I recall memories of my mother, Kitty Barthen (nee: Bobst) expressing her love for sheep to me as a child and young adult while knowing that the donkey farm where I grew up could only be used for raising a large, diverse herd of donkeys for the fun-loving game of donkey ball. We did enjoy Spot, our beloved pony, a horse, and my younger brother raised a few pigs for his 4-H project. My mother’s unfulfilled interest in this gentle animal breed stayed with me, and we purchased our original Corriedale sheep in 2016 from a Nebraska rancher. Although we maintain a small flock of sheep for fiber and companionship, others raise sheep for milk and meat, with the possibility of many useful products.
I attended many workshops in Wisconsin and northwestern Minnesota to “feed” my desire to learn more about sheep and fiber. The Spooner Research Station formerly hosted annual clinics to interact with others who shared a passion for this versatile farm animal. The annual Shepherd’s Harvest, Sheep, and Wool Festival at the Washington County Fairgrounds, Minnesota, and Wisconsin County Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson, Wisconsin are also excellent opportunities to learn more about wool sheep.
The white or natural-colored breed is a cross of Merino-Lincoln-Leicester breeds that was developed first in New Zealand during the late 1800s and shortly after that in Australia. First transported by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to Wyoming in 1914, Corriedales produce a dense and medium soft fine wool with long staple length, well-defined even crimp (a lot of loft and elasticity), some luster, and light shrinkage. It is considered a reliable, multipurpose fiber.
In the English Longwool Family, this fun, perky breed originated in Scotland in 1767 by breeding Dishley rams with either Teeswater or Cheviot ewes or maybe a combination of the two. The breeders developed a very popular breed that came to the U.S. in the mid-19th Century; although a 1920 agricultural census documents that 727 purebred animals came to America, no one knows when or how they crossed the Atlantic!
This versatile, easy-to-handle fiber is often coarse and may feel wiry until it is “worked” and becomes somewhat soft.