The Romney breed remains a favourite of fibre enthusiasts who can get their hands on the fiber. The fiber itself is useful in clothing (lamb or first shearing may even be "next to skin") as well as homewares. The Australian Romney is a large, dual purpose sheep producing strong, heavy wool and very good lambs, with a large proportion of twins.
The Romney (originally called Romney Marsh) is one of the oldest known sheep breeds, with its origins having been traced back more than 700 years to the 13th century and possibly earlier.
Romney sheep originate from the English lowland from east coast of Kent and Sussex where it can be wet and boggy. The breed developed traits that include black hooves resistant to footrot, resistance to internal parasites, excellent fertility and milking/mothering ability. The sheep (and their fleeces) withstand high rainfall, harsh, wet conditions. These traits are not as useful in Australia as they were in England.
Though there is confirmation of a Romney shipment from England to New Zealand in 1853, , it is not confirmed how Romneys arrived in Australia. An Australian brother-in-law of the original New Zealand Romney owner also bred Romney around this time in Australia.
Though high numbers of Romney were exported from England, in the later years of the 20th Century Romney exports reduced as a result of depressed wool prices and a string of droughts that reduced the desirability of their attribute of being able to tolerate wet and muddy conditions conducive to footrot.
Romney are hornless with downy hair on their face. Their feet have black "horn" which is resistant to footrot. Over a period of time it has proven to be the sheep with one of the strongest constitutions and best feet of any breed in the higher rainfall areas of Australia. Crossed with other wool breeds the Romney produces an ideal prime lamb mother with extremely good wool production.
Fleece and Fibre
Romney fleece should be dense, but free. The staple is well defined hanging in distinct locks. The staple is oval and full, not flat. The fleece is also semi lustrous and soft. A good quality fleece will be uniform from shoulder to extremities. The crimp will be bold, not fine.
Romney produce a beautiful product for the handspinner. The yarn is appreciated for knitting and crochet. The fibre also felts well, though this is variable depending on the fleece. Books from the US mention that the wool comes in natural colours including white, black, gray and brown, but no comment about colour is made in the flock books in Australia. The staple length is variable from 10-20 cm (4-7 inches) at 30-40 microns.
Romney fibre is one of the most versatile of fleece. Some Romney fleece may be suitable for wear next to skin (depending on the wearer). Lamb fleece or first shearings tend to be softer. Otherwise, the wool is good for caps, mittens, gloves, sweaters. It has strong wearing features, so can also be used in homewares where durability is important.
The low grease nature of the fleece makes it quite easy to spin straight from shearing. The fibre can be combed, flicked or carded. Worsted spinning (flicked or combed) the long fibre can keep the ends tucked in for "near" or "next to skin" items. Otherwise it can be spun from batts or rolags. The fiber dyes readily. The tips can become bleached and weathered which will affect the outcome of the dye process.
Romney is classified as a dual purpose sheep, also good for meat production. The high percentage of twin births makes it a good prime lamb producer.
Where to Find Fibre or Products to Support this Breed
Gallery - A gallery of featured photos specific to Romney breed