Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Shropshire Down Sheep

The Shropshire Sheep is part of the Downs family of sheep and was on the watch-list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust but has recently clawed its way back up in numbers and numbers have increased by more than 5% in the past year (at the time of writing).

All of the breeds in the Downs family have coloured faces and lower legs from a tannish brown through dark brown or dark grey through black and are free from horns.  Breeds in the Downs family are Dorset Down, Hampshire Down (Hampshires), Oxford Down (Oxfords), Shropshire, Southdown and Suffolk.

The sheep are primarily raised for their meat as they are quite large sheep and produce lambs prolifically, often having twins or triplets and so their fleece are often sheared and sold for commercial uses.

Shropshire Ram

Traditionally the fleece should be white and should not contain any coloured fibres although some farmers have cultivated those that do have coloured fibres in their fleece and are now able to produce Downs sheep with coloured fleece.

The term "Down" in connection with this family of sheep does not refer to the fibre called "Down", which is the softest, finest undercoat that some animals grow, but rather to the geographical area from where the sheep originate, which are the downs or downlands of southern England.

Now, back to writing specifically about the Shropshire, the staple length is relatively short at 2-4 inches, is springy with great elasticity and strength and so is fantastic for making hats, socks, mittens, blankets and sweaters.  It does not have lustre and is very matte in the finish but does take dye very nicely and it doesn't felt very easily, making it great for items that need to be washed often.  Raw fleece will generally weigh 2-4.5Kg from a Ewe and up to around 6.4Kg from a Ram.  Shorter fleeces are best carded but if you find one that is longer, then it can be successfully combed.

Shropshire Ewe

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