Sheep Breed Study Closeups

  • Sheep Breed Studies - October 2014 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    UK Breeds: Jacob, Whitefaced Woodland, Romney, New Forest Boreray, and Hebridean

    My continuing exploration of sheep's wool from various breeds around the world following along with the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. I've been purchasing Breed Boxes from Namaste Farms and enjoy listening to Natalie's informative discussions of the featured breeds with Martin Dally on Namaste Farm's BlogTalkRadio cast.  

    You can read my other sheep breed closeups here.

    Jacob (UK)

    This is a long staple fleece (about 7 inches) with no crimp and is more coarse and straight from what I'm used to seeing (North American). The sample had distinct dark brown and white without any light gray (lilac) color. It's not the softest handle but would probably be OK for outerwear.

    Whitefaced Woodland 

    To be honest, I was not a fan of this sample at all. It seems like mostly kemp and feels like mattress stuffing. It could just be this particular sample, but it was one of my least favorite of many breeds I've looked at.

    The Whitefaced Woodland is a large breed of heavy horned British hill sheep. It also known as the Penistone sheep after the Yorkshire town where it dates back to 1699. It is listed as a vulnerable breed. 

    Romney (US)

    In the podcast, Martin said that this doesn't look like a UK Romney fleece at all. It is in fact from the US. They have a very dense fleece with a broad crimp and squared off tips on broad flat locks. I've spun a lot of Romney from local Virginia farms and I would say that this is very comparable to those fleeces. They are classified as a longwool although they don't grow as long as others like Lincolns or Teesawaters for example. I really liked this sample. It's very clean and has a nice lustre. Martin said that in the showring it may not be as good because it doesn't have as even a crimp and lock formation and blocky tip that you would like to see with this breed.

    New Forest Boreray 

    This sample was very interesting. it's very soft and fine with a few inch staple and wavy crimp with long tips similar to a Shetland in handle. It does not have any coarse hair like some primitive breeds. There are some small bits of white kemp but nothing too bad. Martin thought it was a lamb fleece because it is very soft with fine tips. It is a tender fleece though, so when you tug on the ends, it will break apart. Natalie said it could be because they were rooing though when it was sheared. I noticed that the cut end is where the breaks occur, so I agree that it would naturally break there and the tips are actually stronger.

    From Wikipedia:

    "The Boreray is a breed of sheep originating on the St Kilda archipelago off the west coast of Scotland and surviving as a feral animal on one of the islands, Boreray. It is primarily a meat breed. Also known as the Boreray Blackface or Hebridean Blackface, it is the one of the rarest breeds of sheep in the United Kingdom, and is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep group of breeds. It is the only sheep breed to be listed in "Category 1: Critical" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, because fewer than 300 registered breeding female Borerays are known to exist. The Boreray should not be confused with the Soay sheep, also from the St Kilda archipelago, nor with the Hebridean sheep, which was formerly called the "St Kilda", although it is probably not in fact derived from the St Kilda sheep."

    From The Smallholder Series website: 

    "The Boreray is a primitive breed. They stand approximately 55cm at the withers. The tail is short. Both sexes are horned and the horns of the ram are large and spiral. The face and legs are black, tan or grey, often with dark marks on a white background. The wool is predominantly cream or light tan with a small proportion of sheep having grey or dark brown wool. There is sometimes a dark rump patch and a dark colour, particularly in rams. Average mature ewe weighs 30kg. Boreray Sheep are the descendants of the domestic sheep which were kept by the St. Kildans. When the inhabitants evacuated Hirta, (the main island of St. Kilda), in 1930, all their domestic stock was evacuated with them. Any stock left on the island was killed. But a replacement flock of domestic sheep had been kept on the island of Boreray. These sheep were left there after the evacuation and have lived feral on the island since 1930. In recent years a small group was taken off the island and the descendants of that small group are now registered with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. "


    I really love this sample. It's much nicer and softer than the one in the September 2013 Breed Box. This is another one that the cut ends will break off about 1/2 inch from the end and I believe was rooing. I really like the lock formation with it's long waves that come to a pointy tip. The sample is a bit felted but would make a great tailspun yarn boa. So as far as spinning, this would be tough to spin in a traditional fashion, but I would keep it's lovely primitive character and keep the fleece intact. If I had a larger sample, I would felt it into a rug.

    From: The Smallholder Series website: 

    "A small, fine boned sheep with black wool and two or more horns, belonging to the North European short-tailed group. Usually a dark brown colour, the Hebridean is horned in both sexes, some rams having 4 horns. From the Western Isles, the Hebridean became popular as a parkland sheep in England in the 19th century."

  • Sheep Breed Studies - January 2014 Breed Box from Namaste Farms

    Sharlea Merino, Rambouillet, and Debouillet Sheep

    Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge animal lover and supporter of humane treatment of animals. I've had some concerns recently about the way in which wool is sourced from some farms and dubious farming practices in countries like Australia where sheep farms cover more land than some states here in the US. Recently I've seen a lot of anti-wool growing propaganda on the Internet and I've tried to be impartial and reach my own conclusions based on both sides of the issue. I like to know where my wool comes from and prefer to buy from small farms where I know the animals are well tended-to and treated more or less like pets. This isn't always possible however. Although I don't eat meat, I understand that even on some of these small family run farms sheep are "dual purpose" which means they are killed for their meat too. It's unfortunate, but there isn't much I can do about that. What I CAN do however is NOT support big farms and the animal slaughter industry. I wanted to purchase some Sharlea Merino but at the same time make sure that the wool was sourced humanely. So when Natalie of Namaste Farms offered some sample fleece I thougth I'd give it a try. Knowing where this wool came from and how the sheep are raised in a very controlled environment was reasurring.

