Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why don’t sheep shrink in the rain?” Good question. (OK, it’s a little odd but again it beats answering those questions about odd intimate acts. Seriously? We thought “The Ram” was just a male sheep, mmmkay?)
So why don’t sheep shrink in the rain? Well, actually “Woodard”, a poster on Fun Trivia says: “They do shrink, but the shepherds stretch the sheep back to shape shortly after the rain stops.”
BrainyBlonde, another poster to Fun Trivia comments: “Rain water is not hot enough. If you place them in boiling water they rapidly shrink to the size of a bean.”
But seriously, folks, the old joke implies that if wool comes from sheep and wool sweaters and such shrink when they are wet—a process called felting—then why don’t sheep shrink in the rain?
It has to do with how stiff or hard the sheep’s wool is and something they secrete. Don’t believe that? The Wonderopolis website not only confirms it but offers details.
The wool from sheep consists of amino acids. “As wool grows on a sheep, it gets keratinized, which simply means it hardens.” (See? It stiffens or hardens like your lady-friend’s fingernails.)
Sheep’s wool has overlapping, flat scales that point away from the animal’s body. Here’s the thing, when the wool gets processed and turned into sweaters, for example, the fibers get “stretched out” and the above mentioned scales get moved around and points in all different directions.
When your wool sweater gets “washed and moved about . . . in a washing machine, the wool fibers rub against each other. The scale edges on the fibers often touch and interlock, holding the fibers in position and not allowing the fibers to slide back to their original, stretched-out positions.”
That is felting. That is why your sweater looks as if it was shrunk in the wash. Sheep don’t shrink like a sweater in the rain because as Wonderopolis confirms “their wool fibers have scales that are all pointing in the same direction.”
When sheep “get wet, they can slide back into position without getting caught or locked into place. No felting takes place on sheep in the rain, so they don’t shrink.”
What about the secretion?
The website confirms that sheep produce an “oily secretion called lanolin.” Both Fun Trivia and Wonderopolis confirm and explain this. “Lanolin covers the wool fibers of their coats, acting as a natural lubricant that prevents fibers from locking together. Lanolin also repels water, which makes sheep somewhat waterproof when they’re out in the rain.”
Why don’t sheep shrink in the rain? Now you know.
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