Raising Sheep for Excellent Quality Wool, Part 1


Lincoln Longwool Lambs 

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, rug-making, weaving, knitting, crochet, and many others. We have had thousands of fleece come through our mill and the difference in quality is immense. Breeding, feeding, and care make a huge difference in the quality of fleece and thus, the quality of the finished products. With some careful planning and special care, you can raise sheep with excellent quality wool, setting your fleece apart from the rest, making them more desirable, and increasing your profits.

Wool Breeds

Producing great wool starts with choosing the right breed of sheep. While all sheep grow wool, not all wool is created equal. Even among wool-specific breeds the variation is immense. Before you go purchase your breeding stock you need to research the different wool breeds and find the one that matches with what you are wanting with your finished product. Long-wool breeds, such as Lincoln Longwool and Wensleydale, have a coarser wool that grows faster. It is strong and doesn’t have as much memory, so is more drape-y. It is excellent for rugs and items that won’t be close to your skin.

Fine-wool breeds, such as Merino and CVM, grow slower and thus have a shorter staple length. They generally have a lot of crimp and memory to the fiber. They are much softer and wonderful for making items that will be used against the skin. Dual-coated breeds, such as Navajo Churro, have a coarser outer coat, and then a softer under coat. Cross-breeding is also an option. Oftentimes the best fleece come from a cross of two breeds, bringing excellent qualities from each. What does your market want?  What will sell well?  Or what do you want for your personal use? You need to consider all of these things as you choose your breed or breeds.

This is also a great time to consider whether you plan to hand-process your fiber, or have a custom mill do it. If you would like a mill to do it, you should contact some mills and get an idea of what they can and cannot process. Some mills cannot process the very short fleece, such as Southdown Babydoll. Some cannot process the very long wools, such as Cotswold (if only sheared once a year). If you want your fiber to be mill-processed, taking into consideration whether or not there is a mill that can process what you are hoping for, and where it is located is important before you buy your stock and start breeding them.

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