Sheep breeding for high quality wool: Part I.


Lincoln Longwool Lambs – Photo by Kat Ludlam

Raising sheep for wool is a fun and satisfying experience. The market for wool and wool products continues to grow as people are eager to learn skills such as felting, spinning, carpet knotting, weaving, knitting, crocheting, and many others. We have run thousands of nonwovens through our mill and the difference in quality is immense. Breeding, feeding and care have a major influence on the quality of the fleece and thus on the quality of the finished products. With a little careful planning and extra care, you can breed sheep with good quality wool, make your fur stand out from the crowd, make it more desirable, and increase your bottom line.

Wool races

Making great wool starts with choosing the right breed of sheep. While all sheep grow wool, not all wool is created equal. Even with wool-specific breeds, the variation is immense. Before buying your breeding stock, you need to research the different breeds of wool and find the one that will suit your needs with your finished product. Long-wool breeds like Lincoln Longwool and Wensleydale have coarser wool that grows faster. It’s strong and doesn’t have that much memory, so it’s more draped. It’s great for carpets and items that aren’t close to your skin. Fine wool breeds like Merino and CVM grow slower and therefore have a shorter staple length. You generally have a lot of curl and memory for the fiber. They are much softer and wonderful for making items that are used on the skin. Double-haired breeds like Navajo Churro have a coarser top coat and then a softer undercoat. Crossings are also possible. Often the best fleece comes from a cross between two breeds, each of which has excellent properties. What does your market want? What will sell well? Or what would you like for your personal use? You need to consider all of these things when choosing your breed or breeds.

This is also a good time to consider whether you want to hand process your fiber or have a custom mill done. If you want a mill to do this, you should contact some mills and get an idea of ​​what they can and cannot handle. Some mills cannot process the very short fleece, such as the Southdown Babydoll. Some cannot process the very long wool, such as the Cotswold (if only sheared once a year). If you want your fiber to be milled, it is important to consider whether there is a mill that can process what you want and where it is before you buy your stocks and start growing.

There are so many options for wool breeds and it can be overwhelming to choose from at times. A great source for studying different breeds of wool is Carol Ekarius’ Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Take the time to do your research before deciding on a breed or breeds.

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