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Top 15 Sheep Breeds for Wool

Sherry grew up watching her uncle raise turtles, fish, goats, and chickens in his backyard. She brought home a goat last year.

15-sheep-breeds-for-wool

Humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago but adornment with woven wool garments began only around 4000 BC. Although there are more than 200 breeds of sheep in the world today, not all produce wool ideally suitable for knitting. Some sheep breeds have been developed and selected for wool by breeders, spinners and fibre artists.

To choose an ideal breed for wool production, one has to look for raw wool characteristics that contribute to the quality and value of wool. These include fibre diameter, fibre curvature, staple strength, lack of pigmented fibre, staple length, spinning fineness and clean fleece yield. While the influence of these traits differs, they all contribute to an entire fleece’s attributes.

15 Best Sheep Breeds for Wool

These sheep breeds are known for producing the highest quality and quantity of wool and demanding the least maintenance.

1. Merino

The ancestors of pretty much all fine wool breeds produce the finest and most valuable type of wool. Merino sheep have wool of fineness 17-22 microns. Some of these may also be as thin as 12 microns which is nearly the size of cobwebs. The wool is very soft and has excellent felting properties.

When a yarn label says Merino, the fibre could be from one of several strains of Merino sheep. The most popular of those include Peppin, Boroola, Saxon and Delaine. Among them, the Saxon produces the finest and most highly-priced wool fibre.
The clean fleece yield can be low compared to other breeds because of the high amount of grease content.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Fineness, softness, felting properties
  • Suitable for: Babywear, next-to-skin fabrics
Merino of New Zealand

Merino of New Zealand

2. Debouillet

Debouillet is a result of a cross between Delaine-Merinos and Rambouillets. They are hardy and well adapted to varied conditions in the western US. The fleece is extremely soft, fine and has well-defined crimp and drape. Staple length is slightly better than the Merino and Rambouillets.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, felting property
  • Suitable for: Babywear, next-to-skin fabrics, felt

3. Rambouillet

Rambouillet is a large-bodied fine wool sheep breed that is raised for meat as well. The fleece has a fineness of 19-23 microns. Crimp is finer and more even than that of a Merino’s. The crimp gives excellent loft and elasticity to the fibre. Overall it is one of the best wool sheep for felting.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, felting property
  • Suitable for: Babywear, next-to-skin wear, blend with exotic fibres

4. Cormo

The Cormo originated from Tasmania, Australia. It is a fertile breed that can stand wet and cold conditions better than Merino. The fleece is clean, white and resultant heavy fleece weight.

The fibre diameter is quite uniform from head to tail. It is extremely soft, warm; has average lustre for fine wool and a perfect balance of loft and elasticity. The downside to wool from Cormo is the short length of staple and high crimp that makes it troublesome for the spinners to maintain even tension. However, despite this, you will see that the finished fabric from Cormo is flawless.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, excellent felting property
  • Suitable for: Fashion fabrics

5. Comeback

“Comeback” refers to breeding back towards the Merino. The name is to describe any fleece that is at least 70 percent Merino. Comeback is a type of Australian sheep rather than a separate breed. These sheep were developed by crossing Merino with British longwool. Comeback produces fine, soft, heavy fleece with an outstanding felting quality.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, loft, felting property
  • Suitable for: Woolen and worsted fabrics, hand knitting yarns, felts

6. Bond

The outstanding quality wool of Bond is a result of the mix of traits of its ancestors, Merino and Lincoln. Bond grows soft and heavy fleece of diameter 23-28 microns. The staples are typically the longest among the fine wools.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Trait: Staple length, lustre
  • Suitable for: Blankets, knitting wools
Australian Bond sheep

Australian Bond sheep

7. Polwarth

Polwarth, a type of Comeback is a dual-purpose breed valued for fibre and meat. It is a descendant of Lincoln and Merino that were bred to produce a dual-purpose breed with an emphasis on wool production. It is an ideal wool breed for damp climates where Merinos do not do so well.

