Our little flock have increased steadily as we bought in Corriedale and Polwarth coloured lambs (genetic throwbacks) from other farmers, who would otherwise have killed what are regarded as a nuisance by many. Some years ago we also bought in a Jacob ram, putting him on white ewes that had been culled from the main flock for black spots in their wool. The resulting crop of lambs was roughly 50/50 black lambs to white, with the black ones having white on their heads and often tails, sometimes a white sock as well. We used this ram for a couple of seasons, banishing him to a tussac island between duties so we knew where he was - with a ewe for company - and having fun trying to catch him when needed. Many of our current flock have a touch of Jacob somewhere in them and the related colouring of crossbreds. Sadly Humbug disappeared eventually. Maybe he tried to swim ashore, and instead became a muttonburger for a sea lion from the neighbouring island...
Gradually we have built up a nice bunch of coloured sheep, keeping a dry i.e. non-breeding flock after Humbug the Jacob (stripey horns) went AWOL.. We had their wool millspun to use in sweaters and kits, and I stashed some away for handspinning. We also bought in some Jacob wool from Horse Shoe Bay on the East, Humbug's previous home, blending this into a steel grey. I made simple sweaters with a Bond machine, from marled yarns of black hoggett, grey Jacob and white Polwarth, spun at the Falkland Mill. I handknitted the welts etc. I'm told these sweaters looked similar to hand knitted garments worn by shepherds in pioneer times but haven't found any photos yet to compare.
The knitting kits were slow to sell in local shops, so we let the flock numbers fall by natural means until we reached 30+. But each year a few more lambs started to arrive in our 'dry' flock, courtesy of a half-bred Merino ram with wanderlust - an apt term - and many were coloured, with gorgeous wool...
By this time we realised that there was in fact a market for attractively-designed garments made from naturally coloured wool, and we had also been amazed at the demand for Merino-cross coloured wool for handspinning - see DHF Falklands. In fact we couldn't fill all the orders, as we had already sent a 180kg bale away for mill spinning, in order to sell some for handknitting and use some for garments to sell through this site. Too late, we realised we had castrated all that year's ram lambs...
This became a problem, until we were fortunate enough to find four coloured ram lambs (about to go into a freezer) at Walker Creek (on the East). These duly arrived by Islander aircraft. They weren't in the best of humour being bundled in sacks. Well grown, having been bred on an offshore tussac island, they were plenty big enough to work right away. They were all Suffolk x Corriedale, with coarser fleeces than we are used to, but putting the best one - named Jackson after the hurdler for his long legs and athletic ability - on some of our finer ewes (including 66 white ewes which have superb wool but black spots) has produced some nice offspring.
After Jackson came Splott, a Jacob crossbred, and we got many 'splotted' lambs from him...
He is now departed, as his daughters were coming up for breeding age, and we are back to a dry flock at present which
numbers 182. Their fleeces range from jet-black through charcoal to silver.
We (well OK - I, Rosemary!) would like to extend the colour range and will concentrate on building up the flock steadily, buying in lambs where possible and also selecting carefully for fleece quality when breeding in future. I'd love to get a moorit ram but this is unlikely as import regulations are strict.
Shearing is done at the end of the season, which means late February or early March, using cover combs to leave a protective layer if the weather is uncertain. Any white wool stored in the shearing shed is covered over with a huge tarpaulin to prevent any contamination. A tiny amount of black fibre can cause a lot of damage in a mill, travelling through the white wool, particularly if it is intended for pastel dyeing. See also Sheep & Shearing under the farm section, for more information.
Although we have the Green Sheep logo for our wool top sales, the Black Sheep logo represents our coloured sheep as well as our family status - and will still be used on various products though machine knitting is now in the past.
I have started making felt, and the coloured wool is wonderful for this as well as spinning.
We also produce yarns from this wool.
If you are interested in coloured sheep breeding, you would enjoy a visit to the British Coloured Sheep Breeders Association site.
The Black Sheep Newsletter is another wonderful resource and I look forward to each copy. The Black Sheep Gathering is held annually in Eugene, Oregon, USA. In 2002 I had the privilege of attending this event and meeting lots of great people (not to mention wonderful sheep).
If you would like to buy some naturally coloured tops you can do so through the Pink Shop in Stanley or our UK distributors.
Soon we will have a small shop on the farm as well, within the new WoolCraft Centre.
This page updated 1st August 2006