PRELIMINARY Texan research has found a South African wool-testing machine the size of a loaf of bread should be accurate enough for the sheep selection and wool marketing needs of most growers.
A team of Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists at San Angelo is evaluating the new South African-made FibreLux and comparing its results with that of the OFDA2000, which has been used for several years and has the confidence of the industry for accuracy in measuring greasy or raw wool for average fibre diameter.
The FibreLux is a small portable, commercially available unit developed in South Africa. But while the FiberLux sells for around US$2000, the much larger OFDA2000 runs closer to US$75,000.
The main FibreLux hardware is an optical assembly, a colour image sensor and a processor. It uses an Analog Devices Blackfin processor with 128MB DDR for image processing. The unit is battery powered.
AgriLife Research scientist and head of the Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Lab Dr. Ronald Pope said both were developed as field units to give wool producers an easy accurate way to determine average fibre diameter of raw wool staples.
“But the OFDA2000 can be sensitive to transport since it has several moving parts that must stay in alignment to operate. And the OFDA2000 measures and calculates more attributes than average fibre diameter, whereas the FibreLux computes only average fibre diameter.
Dr Pope said average fibre diameter is the only measurement important to most producers. Because diameter fineness of individual wool fibres largely determines the value of the fibre; the finer the fleece, the better the wool and the better the wool, the higher its price, he said.
Dr Pope said preliminary studies indicate an 87 percent accuracy rating between the two instruments, which he feels should be close enough for most producers’ selection and marketing needs.
Prior to the development of the OFDA2000, Dr Pope said growers wanting to select breeding animals based on average fibre diameter had to send samples to a commercial testing lab for analysis. With the advent of the OFDA2000, growers could select animals almost immediately at the farm or ranch.
“Right now, we’re looking at the FibreLux and comparing it to other instruments we have available.
“We’re also just learning how to operate the FiberLux to see how practical it is for growers to use.”
Dr Pope and Monica Ebert, AgriLife Research student technician in the wool lab, have been working for two months to determine if the FibreLux, which is roughly the size of a loaf of bread, is user-friendly and accurate enough for producers wanting to select finer-fleeced animals for breeding stock, culling coarser-fibered animals or for fleece separation work done for packaging and marketing.
Dr. John Walker, resident director of research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at San Angelo, presented the researchers’ current findings on January 30 at the American Sheep Industry Association convention in Reno, Nevada.
Dr Walker said the audience for his talk entitled “Evaluation of FibreLux Micron Meter,” included major wool buyers and processors.
“There is no question the much larger OFDA 2000 provides more data, whereas we are trying to determine if the FibreLux might be enough for producers to use on the ranch for the purposes mentioned,” Pope said.
Dr Pope said it is recommended that side samples be used in both machines as those are the most representative of the animal’s entire fleece. From this, a sample about the diameter of a pencil is taken, combed with a common hair comb to align and spread the fibres about an inch to cover the window on the small plastic fibre holder. Once clamped down, the excess fibres are trimmed and the holder is placed in the instrument “toaster-style” and the “enter” button pushed. Results take about 20 seconds per sample, which is roughly the same length of time needed to process a sample in the OFDA2000.
Sheep Central has been unable to determine the availability or cost of FibreLux machines in Australia.