The fibre is white, soft and has average fineness with low lustre. The staple length is reasonably good in all individuals of Polwarth. Like Polwarth, there is another comeback called Zenith whose fibre is nearly as nice as Polwarth but with little less lustre.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, felting property
  • Suitable for: Babywear, worsted fabric, knitting yarns

8. Targhee

The large dual-purpose breed produces dense fibre of uniform fineness ranging between 21-25 microns. The Targhee is a commercial breed for meat production and high-quality wool. The staples have a low lustre and a pretty decent length.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, felting property
  • Suitable for: Next-to-skin fabrics (woven and knitted)

9. Teeswater

Teeswater is an excellent commercial wool breed considering its staple length, staple strength and lustre. It is widely used for both meat and wool production. Usually, hand knitters add a bit of Teeswater to another yarn for strength and sheen. Fibre from younger individuals is softer and silkier and fibre from older ones is more rough and tough.

  • Wool type: Longwool
  • Traits: Luster, staple length
  • Suitable for: Outerwear, rugs
Teeswater sheep

Teeswater sheep

10. Finnish Landrace

Finnish Landrace also popularly known as Finn or Finnsheep grows fibre of just perfect length and high, fine crimp. It is a fertile and hardy breed that adapts to harsh climate conditions. The fibre is of medium fineness (24-31 microns). Compared to other medium wool sheep, Finn produces fibre with softness and loft. Because of a low amount of lanolin, the fleece grows relatively clean on the animal.

  • Wool type: Mediumwool
  • Traits: Softness, elasticity, lustre, felting property
  • Suitable for: Outerwear, blankets, for blending
Finnsheep with Finn-Texel quintuplets

Finnsheep with Finn-Texel quintuplets

11. Wensleydale

Wensleydale is a large-sized, polled longwool sheep with distinctive blue-grey faces. The wool is one of the finest and lustrous of all longwools. The staple length is also quite excellent making it one of the most profitable wool breed out there.

  • Wool type: Longwool
  • Traits: Luster, staple length
  • Suitable for: Outerwear, rugs, mixed with cloth and upholstery fabric, for blending
Wensleydale sheep

Wensleydale sheep

12. Romney

Romney is a hardy dual-purpose breed used for meat and fibre. The breed is so popular that it is found in nearly all the countries growing sheep.

The fibre is uniform, semi-lustrous and has more crimp than most longwool sheep. It has a diameter of 32-39 microns and is of rough grade, unsuitable for garments directly in contact with skin. The yarn has a certain quality which gives it an earthy look and feel.

  • Wool type: Longwool
  • Traits: Elasticity, lustre
  • Suitable for: Outerwear, baskets, rugs, carpets

13. Borderdale

The Borderdale is a product of a cross between Border Leicester and Corriedale. It is a medium to large-sized, dual-purpose breed used for fibre and meat.

The fleece of a Borderdale is heavy, soft and relatively lustrous for a longwool. The diameter of the fibre is around 30-35 microns.

  • Wool type: Longwool
  • Traits: Felting quality, softness, lustre
  • Suitable for: Heavyweight apparel
Borderdale

Borderdale

14. Bluefaced Leicester

The sheep that are not blue-faced at all produce fibre of fineness 24-28 microns. The Leicester fibre has just the right amount of length, crimp with small curls and a silky yet lustrous feel with delicate drape. Moreover, fibre can be dyed effortlessly.

  • Wool type: Longwool
  • Traits: Softness, lustre
  • Suitable for: Strong fabrics, next-to-skin wear, outerwear

15. Corriedale

The Corriedale is dual-purpose meat and wool sheep that has come from crossing Longwool rams with Merino ewes. It is a hardy sheep adapted to a wide range of conditions. The fleece is soft, lustrous and nicely crimped.

  • Wool type: Fine wool
  • Traits: Luster, felting property
  • Suitable for: Worsted fabric, legwear, blankets
Corriedale sheep

Corriedale sheep

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Sherry Haynes

Comments

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 13, 2021:

Excellent and informative article!

I had no idea about the different sheep breeds. You have done good research and I learnt a lot from your well written and illustrated article.

Thank you for sharing!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 12, 2021:

This is a very informative article. Thank you for sharing so many details about wool, Sherry. I’ve never heard of most of the sheep breeds that you’ve mentioned. I’m glad I’ve learned about them.

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