Although most people assume that all breeds of sheep can be used for the production of wool, this is absolutely not true. Some breeds of sheep do not even produce wool at all, while others produce wool of such poor quality it is not even worth shearing except to give summer relief to the animal. Additionally the wool market varies worldwide, what might be desired in one area, is less marketable in another. As such there is no one breed best for wool production, but rather there are several breeds of sheep which are excellent producers of different types of wool.
For convenience the most popular wool producing breeds are listed below in alphabetical order.
These sheep were developed in Australia for the express purpose of wool production. They are mostly descended from the Merino stock but are more suited to Australia's climate while still producing excellent wool. There are four varieties of Australian Merino, the Peppin, Saxon, South Australian, and Spanish. Of these the Saxon produces the superior wool. In Australia these are considered the superior sheep for wool production. In Australia and New Zealand, the Merino is highly valued as a wool breed. The finest wool comes from Merino yearlings, and is one of the most valued wools.
These are often considered more of a novelty as they are a miniature sheep often kept on hobby farms or for petting zoos, however their wool is of excellent quality, with the only flaw being it is often off white. White wool is always preferred in the commercial industry, but home spinners and weavers like naturally colored wools that would come from a sheep like the Babydoll Southdown. These are gentle sheep and are excellent for anyone who is interested in getting into the wool industry on a smaller scale.
Although considered a dual purpose sheep (meat and wool) Columbia wool is often considered to be a top quality wool producer, growing fleeces that are heavy and dense. These are larger sheep, again adding to their desirability for wool production. Their fleece is white and considered to be of medium length. As this breed originated in the United States, these sheep are common in Canada and the USA for wool production.
This is the breed most prevalent in New Zealand. Their wool is fairly long and coarse, making it excellent for hand spinning. The sheep themselves also being bred to be easy lambers and good mothers making this an easier to care for breed than many other wool breeds.
The Corriedale is a popular breed of sheep who produce dense, medium to long, fleeces. Although they originated in Australia and New Zealand, they are now in many other countries including the United States. Their wool is in demand by hand spinners.
Although not common in the United States this breed was once Englands major wool producer. The term wool Church referred to a church built with the funding of wool primarily from the Cotswold breed. Their fleece is long and coarse with wavy curls.
These sheep are very popular in the United Kingdom where they are bred for their wool to be used in the carpet industry. Their fleeces are white, being curled on the outside, with a dense undercoat. They are very adaptable to climate extremes.
Dartmoors are a very hardy breed of sheep with wonderful, long, wavy, wool. They are often called Grey Faced Dartmoor sheep. Their wool is primarily used for the making of blankets and tweeds.
This is a breed of sheep primarily seen in England, where their fleece sells for top dollar. Their fleece is ideally suited to the home spinner and conventional modern manufacturing processes. It is fine, dense, and generally free of any black hairs.
The Dorset is a dual-purpose sheep. Often preferred in areas where wool prices are low because of the other marketable features, such as meat, milk production, and their prolific nature. Their fleece is white and lightweight, it is excellent for handspinning.
This is a sheep from New Zealand where it is used for wool for carpet making. They are frequently sheared twice a year, compared to many breeds which are only sheared once a year. Their wool is without any crimping.
*Gansu Alpine Finewool
These sheep are a finewool breed from China. They are extremely well adapted to the higher altitudes and cooler temperatures of the Gansu Province in China.
These sheep have a long double coat and they are used for wool production in Iceland, where the breed is kept purest by not allowing any sheep to be brought to Iceland. The outer coat can be used for weaving, the inner coat for making soft garments, together they can make a unique knitting wool.
Their long fleeces are prized by hand spinners, but the skin of baby lambs is what this breed is best known for. The newborns have tight black curls and are often slaughtered immediately for their pelts.
This breed is not well known out of the United Kingdom. Their fleece is moderately soft and good for felting or beginner handspinners. Often these sheep are crossbred with Merino for even better quality wool.
Not only are these sheep large, they produce very heavy, long, fleeces, excellent for using in hand spinning, weaving, or other processes. The fleece of the Lincoln sheep is coarse but does have considerable luster.
This is probably one of the most prized breeds for wool production. Their white wool is finely crimped and soft. Ultra fine Merino wool is often blended with silk and cashmere. When most European people think of a wool sheep, this is the breed they picture. If this list were to include only one breed of wool sheep, the Merino would be it. Yearling Merino wool is some of the finest, and softest, wool in the world, and is considered to be the most valued. The finest Merino wool is used for garmets.
These sheep produce the most fleece of any of the Down breeds. They have not really caught on as a breed outside of the United Kingdom. Their fleece is short and tight.
This breed was developed specifically for many purposes, as the name suggests. Their wool is medium length with good crimping. They can produce two lamb crops a year, and one wool crop, or shearing.
Developed from the earlier mentioned Merino sheep, the Rambouillet is well known as a dual-purpose sheep. These are white sheep, with good medium length fleeces. They are very common in the United States and Canada.
Romney sheep produce long wool, lustrous fleeces that are sought after by handspinners. They are white and very hardy, being well suited to colder climate areas.
Characterized by their black legs and faces, and white body, the Suffolk sheep is popular as a dual-purpose breed. Their fleeces are considered to be medium length with good crimping.
This breed of sheep very much resembles the mop like Komondor dogs. Their long locks produce a kemp (shorter hairy fibers) free fleece.
-Improving Wool Quality and Marketability of Wool-
On the whole the wool industry is depressed with wool prices being low, therefore understanding the wool market is key. Knowing what each breed produces is just as important as knowing what wool people, and commercial buyers, want in a given area.
Hand spinners like wool that is not straight, because straight wool will not hold well, but they do like wool with a natural color. Commercial buyers prefer white wool with a tight crimp. Fine wool is better for garmets, coarse wool for carpets.
Wool that is free of dirt, manure, and Keds (biting insects), will be worth more than wool in poor condition. A fleece should be kept intact, with no holes. Proper folding, and baling, of fleeces after shearing and proper care of them, will also ensure top dollar at the wool buyers.
The breed of a sheep is a major part of wool production, a good shearer, good hubandry, and general care also ensure that a fleece arrives in good condition.