May is an exciting time at The Woolery! Not only do we have the annual Kentucky Sheep and Wool Festival to look forward to (May 18-19 in beautiful Lexington, KY), we also have an excellent guest post from fiber expert Deb Robson this month! Deb is coauthor of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and will be teaching a two-day workshop at the festival that explores six specific sheep breeds in-depth.
As a follow up to last month’s blog post exploring primitive sheep breeds, today’s post will highlight two more unusual breeds of sheep from The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook.
The Karakul breed is very, very old. It’s native to the steppes and deserts of central Asia…This region of the world is one of the cradles of the domestication of livestock, so the Karakul is considered one of the oldest sheep breeds.
When it comes to the wool featured here, we’re talking not about the Central Asian Karakuls but about American Karakuls. This breed was developed from several imports to the United States, starting in 1909 and continuing through the first half of the twentieth century.
Karakuls are double coated, with a soft, fine shorter inner coat and coarse, sturdy, longer outer coat, although sometimes the distinctions between the two are quite narrow. The coats can be the same color, but in some intriguing fleeces they are differently colored. Colors can also vary along the staple from butt to tip. The wool has a nice luster.
When relatively free of dust and vegetable matter, Karakul lends itself to being spun in what little grease it has. It also washes up beautifully. Karakul is one of the quintessential felting fibers.
Wensleydale may be the only breed that can be traced directly to a single ancestor. In 1839, a ram lamb was born in New Yorkshire to a Mug ewe (an old-type Teeswater ewe that didn’t show much of the New Leicester influence). The offspring had the blue head and ears that show up as a recessive trait in Leicesters from time to time and was named Bluecap by its owner.
Bluecap grew up to be a potent ram and was leased by shepherds through a fairly wide area for a number of years. He was primarily used for breeding Teeswater ewes. His blue-headed trait passed to his progeny, and by the 1870s, these unique sheep (although closely related to the Teeswater) were recognized as a separate breed and called Wensleydale.
We are very thankful to the folks at Storey Publishing and the authors, Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarious, for granting us permission for this excerpt!
All the best,
Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team