W Is For Warmth (and Wool): Brand-New and Rare Sheep Breeds

When I can’t sleep, I count sheep—not individual sheep jumping over a fence, but the names of all the sheep breeds I can recall. I rarely make it out of Great Britain, except on difficult nights, when I count off Targhee, Columbia, Montadale . . . and wind up in rare sheep breeds such as Manx Loaghtan and Dorset Down. Nearly all of the breeds I think of are popular in English-speaking countries, and the list is so long I have never gotten to the end.

In Spin Off’s Winter 2018 edition, our annual natural fiber issue, we take a look beyond our usual geographic and linguistic boundaries to find new-to-us woolly wonders. Prepare to twist your tongue and pull out your atlas as you read about sheep and goats in Europe and Asia.

Rare Sheep Breeds

In the Winter 2018 issue, Alice Bernardo shares her passion for indigenous Portuguese sheep breeds. Photo by Alice Bernardo.

You may be surprised to learn how active a role the United States government has taken in the development of wool in the Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. The USDA is hardly the only world government organization to change the face of fiber, though. This issue’s in-depth look at goats in the former Soviet Union and rare sheep breeds of Portugal reveal how the state affects the fiber community when it participates and when it pulls out.

In the annual Natural Fiber Directory sponsored by Halcyon Yarn, you can find information on farms and shops carrying fiber from foundation and rare sheep breeds, alpacas, goats, and more, plus a listing of events and fiber mills that can turn your precious fiber into roving or yarn. (And in one of my favorite articles this issue, spinner Cherie Cornick explains how to add fiber excursions to your vacation plans—so keep the fiber directory handy when you plan your next trip.)

Rare Sheep Breeds

Meet Freda Magill and her flock of Wensleydales. Photo by Timothy Cornick.

As winter arrives in the northern hemisphere, we start to think about warmth: the warmth of a good handspun yarn or handmade hat, the heat of a fireplace (real or televised) as you spin, and the glow of enjoying dear friends’ companionship. When the cold winds surround you, bundle up and reach for your spinning.


Featured Image: Targhee sheep, well suited to the weather of the Mountain West, are one of the breeds developed at the Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. Photo by Kristen McRae Bieber.

Learn to spin common and rare sheep breeds!


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