Southdown wool duvets are flame retardant and are formally certified as such. But the test results were not the first time I came across this amazing physical property in wool. Nothing like a hands on experience to bring the message home.
It all happened 8 years ago when a large friendly ewe called Bourne produced a ram lamb. Bourne was a good mum and she accepted her lamb but at about 5 hours old, I thought he looked cold and hyperthermia is not something we welcome. So I rigged up a heat lamp in the corner of Bourne’s pen and settled her lamb under it. Job done, I thought, and got on with the lambing.
Well, I was kneeling (in amniotic fluid) in front of one of Bourne’s sisters when I smelt something alarming. Without getting up because a twin was about to arrive, I called over my shoulder to our farm manager.
“Ed, I can smell burning!”
To which Ed responded: “Oh crap! The sheep’s on fire!”
Leaving my straining ewe to her own devices, I vaulted over the sheep hurdles into Bourne’s pen. Bourne had decided that she needed to warm up far more than her lamb, so she had nudged him out from under the lamp before parking her more than ample bottom right up against the large red bulb. And there she had obviously just stood, completely oblivious, with a blissful look on her face, while smoke wafted out from her nether regions. And do you think we could shift her off the heat lamp? No – she wasn’t having any of it. Best we could do was switch the lamp off at the plug and as the bulb swiftly cooled down, it gradually dawned on Bourne that the party was over. But she did sport a huge smoldering patch of brown singed wool about the size of a soup plate on her rump.
“Gee”, said Ed, “I am amazed she didn’t get badly burned.”
“Ed,” I replied, “I keep explaining to you that wool is flame retardant and here, standing in front of you, is proof positive. Sheep are amazing in that they can grow this miracle fibre.”
Ed looked at Bourne and her smoldering bottom.
“How can such a smart animal be so stupid?” he asked.
Neither Bourne nor I had an answer. She went back to her lamb and I went back to the newly arrived twins.