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What Is A Coloured Sheep?

Not green, purple, pink or yellow, although shades of blue and red can be seen. The term refers to natural pigment in the fleece of a sheep - jet black, steel grey, silver, cinnamon, fawn, chocolate and all shades in between. Most coloured lambs are born black (or brown), but many of them, particularly amongst the British breeds of sheep, become lighter in colour as they mature, providing an interesting range of natural colours in a flock.


Merino Merino
Australia's major sheep breed, which has made this country famous for the quality of it's wool. The Merino produces a fine wool fleece with counts ranging from 80s or finer, to 60s, with a fibre diameter of 17 to 27 microns. Handspun Merino wool is used for baby clothes, shawls, and other fine knitwear. It is not suitable for heavy work jumpers, or even everyday work garments. The fleece is not widely used by inexperienced handspinners because the staple is short, and unless carefully selected, the wool tends to be sticky, but a skilled spinner can produce wonderful results.


An Australian Comeback breed developed in 1880 in the Western District of Victoria by the Dennis family by crossing Merinos and Lincolns, and breeding the progeny back to Merino. It is suited to areas of improved pastures and are bred mainly in the higher rainfall districts of South East Australia. The Polwarth produces a bright, bulky, fine fleece with a staple length of 100- 125mm, and a wool count of 58s to 60s or 23 to 25 microns. It is probably a more popular fleece with handspinners than the Merino because of staple length, and can be used for fine lightweight garments.


A dual purpose sheep bred simultaneously in New Zealand and Australia by crossing the Lincoln with the Merino and then inbreeding the progeny to stabilize the breed. The Corriedale has a very large frame well covered with wool. It is second only to the Merino in numbers in Australia. The medium fleece has a staple length of 125 - 150mm with a wool count of 50s, 56s, 58s and a fibre diameter of 25 to 32 microns. Corriedales produce a thick stapled, bulky fleece which is popular with spinners and can be used for a range of handspun garments.


An Australian breed established in 1909, this sheep was originally known as the "Commercial Corriedale" or Bond Corriedale. It was produced by crossing stud Lincoln Rams with stud Peppin Merino ewes, and was bred to produce a soft handling, finer wool than the Corriedale. It is now recognised as a separate breed. The Bond has a large frame, is adaptable to a range of environments and has some resistance to fleece rot and blow-fly strike. This sheep grows a bulky fleece of 56s/58s count, with a fibre diameter of 25 to 27 microns, and a staple length of approximately 150mm. In the craft world, the fleece is used for fine to medium weight garments.


Developed in New Zealand by crossing the Cheviot and the Romney and inbreeding to set the type. A medium sized sheep showing Cheviot characteristics, it produces a fleece of 50s to 56s count, or a micron range of 28 to 32, approximately 120mm in length. In coloured flocks, the breed has declined in popularity in recent years, partly because of its flighty nature. The fleece is fairly springy and lacks the lustre of the British Longwool breeds. It is used by handspinners for medium weight garments.


One of the major British Longwool breeds, the Romney came to Australia in 1872 from Romney Marsh in Kent. It has a large frame, heavy bone, and feet which have a good resistance to footrot. A tough, resilient sheep, it does very well in high rainfall, low lying country not suitable for most other breeds. The Romney is a quiet, easy care sheep which is easy to handle. The fleece is long and lustrous with a staple length of 175 to 200mm, with a wool count of 44s to 50s, and a fibre diameter of 30 to 34 microns. The wool is used by handspinners for medium to heavy weight garments, and is particularly good for beginners because of its length.


Border Leicester
The Border Leicester was developed by Robert Bakewell in England and imported to Australia in 1871. It is a big robust sheep with a large frame, and a deep barrel, and the head and legs are free of wool. It is easily recognised by the Roman nose. The average length of staple is 175 to 200mm and the accepted wool count is 44s to 46s. The fibre diameter is 32 to 34 microns. This is another of the British Strong wool breeds which produces a long lustrous fleece particularly good for beginner spinners. The wool is used for medium to heavy weight garments.


English Leicester English Leicester
Developed in England by Robert Bakewell around 1760, the breed was imported to Australia in 1838. A few years ago numbers had declined to the point where the breed was endangered, but due to the efforts of a few dedicated breeders, this is no longer the case. The English Leicester is hardy, placid and easy to handle, and is becoming very popular in Coloured flocks, particularly in high rainfall areas. The wool has a count of 40s/44s/46s with a fibre diameter of 32 to 35 microns, and a staple length of about 200mm. Hand spinners love the length and lustre of the wool and use it for medium to heavy weight garments. Like the Romney and Border Leicester, this sheep produces a long, easy spinning staple particularly suitable for beginners.


Another of the British breeds of sheep, producing a heavy lustrous fleece of 170 - 300mm staple length and a count of 36s to 40s. The Lincoln is found world wide and has been used with the Merino to develop such breeds as the Corriedale and Polwarth. It is a docile, easy handling sheep with all the attributes of the other British Longwools and is suitable for high rainfall areas. The wool is very popular with weavers for use in rugs and wall hangings.

What Is The "Wool Count"?

This is the "Bradford Quality Count" which refers to the number of hanks of 560 yards (512 metres) in length which can be spun from one pound of a particular type of wool. A finer wool produces a greater length of yarn than a coarser (stronger) wool. Therefore, a finer wool has a higher quality number.

What Is "Micron"?

The measurement used to determine the diameter of a fibre is the micron (millionth of a metre). The finer the wool, the lower the micron of the fibre.

At agricultural and sheep shows in Victoria, coloured sheep are classified according to wool count and judged in sections for fine wool, (58s and finer) medium wool, (50s to 56s) strong wool, (48s to 38s) and rug wool (36s and stronger).

Wool Facts

Wool is a natural fibre with properties which make it superior to any synthetic fibre. It can absorb up to 35% of its own weight of moisture without feeling wet, and while it is absorbing moisture it generates heat. Synthetic fibres do not give out heat when they absorb moisture. Wool is strong, durable and resilient. It is also an excellent insulator. On the sheep, it traps enough air in its fibres to keep the animal warm in winter and cool in summer.It follows that it does the same for humans.

Over the past twenty five years, an interest has developed in the production of naturally coloured fleeces, initially for the handcraft market, but more recently also for commercial processing. Specialist breeders of coloured sheep have established flocks of many of the wool producing breeds with the specific purpose of growing fleece in a range of natural colours.

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