Hebridean sheep are practically timeless going back,to the bronze age. They were originally predominently a four-horned breed. Over the years, two-horned sheep have come to dominate the breed to the extent that about 95% are now two-horned. Four-horned sheep display a wide range of horn styles and a great variety of types of fleece, rather more so than two-horned sheep.*"Only four-horned sheep have topknots. Topknots are so rare now that there are probably less than a dozen registered topknot sheep in existence. Many breeders and shepherds are determined to preserve these ancient characteristics".
The Hebridean sheep is one of the primitive breeds comprising the Northern Short-Tailed group of sheep from northwestern Europe. These sheep are relatively small and fine boned, with black or dark brown wool. The face and legs are largely free of wool and are covered with glossy black hair. Both sexes commonly have two or more horns; but ewes may be polled or scurred and some may carry large woolly topknots.
These "indestructible sheep stay outdoors all year round. Winters are long in the outer isles, the Hebrides of Scotland and being sometimes 1000 feet up a mountain or craggy out crop they get plenty of wind, rain and snow. Hebrideans cope well with the harsh conditions and lamb outside on their own very successfully. The sheep have free access to hay and some browsing through the winter and each of our fields has a basic shelter which the sheep can choose to use if they so wish. In common with most sheep, Hebrideans will scrape down through the snow to get to the grazing below, up to a depth of about a foot.
Hebridean fleece is a double coat, with a short undercoat about 2-3" long and a longer top coat which varies from about the same as the undercoat to nearly two feet, but the average is 7-9". The locks are a long triangle in shape, wide at the bottom and tapering to the tips. The undercoat has a 'frizzy' look, because the crimps do not align - this gives wonderful bounce and resilience to the wool and anything spun from it.
The top coat has thicker fibres, sometimes coarse and hairlike, sometimes nearly as soft as the undercoat. The soft ones are penalised in the showring, but are lovely to spin. Sometimes there is very little top layer, especially with older sheep.
The colour can vary from very black, which is often the coarsest, to grey or lighter brown, and shearling fleeces are often weathered brown at the tips. Most shearling fleeces are really nice, often with no clear distinction between the two layers, but sometimes, especially with the blackest ones, they can be horribly coarse. The 'crimp' varies from none to about 6 per inch, but averages at about 2, so just a gentle wave - that's in the top coat.
The Bradford score usually quoted indicates very coarse but it was measured years ago by combining the two layers of the fleece. There has been no measurement taken of the two layers measured separately.
Some Heb fleeces, especially the first shears, are soft and silky, some such as tups, are coarse and smelly !! Kemp is not usually a problem in Heb fleece - I mean the proper short white kemp fibres, not just another name for hair. They are sometimes seen, but few and far between. Heb fleece is not the same from shoulder to britch and is not meant to be - the britch is coarser, straighter and often greyer and the shoulder can sometimes have the finest wool - even fairly crimpy by any standards.
For the hand spinner, there is a choice of how to deal with the fleece. It can be separated into the two layers, the top coat spun worsted for warp, and undercoat spun woollen for finer clothes, it can be spun all together (if not too long) and used for outer garments, or the tips of the outer coat can be cut off and the rest spun as one - this gives a yarn which is less coarse than when the tips are included, but not as fine as the undercoat only.
The top coat coarseness often extends only down to the level of the undercoat, with the deeper parts being finer than the tips. The main problem with Heb wool is usually that it is matted - without big machinery it is useless then, other than for putting in the bottom of potholes to keep the stones put on top in place, or to cover the compost heap to keep the rain out. Being black and quite full of lanolin, Heb fleece can also appear to be very dirty so is greatly improved by washing.
We here at Queen Conch offer up both Raw and processed Heb. If you just want to get right business choice is simply the luscious roving.
For those wanting the full heritage experience please choose our Roo'ed wool.
Rooing is an old way of taking off a fleece without shearing. This is only possible with some of the primitive "unimproved" breeds that retain the ability to "shed" their fleece.
Priced by ounce/ 33g
|Color Family||Black, Brown, Gray|