Scurf, a challenge to fiber processors everywhere! What is it? What do we do with fiber that has it? How do we keep from getting it?
To start, what is SCURF? According to Google, it is "flakes on the surface of the skin that form as fresh skin develops below." but for fiber growers it is flakes of skin that grow on and throughout the fiber we are trying to process. Not very often do we find scurf in fiber but when we do it presents challenges and questions about what to do next.
We know that scurf is flaked dead skin. Most often it is sign of a medical condition with the animal such as mites or fungus that needs the attention of a veterinarian. We also know that it tends to show up on specific areas of the animal unless the animal is severely ill or infested which would then reveal itself throughout large portions of the fleece. A veterinarian is needed to diagnose and treat the animal otherwise the animal will continue to have scurf in the fiber it produces. The causes of scurf can also lead to the fibers being tender or unprocessable if left untreated.
So what do we do with fleece, especially if it is in a wonderful fleece that we just don't want to part with? In my experience with scurf, I know that skin does not dissolve in hot soapy water, it doesn't come out in processing (tends to only spread throughout the fiber as it is processed), and it is very damaging and difficult to pick out of finished yarn. Knowing these things,
we should evaluate how much of the fleece has scurf. Lay out the fleece with the cut side up and see which of these describes your fleece:
Small Areas - If scurf is present in small areas of the fleece, you should simply grab that portion and throw it in the trash. There is no need to contaminate the rest of the fleece with pieces of skin.
Larger areas but only on the cut ends of the fleece - if you find scurf where it is only close to the cut ends of the fiber staple, then evaluate whether or not you can cut off the scurf without losing valuable staple length. If cutting the fiber does change the staple length to much, you may have to consider processing it to a different product, but the fleece would be rid of the scurf.
Scurf is intermittent throughout the fiber and in several different areas of the staple length - When scurf is present in several sections of the fiber staple, not just the ends, it has been flaking off throughout the year. You should seriously consider using the fiber as compost in your garden. Removing small unaffected portions may be an option but is it worth it?
Remember, if the animal has been affected by the conditions that cause scurf for a significant amount of time, it most likely will have a tender fleece as well, which affects processing.
Determining how bad the scurf is in the fleece will help to know if you should process it or not. If you are unsure, you can feel free to bring the fleece by the mill and we can help you evaluate it. Remember that scurf is bad, bad for the animal and bad for the fiber. Get a good look at your animal when shearing and avoid purchasing a fleece that scurf is present.