    I was doing some research on housed sheep and Sharlea Merinos and came across this information:

    According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook,  

    Sharlea is a registered name for a type of Saxon Merino that has been carefully bred and raised with specific husbandry practices that result in a very fine, exceptionally clean fiber without any weather damage to the tips. Sharlea fiber diameters run from 12 to 15.5 microns (indisputably ultrafine) and they are also the highest yielding of the Merinos, with more than 75 percent clean weight derived from the raw fleece. 

    (The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook Page 146)

    Housed Sheep

    The housed sheep industry began in the early 1970s when Mr Wallace Reynolds, a grazier at ‘Sharlea’, Horsham, Victoria and Tom Harmsworth, the Director of the Melbourne College of Textiles noticed that animals kept in sheds for drought-feeding produced an extremely high quality fibre, free from many wool faults found in grazing sheep (Cottle, 1991).

    The industry gradually increased in popularity until 1990 where there were approximately 55 sheds each with an average of 300 sheep, producing a total of 250 bales per year (Cottle, 1991).

    There are approximately 40 ultra fine wool housing systems in Australia, which are concentrated in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland involving an estimated 25,000 sheep.

    The majority of Sharlea growers house sheep in multiple pens of 3 to 20 sheep (usually 10 to l5). The sheep housed for Sharlea wool production are usually superfine Merino wethers from Saxon bloodlines.

    Sheep health and production: the T. G. Hungerford refresher course for veterinarians, proceedings 110, 15-19 August, 1988

    I wanted to learn more so I tuned in to Namaste Farms BlogTalk Radio cast where Martin Daly, a sheep expert discussed the housed sheep practice and the history and fiber properties of the Merino breed. He went on to say that sheep with this fine of a fleece must have steady and well controlled nutrition and low stress in order to grow fine micron wool without any breaks (weak spots). If an animal is stressed at all or reproducing, it can weaken the fiber. That is why they only use whethers (castrated males). These males would normally be sent to slaughter but they are valued for their prize fleece instead. Sheep who graze in a pasture can encounter all sorts of stresses such as predators, draught. and parasites. These sheep are kept in ultra clean pens and it really shows in the cleanliness and pristine condition of the raw fleece.

    So, I took a look at this fiber and it is uhhh-mazing. Wowza! 

    Here are some photos of the fiber.

    A) Sharlea Merino Raw Fleece - 13.5 microns

    © 222 Handspun

    The 16.6 sample has a slightly longer staple length but it's very hard to tell the difference in softness. Both have very low grease. When I tested the strength, they made a nice sound and were solid. 

    B) Debouillet Raw Fleece

    "The Debouillet is a breed of domestic sheep originating from Tatum, New Mexico. It was developed in the 1920s through crossing Rambouillet and Delaine Merino sheep. Specifically adapted to the arid ranges of the Southwestern U.S., the breed is medium–size sheep with long, fine wool. Ewes are polled and rams may or may not have horns." - Wikipedia

    © 222 Handspun

    This sample had weathered tips and an almost dry feel. A deep dust penetration line will result in a lower yield because the fleece is not very dense. There is a big difference between this fleece from a sheep that was raised in the desert and the housed fleece.

    C) Sharlea Merino - 15.4 microns

    Natalie said the grower called the 15.4 sample "milky". It just doesn't have the same brightness to it. It's just a little less white and more on the creamy color side. It felt like it had a bit more grease in it. It's still a lovely fleece.

    D) Rambouillet 

    © 222 Handspun

    According to Martin, this sample has a short staple, lower yield, with quite a bit of dust penetration, and not as uniform crimp or character as the others. When you have more of a dual purpose sheep that are more selected for certain traits, you lose a lot in the quality of the wool where you gain in the growth. I also noticed that my sample had some tender sections that broke easily. 

    The Rambouillet is a breed of sheep also known as the Rambouillet Merino or the French Merino. The development of the Rambouillet breed started in 1786, when Louis XVI purchased over 300 Spanish Merinos (318 ewes, 41 rams, 7 wethers) from his cousin, King Charles III of Spain. The flock was subsequently developed on an experimental royal farm, the Bergerie royale (now Bergerie nationale) owned by Louis XVI, and built on his Domain of Rambouillet, 50 km southwest of Paris. The flock was raised exclusively at the Bergerie, with no sheep being sold for many years.[1]

    Outcrossing with English long-wool breeds and selection produced a well-defined breed,[2] differing in several important points from the original Spanish Merino. The size was greater, with full-grown ewes weighing up to 200 pounds and rams up to 300 pounds, live weight. The wool clips were larger and the wool length had increased to greater than three inches.

    In 1889, the Rambouillet Association was formed in the United States with the aim of preserving the breed.[3] An estimated 50% of the sheep on the US western ranges are of Rambouillet blood.[4] Rambouillet stud has also had an enormous influence on the development of the Australian Merino industry though Emperor and the Peppin Merino stud.

    The fleece was valuable in the manufacture of cloth, at times being woven in a mixed fabric of cotton warp and wool weft, known as delaine.[5][6] The breed is well known for its wool, but also for its meat, both lamb and mutton. It has been described as a dual-purpose breed, with superior wool and near-mutton breed characteristics. - Wikipedia