I thought I'd document here the research I've been doing on different sheep breeds and what they are like to spin with, now that I am completely addicted to spinning and totally fascinated by the story of where fleece comes from, what breeds have produced it, where they lived etc. It lends so much to the finished product to have more of a connection with the materials I use.
First up is Herdwick. Herdwick sheep are from the Lake District in the U.K and are one of the hardiest breeds - left to graze on the hills even in the winter. As a result their wool is pretty tough too. They are associated with Beatrix Potter as she raised them, and are born black, turning dark brown and then lightening to grey. Their wool isn't prized at all it seems, but is used for carpets and as insulation, yet it is so lovely to spin. I think its an excellent wool for a beginning spinner, as it drafts easily and fluidly, and it is very easy to get an even yarn from it (yes, even with my bockety spinning!)
Fascinatingly, Herdwick sheep remember their own heaf or pasture, (the ewes even teach their lambs where they live), and do not stray, so don't need fencing. I also read that they can't be moved if the land is sold - they go with it.
Their fleece has several types of fibre, including a soft woolly undercoat to keep them warm, Kemp and a hairy water-repellent outer coat, helping them get wet more slowly and dry out faster than other breeds. Apparently clothing made from their fleece, while being itchy, is also pretty much weather-proof.
The wool has a long staple - roughly 4" in my sample, and is obviously coarse, but has such amazing texture with all those different fibres. (It was also softer than I expected when spun.) And it drafts like a dream - I suppose its the larger size of the fibres that makes them both slide past each other, (and make me feel like an expert spinner...hooray! ) and also gives the finished yarn a depth of colour with coarser black and white fibres, and finer grey ones showing.
Yes, add to that the incredible water-repelling and insulating qualities, and I'll give top marks to Herdwick sheep.