Spinning Friesian Dairy Sheep

Hello!

Today’s post is all about Friesian dairy sheep. The silly creature above sticking its tongue out at you belongs to this breed. I’ve spun some of their wool that I’d like to tell you about. But there is more to these sheep than wool. In fact, their wool is only a by-product. Their main job is producing milk – they aren’t called dairy sheep for nothing.

According to the breeders’ association the Friesian dairy sheep is the sheep breed with the highest milk yield in the world (!). It produces about 600 litres of milk during the 6 month lactation period every year. It is a rare breed that was almost extinct 40 years ago, but thanks to several enthusiastic breeders their numbers have grown to around 9000 registered pedigree sheep now.

What do they look like? You’ve already seen a cheeky one in the photo at the top. Here is more serious picture.

Friesian dairy sheep are large sheep without horns, with a long neck, a hairless face and tail, and a slightly bent nose.

I was kindly given permission to use these photos by sheep farm Bongastate. I’m a big fan of their smooth and creamy sheep’s yoghurt. There are lots of delicious recipes using sheep’s milk and yoghurt on their website.

The recipes are in Dutch, but Google Translate does a remarkably good job in this case. The picture shows their lemon yoghurt sponge cake.

Sheep’s yoghurt is fairly new to me, but I grew up with sheep’s cheese. Fresh sheep’s cheese is a speciality from Friesland that is only available from about March to October. It is a small, soft, white cheese sold in plastic tubs.

This ‘wet’ cheese comes in a bath of whey and has a very mild taste. I like eating it on a slice of wholewheat bread, sprinkled with freshly milled black pepper and sea salt.

The last time I bought some, was at the farmers’ market I love visiting (and have written about here and here). It was there that I also found some Friesian sheep’s wool. It was tucked away behind a cushion with a cover knit in bulky white wool.

I don’t know if you can see it? Here it is from closer up, in deep brown, white and a mixture of brown and white.

According to the sheep breeder’s association, Friesian dairy sheep are always white. How come there is also brown here? I need to ask the sellers about it if/when the market starts up again in May. I hope they’ll be there again.

Anyway, I chose white. It was sold in small quantities as rolled-up batts (carded ‘sheets’ of wool). The label said it was 30 grams.

I bought both the wool and the cheese from Puur Schaap, a small and sustainable sheep farm. I’ve only met them once and don’t know much about them. For more information, please check out their website.

The wool had been cleaned and carded, but was still slightly greasy. Perfect for spinning. I rolled out the batt and divided the wool up into a sort of unofficial rolags. I tore off strips lengthwise and tore them in half widthwise.

 A ‘real’ rolag is made using hand carders. All I did was roll up the pieces I’d torn off by hand.

Then I spun the wool using a short backward draft. When it was not holding the camera, my right hand guided the thread, but it was my left hand that was doing the actual drafting.

I spun all of it onto one bobbin. At this stage the wool was still yellowish and it felt like binder twine.

My plan was to wind it into a ball, and ply it into a 2-ply yarn from a centre-pull ball. But I changed my mind and decided to make it into a slightly thicker 3-ply yarn instead.

So I wound the wool into 3 small balls (weighing them on precision scales), put them in a basket to keep them from rolling all through the living room…

… and plied the three plies together.

Then I wound the yarn into a skein and washed it, first in washing-up liquid and then in Eucalan. The grease came out and after drying I had a skein of creamy white, perfectly clean lavender-scented yarn.

It is the softest yarn I have ever spun from local sheep’s wool. Not as soft as merino, but it spun up into a really lovely, slightly airy thread.

The skein weighs about 40 grams (according to the label I bought 30 grams of unspun, but they have obviously been generous) and has a length of approximately 100 metres (110 yards). I think it counts as a DK-weight yarn.

Well, that’s all about my small wool-rescuing project for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this special sheep breed. And I hope to come back to the yarn later, when I’ve decided what it’s going to be.

Something small… Perhaps a knitting notions case? Or a pair of wrist warmers? Or it may even be enough for a hat. Shall I dye it, or leave it as it is? Decisions, decisions.

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