Jackie and Judy made some interesting comments about the North Ronaldsay sheep on my Rare Breed Sweater update. So I have spend several days pulling together a few things to share. I have long been interested in collecting samples and information about as many different breeds of sheep as possible, but I find the rare breeds especially intriguing.
I was introduced to the North Ronaldsay breed through an Online Guild Rare Breed Challenge. It was led by Elizabeth Lovick, who lives in Orkney. She sells and works extensively with North Ronaldsay yarns, and kindly provided these photos.
North Rons are an ancient, primitive, and once feral breed of sheep, named for North Ronaldsay, the island on which they once resided exclusively. They are intelligent, agile, sure-footed, and difficult to catch! Being a primitive breed, they have short tails and actually shed if not shorn. They roam the island in loose herds, eating seaweed washed up on shore.
In late April, the pregnant ewes are caught and taken into care by their owners, as lambing is in early May. Ear clips identify which sheep belong to whom. A second round up occurs in August, when the sheep are inspected, clipped, injected, and dipped. Each shepherd receives a percentage of the total clip, depending on how many ewes are owned.
With a world population around 4500, North Rons are classified as 'vulnerable' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (UK). The majority of these remain on the island of North Ronaldsay.
The fleece is dual coated (another primitive breed characteristic) and comes in every color imaginable, from chocolate to white. Fleeces are processed at a local mini-mill, where the guard hairs are removed by centrifugal force. While the two coats are easy to separate by hand, the real bugaboo are these little black kempy hairs (pictured at right) which I ended up pulling out semi-successfully by hand. The amount of guard hair in a fleece varies according to color; chocolate having the least.
Below are some samples from the fruit of my labors for the challenge. The range of colors is lovely, and getting them out of their storage box once again reminds me that they are still awaiting a project.
I reckon thinking about that will be one more pleasant way to spend my time as I continue knitting on my sweater.
Winter Knitting Project
Rare Breed Sweater Swatches
TA-DAH! Rare Breed Sweater Done!