Posted on October 23 2020
Ron C. Blackmore, Lincoln University Agricultural Education, 1947, reference #A2004.030
A little over 140 years ago, John Little of New Zealand mated a long-wool Lincoln with a soft fleece merino. From this union was born one of today’s most popular and prolific breeds, the Corriedale.
One might wonder why, with over 1000 varieties of sheep to choose from, a shepherd might want to bring two distinct breeds together to create a new one. In the case of Corriedale, the blend introduced two important benefits: a dual purpose sheep, good for both meat and fleece, and one that could thrive in the semi-arid grasslands common in New Zealand.
Merino do well in arid uplands, Lincolns in lusher lowlands. If you have thousands of acres that are neither wet nor dry that beg for grazing livestock, Corriedale is your sheep.
From the farmer’s point of view a sheep that can be marketed in more than one way is a plus. If sheep are threatened by severe drought, they can be sent to the meat market. If next year the price for fleece is strong, the farmer can take advantage of a good price by shearing a greater number of sheep.
A rancher has much to do to care for a large herd, so the stronger, healthier, and more self-reliant the animal, the better. Corriedale are on the large side, sturdy and robust. The ewes are good mothers. They’re polled (no horns) and even tempered. They have fleece that grows up the neck to just above the eyebrow, giving them a curly fringe; their legs are wool-covered, as well.
A few numbers for comparison: A mature Corriedale yields a fleece between 10 to 20 pounds (compare with Delaine Merino which yields between 9 and 14). Staple length of the fiber is 3-6 inches (merino--soft, soft fleece--is more like 2 ½ to 4 inches, a Lincoln or comparable long wool sheep can have staple from 7 to 15 inches). Micron count (softness) for lambs can be in the low 20’s, for older sheep the range is 25-31.
Corriedale makes a great all-round yarn. Its longish staple makes it durable, its merino genes yield a relatively soft hand and its even, well-defined crimp makes for a lofty, bouncy yarn.