Not all wool is the same, there are characteristic of each breed which make their wool special and sought after. There is more to this wonderful fibre than meets the eye. These studies will also help you prepare for what we will have to offer at the Manitoba Fibre Festival and we hope to bring producers and fibre enthusiasts together for the love of wool.
The Icelandic breed is one of the Northern European short‐tailed sheep, which exhibit a fluke‐ shaped, naturally short tail. The Icelandic is a mid‐sized breed, generally short‐legged and stocky, with face and legs free of wool. The fleece of the Icelandic sheep is dual‐coated and comes in white as well as a variety of other colors, including a range of browns, grays, and blacks. They ex‐ ist in both horned and polled strains. Icelandic fleece is dual‐coated. In Icelandic the long outer coat is called tog and the fine inner coat thel. When separated, the outer and inner coats are used for different woolen products. Tog is generally classified as a medium wool around 27 microns in diameter. It is good for weaving and other durable products. Thel, being the finer wool and classified as such, is generally around 20 microns in diameter. This fine wool is used for garments that touch the skin. Tog and Thel are processed together to produce lopi, a distinctive knitting wool. that is only made from the fleece of Icelandic sheep.
The breed evolved from medieval longwool types of which the Romney and Leicester breeds are early examples. The sheep recognized by 1800 as "Romney Marsh" or "Kent" were improved in body type and fleece quality through crossings with Bakewell’s Engllish Leicester. A Romney can be either colored or white. In the mid‐1990s, Romneys comprised 58% of the New Zealand sheep flock (estimated in 2000 at 45 million). They produce a heavy fleece. A healthy mature ram can yield at shearing upwards of 10 kg per year, while flock averages in NZ for breeding ewes are typically above 5 kg. The increased fleece weight of a long‐wooled sheep comes from the longer fiber length produced. The “clean yield” (net weight after thorough washing) is typically high for Romneys, 75‐80% . Fibre diameter ranges from 29.30 to 36.19 microns. The Romney’s fleece is ideal for hand‐spinning, and is often recommended to beginners.
The Wensleydale sheep originated in North Yorkshire, England. Possessing a blue–grey face, the breed was developed in the 19th century by crossing English Leicester and Teeswater sheep. One of the largest and heaviest of all sheep breeds, the Wensleydale has long, ringlet ‐like locks of wool. Wool from this breed is acknowledged as the finest lustre long wool in the world. The fleece from a purebred sheep is considered kemp free and curled or purled on out to the end. It is categorized as "at risk" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust of the U.K. as it has fewer than 1500 registered breeding females.
Cotswold sheep originated in the Cotswold hills of the southern midlands of England but some believe they were introduced by the Romans. It is a dual‐use breed providing both meat and wool. As of 2009, this long‐wool breed is relatively rare. Cotswold wool is exceedingly strong, lustrous and attains 8 to 12 inches of growth in a year. The Cotswold is the only breed having been as‐ sociated with the fabulous cloth of gold in antqtiuity. Florentine merchants travelled to England and bought large quantities of the shiny, linen‐ like wool for this purpose, at least as far back as the 13th Century. The breed has a very mild‐flavored meat.
The Shropshire breed of domestic sheep originated from the hills of Shropshire, and North Staffordshire, England, during the 1840s. The breeders in the area used the local horned black ‐faced sheep and crossed them with a few breeds of white ‐ faced sheep (Southdown, Cotswold, and Leicester). The Shropshire is a useful and productive dual purpose breed. Shropshires are medium sized sheep, with an aver ‐ age size for ewes of about 150 ‐180 pounds and rams 225 ‐250 pounds. They are feed efficient, easy keepers, and gain well. A prolific breed, they are known for easy lambing. Shropshires are a goo d choice for youth projects due to their gentle disposition. Shropshire wool has a fiber diameter of 24.5 and a staple length from 2.5 to 4 inches (6 ‐10 cm). Like all the downs sheep, this medium ‐grade wool has a springy quality that makes it perfect for hard ‐wearing items such as hats, mittens and socks.
The Texel breed is a white‐faced breed with no wool on the head or legs. The breed is characterized by a disƟncƟve short, wide face with a black nose and widely placed, short ears with a nearly horizontal carriage. They have black hooves. The wool is of medium grade (46’s‐56’s) with no black fibers. Mature animals shear fleece weights of 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs) to 5.5 kg (12.1 lbs). The wool has a 3‐6 inch staple with loft, luster and crimp. There are slight differences in the length and micron count depending on where the Texel is from. The wool is of medium grade with no black fibers. The micron count goes from 26‐32 depending on the animal. An adult Texel can grow a fleece weight of 7‐ 12 lbs sheared …. enough for a sweater and then some. Texel will felt but requires a bit more work.
The Targhee is a breed of domestic sheep developed in early 20th century by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Targhee sheep are a dual–purpose breed, with heavy, medium quality wool and good meat production characteristics. They are hardy, and are especially suited to the ranges of the West where they were developed. Targhee are especially popular in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, where their ¾ fine wool and ¼ long wool breeding is favoured by western ranchers. Their ancestors were Rambouillet, Corriedale and Lincoln sheep. This breed is raised primarily for wool. Each ewe will average a 10 lb (4.5 kg) to 14 lb (6.3 kg) fleece that has a fibre diameter of 21 to 25 micrometres and a spinning count of 64 to 58. The staple length of the fleece will be 3 inches (7.5 cm) to 5 inches (11 cm) with a yield of 50% to 55%.
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. Outcrossing with English long ‐wool breeds and selection produced a well ‐de fined breed, differing in several important points from the original Spanish Merino. The size was greater, with full ‐grown ewes weighing up to 200 lbs and rams up to 300 lbs. The wool clips were larger and the wool length had in ‐ creased to greater than three inches. Mature ewes will have a fleece weigh of 8 to 18 pounds (3.6 ‐8.1 kg) with a yield of 35 to 55 percent. The fleece staple length will vary from two to four inches (5 ‐10 cm) and range in fiber diameter from 18.5 to 24.5 microns. With superior softness and good insulating properties, Rambouillet wool is superb for next ‐to ‐the ‐skin fabrics, baby garments, and other special items. It felts easily.
Suffolks were originally developed in England as the result of crossing Southdown rams on Norfolk Horned ewes. The product of this cross was an improvement over both parent breeds. They are a large breed of sheep. Mature weights for rams range from 250 to 350 lb (110 to 160 kg), ewe weights vary from 21 to 0 lb (10 to 0 kg). Fleece weights from mature ewes are between 5 and 8 lb (2.3 and 3.6 kg), with a yield of 50% to 62%. The fleeces are considered medium wool in type, with a fiber diameter of 25.5 to 33 microns and a spinning count of 48 to 58. They have black faces and legs, a large frame, and are highly muscular. The staple length of ranges from 2.0 to 3.5 in (51 to 89 mm).
The Polypay sheep breed is a white, medium sized sheep which was developed in the 1960s at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. Polypay sheep are noted for being a highly prolific, dual‐purpose (meat and wool) breed. The original breeding stock were taken from the Finnsheep for their high prolificacy, early puberty and short gestation, Dorset for their superior mothering ability, carcass quality, early puberty and long breeding season, Targhee for their large body size, long breeding season and quality fleeces, and Rambouillet for their adaptability, hardiness, productivity and quality fleeces. The Polypay name was created in 1975 from poly, meaning mulƟple, and pay, meaning return on investment. The fleece is dense, about 7‐11 pounds with a 3‐5 inch staple. The color is yolk ‐white to cream white and the micron count is 22‐29 microns. This breed has a super crimp structure to it's fleece.