• Kate Stowell

Consider the source …


Not everyone wants to raise sheep. But I am immensely grateful that many of those who do love to post pics of their lambs and sheep on social media just for me to look at! I’ll take a good alpaca photo any day because they’re so darn cute. Ditto an Angora goat, with those silky, curly locks. But sheep far and away are the animals most raised for fiber, and it shows jin the preponderance of photos.


Eventually, if you are like me, you’ll ask yourself, “so which of these breeds produced the fiber that’s now in the skeins in my knitting bag?” Or, even closer to the source, you’ll finger a skein of locally produced yarn at a fiber festival or a nearby yarn store and go “hmmm, wonder what this breed’s characteristics mean for the item I’m going to knit?” And then, what the heck does this sheep look like, and what fiber does it produce?


Ever the curious sort, I decided to do a little sleuthing on my own just recently, when I was searching my stash for a DK weight yarn for a project. I pulled out four skeins. Each is markedly different in its color and texture, and all are uniquely gorgeous. All are what I call “authentic” yarn, and were proudly labeled with the breed source.

Of the four I pulled out, only two were from the same breed of sheep, one was from a breed whose name I recognized well, and one that was a blend of many breeds and even one non-sheep!


The two same-breed yarns are the ones in the middle in the blog photo. Both of these yarns are from Targhee sheep, which produces a general purpose, medium fine wool. The label of the white yarn in the middle shows it is Tobacco Root Valley 100% Targhee wool, Montana raised and processed by our very own Kami Noyes at Ranching Tradition Fiber! The yarn to its right is also 100% American Targhee wool, sourced in Montana and South Dakota, and spun and dyed in Maine. Nice to know our Targhee friends live close to home and produce such a dependable yarn when spun.


The yarn on the far right is a beauty and it is 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool. BFL are longwool sheep whose fleece has been described as “shiny and lustrous.” BFLs (doesn’t this sound like a BFF only better?!) originally were bred for meat, but are gaining popularity for their fleece that provides yarn with good drape. The yarn in the photo is definitely soft and drapey, is 100% BFL hand dyed, and milled in the US.


The final in the DK lineup is the yarn on the left. Made in the USA, it is a blend of Rambouillet, Columbia, Lincoln and Churro sheep breeds; alpaca and llama; and a 5% combination of tencel, bamboo, silk and - wait for it! - bison! Stone Soup, if you will. And fittingly, that is the name of this DK yarn! While the yarn producer does not raise sheep, she created a custom yarn line because of the demand for natural and unique artisan quality yarns. I would love to have her understanding of the Stone Soup blend, and I’m guessing the bison adds a warmth factor.


All of this is good information to know as I consider my project. Do I want a firmer fabric or something drapey? Softer or more durable? Knowing about the breed helps inform my decision and move forward more confidently. It’s also fun! If you would like to know more about the fiber in your project bag, here are two places to start:


The American Sheep Industry Association’s Breed Directory


sheep101.info, which is a website to teach 4-H and FFA members all about sheep