Coopworth Sheep Farm
About Our Flock
We keep a flock of about 230 purebred Coopworth sheep as breeding stock. This includes 160 ewes, 50 replacement ewe lambs, and 20 rams. Although we do not register our flock, we do follow the standards set forth by the American Coopworth Registry. We raise around 300 lambs each year, both to continue expanding our flock, and to provide lambs for sale.
Altogether, that means for at least part of the year, we are caring for about 500-600 sheep. Paul is the shepherd of our flock, and it's a role he takes very seriously! Our animals are well monitored, vaccinated, and vetted as needed.
The Coopworth breed was developed in New Zealand in the 1950s and 60s by crossing Romney ewes with Border Leicester rams. The adult ewes average 150-185 pounds and the adult ram averages between 175-275 pounds.
We got our first Coopworth sheep in 1992, after Carol had spent quite a bit of time researching the breed and experimenting with spinning the wool. We like that they are easy to care for, have great mothering ability, and lamb unassisted. They have a pleasant temperament and do well in a variety of environments. Not only do they have amazing long and lustrous wool, they offer delicious, mild-flavored meat as well.
Our sheep produce natural white, gray, and black fleeces. The wool is well crimped with a bright luster. Their fleeces weigh an average of 8-12 pounds, but a ram's fleece may be more. The micron count ranges from approximately 46-50, with an average staple length of 5-8 inches.
Refining the Coopworth Breed
When we select breeding stock for the upcoming breeding season, we consider a number of qualities we are looking for including physical traits, behavior, and wool quality. This helps us to continue refining our flock in the quest for the “perfect” Coopworth sheep. We also look to enhance our genetics from other Coopworth flocks around the U.S., and our own genetics can be found across the country and throughout the Midwest. In addition, we have also done some artificial insemination to continue to improve the Coopworth genetics.
We typically choose lambs that were born within the first breeding cycle. We also favor multiple births, since twins are ideal to choose from. In fact, when selecting breeding stock, we almost always choose from a set of twins. We consider the sheep’s stature and how they grew. We look at who their sire was and their birth weight. We think about how well the lamb’s mother cared for her young. The lamb’s weaning weight can signal how well the mother did at raising them, since we believe in allowing the mother to wean the lamb on her own.
After evaluating the physical and behavioral traits, we then select for wool quality. We are very particular in this area, and Carol is an excellent judge at looking for all of those beautiful Coopworth fleece characteristics.
Caring For The Wool
In addition to everything we do genetically to create the best possible fleeces, there are other practices we follow to ensure we provide an outstanding quality wool. We work hard to make sure that we remove plants such as burdock from pastures since it can be detrimental to a good wool clip. Paul takes care of mowing pastures that have been recently used and chewed down to ensure that any plants that might deposit seeds in the wool are gone. This means that as the pasture regenerates for the next round of rotational grazing, our chances of having something that will deposit debris in the wool are very minimal.
We are also very careful in our feeding practices, making sure that hay is fed in such a way that it does not end up being distributed throughout the fleeces. We also jacket our sheep. In late fall, before they head out in their breeding groups, each sheep is fitted with a jacket that keeps their fleece clean from hay and vegetable matter during the winter months, right up to shearing in early March. In fact, jackets are kept on until they are in line to be sheared. This provides the best chance of producing a fleece that is clean and free of debris.
Just For Fun
While we continue to enjoy refining our Coopworth flock, in 2017 we had the opportunity to acquire a small flock of natural gray and white Corriedale sheep. It has been a fun learning experience getting to know this breed and applying our same breeding and wool care philosophy to them. We prefer a more traditional style Corriedale fleece that is not overly fine, and we continue to refine our little flock to generate that type of fleece.