Breed Study: Rambouillet

Illustration of Rambouillet SheepDescription:

Rambouillet is dual-purpose breed that produces both meat and high-quality fine wool. They are large, hardy sheep that can thrive in a wide variety of climates and forage conditions. With mature rams weighing 250-300 lbs, and mature ewes at 200-275 lbs, they are the largest of the fine wool sheep. They have a dense, heavy fleece (averaging around 10 lbs), which can be high in grease - requiring careful cleaning. 

They are most commonly cream to white in color, with white faces and legs, but can occasionally be found in black and gray. 

Wool:

Microns: 20-24

Staple Length: 100mm / 4 inches

Bradford Counts: Rams - 60’s – 64’s, Ewes - 64’s – 70’s

Rambouillet is a fine wool with good crimp, similar to Merino, but has a longer staple, less sheen, more elasticity, loft, and warmth. In terms of softness, Rambouillet tends to be comparable to the medium grades of merino (rather than the superfine or ultrafine varieties).  Rambouillet is also great for blending with other fibers to preserve softness while adding strength and elasticity.

It works best spun fine, either woolen or worsted, and it's also wonderful for felting and dyeing. It is soft enough to be worn next to the skin, while also being durable and flexible.

History:

A very old breed, originating in the village of Rambouillet, France.  It is also known as the Rambouillet Merino or French Merino. 

The Rambouillet was derived from Spanish Merino sheep, which were themselves descendants of sheep brought to Spain by the Moors of North Africa. For many years, Spain had maintained a monopoly of sorts on the fine wool market by keeping their valuable merino sheep in Spain and not allowing their export. They also limited the amount of wool that was made available to other countries so that they could process as much as possible locally and demand the highest prices.

Naturally these sheep were highly coveted by their neighbors, and were very much of interest to the King of France, Louis XVI, who sought permission to import them. He established an experimental farm known as the Bergerie Royale (meaning 'Royal Sheepfold' - now known as the Bergerie Nationale) on his domain of Rambouillet, and in 1786, was able to obtain a small flock (318 ewes, 41 rams and 7 wethers) of Spanish Merinos from his cousin, King Charles III of Spain.  The sheep were raised and carefully bred in Rambouillet, and later, in an effort to improve the breed, they were crossed with English Longwool breeds to produce a sheep with greater size and a longer wool staple, and became established as a distinct breed from their Merino cousins. 

Because of their fine wool, dual-purpose uses, hardy disposition, size, and resistance to predators due to strong flocking instincts (huddling together at night), the Rambouillet sheep caught the interest of American ranchers, who began importing them to the US in 1840. It is now estimated that about half of the sheep in the Western US ranges are to some degree derived from Rambouillet stock.

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