Breed Study: Falkland Wool

"Breed study" is a bit of a misnomer in this case, because Falkland wool does not refer to a breed of sheep – it indicates wool that is grown in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas in Spanish). The islands (776 in total) are located about 300 miles off the south-east coast of South America. The wool can consist of any of the breeds grown there, the majority of which are Polwarth (an Australian cross of 75% Merino and 25% Lincoln), Merino, and Corriedale.

 

Wool Characteristics:

Microns: range from 18-33, mostly around 27-30

Staple Length: 80-100mm / 3-4 inches

Excellent for spinning and felting – it makes a great knitting yarn with both softness and structure. Suitable for being worn next to skin.

Exceptionally bright white in color (attributed to the climate of the islands, and absence of many types of bacteria that can cause color variation). This makes it an excellent choice when seeking a natural bright white or a base for dyeing. While other natural colors of sheep can be found the islands, their wool is not included in the fiber pool, so exported Falkland wool is almost always white.

 Because Falkland wool is pooled from several different breeds, crimp and other characteristics can vary widely. If fiber consistency is important to your project, we recommend purchasing as much as you need for a project at one time so that it all comes from the same batch. 

History

Wool production has been a significant part of the Falkland Islands’ economy since the first Cheviot flocks were introduced in 1851. Wool is so important, in fact, that a sheep even occupies a prominent place on the flag.  

 

 

These remote and beautiful islands have also historically been a resupply point for ships, and have more recently been experiencing a boost in tourism due the abundance of wildlife - especially penguins and other sea birds.

The islands’ human population is around 3500, but there are currently almost half a million sheep. That’s approximately 1 person per 12 square miles and 1 person for every 140 sheep (and 300 penguins!). They take wool production very seriously, with particular attention to fiber quality, as they mainly export wool rather than meat from their flocks. 

While wool production has been nearly constant in the last 150 years, the flocks were depleted considerably in 1982 during the Falklands War, when many were killed for food by Argentinian soldiers. After the war, the formerly Cheviot and mixed-breed flocks were supplemented by livestock donations from the UK and other countries, introducing a new population of Corriedale, Romney, and later Australian Merino and Polwarth sheep. Since that time, there has also been a great deal of effort placed into research and development for optimal genetics and farming practices, as well as the introduction of a National Sheep Stud Flock to improve the quality of the wool.

Falkland wool is now grown on a network of family farms that pool their wool together (mainly through the Falkland Island Wool Company) for sorting and export, which is why the resulting product is not breed specific. The wool does share certain notable characteristics due to careful breeding, as well as the temperate-cold maritime climate. While the weather does require a certain hardiness in sheep (who remain outdoors year-round) it is also inhospitable to sheep parasites, which are almost non-existent in the local flocks. This means that dipping and drenching do not tend to be necessary, which, coupled with a pristine and pollution-free environment, means the majority of the wool naturally meets organic standards.

 

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