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Mini mills: Grass-roots service providers for europe’s smallhold wool breeders

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This report addresses four principle questions: What are mini mills? How large is the potential market mini mills are catering to? Why is it interesting for smallholder wool breeders to have their clip processed by mini mills? and How are mini mills equipped? The first and second questions are addressed by reviewing available agriculture census data from Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and the third question by providing a cost-benefit estimate based on retail prices of hand-knitting wool and the specific processing rates of two British mini mills. Finally, the same two mini mills are presented in more depth in case studies that illustrate the type of equipment they use for processing, and the services they offer to their smallholder clients. According to the agricultural census data for Britain, Germany and France, mini mills cater to a potential market of between 100,000 and 200,000 smallholds per country, of which between 0.5 per cent and 5 per cent produce an estimated average total wool clip of less than 20 kg. Such quantities lie substantially below the minimums required by industrial wool mills. The mini mills not only offer a wool fleece processing service (specifically, spinning), but also guarantee a highly coveted ‘sheep to cone’ traceability. Rather than catering to the hobby craft end-consumer market, the mini mills offer their services to smallholders with small flocks, and hence small quantities of fleece, and who intend to take charge of the fate of their sheep’s wool. In this way, mini mills play an important waste management and sustainability role, as they add value to an otherwise discarded resource, and thus contribute to keeping wool from being burnt or landfilled. Cost-benefit estimates show that by having their wool processed in mini mills and selling the hand-knitting yarn directly, smallholders could reduce the financial losses incurred through shearing and processing because sales outweigh these costs by some margin.
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Keywords: low minimum; mini mill; rare breed; scouring; smallhold; spinning; waste management; wool

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: texSture Limited, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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