to detect heat signatures, and the coats that showed as white or highly reflective were obviously doing a great job of absorbing the infrared heat or releasing the body-heat of the sheep (or both). I began to wonder whether this might give me some insight about the new fabric, for example which of the many fabrics currently worn by our flock are doing a good job of heat reflection. I began to compare which ewes were highly reflective to those I knew were wearing the new coats. (Yes, I can tell even on the monitor which ewes are which, and I know which coats many of our ewes are wearing. My mind is filled with this type of trivia!)

As it turns out, the sparkling white coats on the monitor are not so clean and white when you see the sheep in person. These coats are the new silver fabric that arrived most recently, which I think means that the new fabric—or the way it is treated to reflect UV light—actually works better at reflection than any of the older fabrics. All of the coats have been washed at least twice, so I don’t think this difference between matte and reflective fabrics has to do with washing. One of the issues with the Matilda coats is that if you want them to continue to reflect UV, you must wash them separately on the delicate cycle with dish soap. (Yes, dish soap in the washing machine—you don’t want to put in too much or you get lots of bubbles pouring out, and too little won’t get the coats clean!) I’ve been doing this for many years, but obviously the new silver coats are much better at retaining this UV-reflective trait than any of the previous versions.

So not only do the infrared cameras give me a peek into the Sheep Barn at night, but I think they have also given me insight into how well our coats reflect heat—and perhaps also reflect the sunlight’s UV rays that tend to fade the tips. Now that I’ve seen this, I’m thinking I might put our darkest ewes into those new silver coats to keep their tips as dark as possible. I don’t know whether it will work, but honestly, what have I got to lose? And maybe—just maybe—at next year’s shearing, I’ll see a lot of very dark tips on those fleeces, confirming my suspicions. I guess there is no way to know except to try it and find out. I’ll keep you posted.

Skirting progress: I’ve finished skirting all of the fleeces and am compiling the notification email for our customers. I plan to release the notification email to our customers on Thursday afternoon, February 12th, most likely between 4:00-5:00 p.m., CST. It won’t be long now!

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