Shropshire sheep are classified as a Heritage Breed in Australia. They have been in Australia for over 100 years and were a key component of meat production for the new colonies. Today they are classified as a "prime lamb" producer with short wool.
Primitive Shropshire sheep were bred with Leicester and Southdown genes in the early 1800's. By the time they became a recognised breed, their fleece production had gone from 2 pounds to over 7 pounds and the carcass weight had doubled. These attributes made it an important sheep to support the growing desire for meat.
The breed was shipped through Europe and the rest of the world in the late 1800's. There are records of this sheep arriving in Australia as early as 1855. Tasmania had the most success with this breed with prominent breeders from Britain moving their flocks to this state in the late 1800's. The shropshire boom in Australia coincided with Australia's sheep meat expansion at the turn of the 20th century.
By 1920, the production of Shropshires slowed greatly due to the depression and the desire for meat from "smaller joints" in Australian households giving way to Southdowns.
Today in Australia, the Shropshire is a rare breed with eight registered flocks in 2013.
The Shropshire is a hornless breed with dense wool all over with little or none on the face. The face is a soft black colour with eyes showing, clear of wool. The ears are short and thick.
The hind quarters are square with good full, fleshy leg and broad tail set level with the back. It has short legs which are also a soft, black colour.
Fleece and Fibre
Shropshire fleece is dense, of medium strength and staple, showing plenty of character, white with no black hairs. Traditionally Shropshire are white and therefore black lambs are culled early or at least should not be bred to be true to the breed. But if you are a hand spinner you may get lucky and find a black one that the shepherdess has not culled and been able to support by selling the beautiful fibres coveted by the non-commercial fibre lovers.
The staple length is a typical down 5-10 cm (2-4 inches). The fibre range is generally 25-33 microns (54s-58s).
Since the Shropshire is a down breed, the fibre that comes from the Shropshire has characteristics typical to downs. It is a bouncy fibre that produces a springy, elastic yarn.
The resulting yarn is not scratchy and can feel soft. It is also a good fibre to blend with other softer, less bouncy, or less sturdy fibres to produce a more resilient or stretchy fabric. The fibre due to these characteristics is good for jumpers (sweaters), socks, gloves, and mittens.
The fibre is not the greasiest of fleece, but may require a few hot soapy baths. The fibre will felt, but not as easily as merino or long wools.
The fibre length is quite short like most down breeds. While it can be flicked or combed, it is easier to hand card or drum card the fleece. It would be nice to find in a roving or batt where it was either pure or blended with other fibres.
If using for socks it can be spun in a worsted or semi worsted method for more strength. It can be spun thin, but will puff back out after the final wash due to the character of the Shropshire fleece crimp. This is what makes the yarn fluffier and more elastic.
Shropshires are primarily bred for their meat, though the breeders are often spinners who enjoy the benefits of their beautiful fibre.
Where to Find Fibre or Products to Support this Breed
Gallery- A series of photos specific to Shropshire breed