British Sheep

There are over 60 breeds of sheep in the UK. It is a common mistake to think that all wool is the same. Wool varies depending on the breed of sheep. Different wool and blends creates different products. The fleece of just one sheep can be spun to produce a strand the length of approximately 200 km. Blending wool with camelid fibre can produce interesting fabric and products as it is versatile.

The first sheep in Britain were mostly coloured and similar to the Soay of today. The Romans are thought to have brought in white sheep to cross with them. Most sheep today are white because of selective breeding.

The environment is what contributes most to the quality of the wool after genetics. In order to produce that amazing fleece, the sheep need dry conditions. Rain is the killer for a high quality fleece.

British sheep are categorised into various different types:

Type of Sheep Categories Fleece
Primitive Sheep
  • Soay
  • Hebridean
  • Manx Loughtan
  • Shetland
  • Broreray
  • North Ronaldsay
All the primitive breeds tend to be small . Often the fleece is coloured and some of the primitive breeds moult their fleece or it can be plucked off (roo'd), thus removing the need to shear.
Longwool Breeds
  • Devon and Cornwall Longwool
  • Teeswater
  • Cotswold
  • Wensleydale
  • Lincoln Longwool
  • Whitefaced Dartmoor
The longwool breeds were developed for their fleece, and some breeds are capable of producing up to 20kg of fleece, often in lustrous ringlets
Hill Sheep
  • Scottish Blackface
  • Hill Radnor
  • Cheviot
  • Swaledale
  • Whitefaced Woodland
  • Norfolk Horn
  • Welsh Mountain
  • Black Welsh Mountain
The ewes are often crossed with rams such as the Border Leicester or the Blue-faced Leicester to produce cross bred ewe lambs for the low ground breeding flocks. These crossbred ewes, often with distinctive names such as the Mule and the Masham,
Down Breeds
  • Dorset Down
  • Dorset Horn
  • Ryeland
  • Suffolk
  • Oxford Down
  • Shropshire
  • Southdown
These are sheep of the lowlands. Down wools tend to be relatively short (5-10) cm. It is springy with great elasticity and strength.
  • Sharlea
  • Saxon Merino
  • Tasmanian Merino
  • Delaine Merino
  • Rambouillet
  • Debouillet
  • Fonthill Merino
  • Peppin Merino

There are only small flocks of merino sheep in Britain.

The general yield of a merino sheep ranges from 4.1 – 6.4 kg with a staple length of 5-12.5 cm. The fibre diameter varies from 11.5 micron to 25 micron.