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  • Jessica Steer - The Rushlade Wool Company

Bowmont Merino

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

The Beginning

We brought our Merino ‘s into the flock back in early 2017 with 18 in lamb ewes. The ewes are understood to have originated from the Macaulay institute in Aberdeen where the Bowmont was originally bred in the 1980s. The research institute bred the Bowmont by putting a Merino ram to a Shetland ewe and then breeding back to an unrelated Merino ram to give an almost pure Merino. The small amount of Shetland genetics helped to strength the sheep for UK conditions.

When we bought ours the majority of British Merinos were still farmed in Scotland and their wool exported. This meant that there was scarcely little British Merino fibre available for individual spinners, felters and knitters through the rest of the British Isles.  It was a pleasure to be able to bridge this gap and see UK makers enjoying this wonderful British Merino.

Since 2017 our flock has come a long way and the ewes are unrecognisable in comparison to the original 18. The original ewes weren’t well acclimatised to being outside and they didn't seem to know what grass was!! Their lambs were born here and were therefore hardier to our farming and each generation since has gone from strength to strength.

Merinos are particularly special because of their super fine fibre which in our flock is generally 18-19 Microns. This super fine fibre makes the wool incredibly soft and therefore comfortable to wear even against the skin.

The fleece itself is quite dense and so holds any dirt in the tips whilst the majority of the length of the staple stays very clean and free from VM. It is a very white fibre with a crimp that provides some great elasticity. For spinners, most of our customers prefer to work Merino fibre in the raw. Simply combing out the tip and spinning. Since selling the wool post the 2017 clip we have been thrilled with the fabulous response that the wool has had and love to see the beautiful items that are being made from intricate fine shawls to boot insoles! As the fibre has such a brilliant white colour it makes a great base for dyers and absorbs dyed well.

In 2018 we sent our first sacks of fleece to the mill which returned as 100g Skeins of DK Merino. It was the first yarn we had worked with and I can honestly say we completely fell in love with it. It is a full and springy fibre and because it is so soft it makes for some incredible garments. Since then we have had a range of Aran weight yarns as well as DK and sell our yarns (Starting at £18/100g Skein at in both their natural shade and in hand dyed colour ways. All of our dyeing is carried out here in the farm house kitchen with our inspiration being taken from the colours around the farm and Dartmoor.

We have a couple of gorgeous knitting patterns available, create by a wonderful Cornish Knitwear Designer, Sarah Murray. The patterns show of the wonderful yarn with textured designs in Wrist Warmers, Headbands and Ballet Slippers.

For those of you looking to enjoy Merino in a ready made garment we also knit a limited number of pieces. The most popular has to be the Sheep Motif hats.

Cross Breeding

When we first purchased our Merino ewes they had been running with a Merino Ram and were in Lamb. This gave us our first years crop of lambs but when it came to putting them back to the ram again that autumn we had to think a little further outside the box, as we didn't have a Merino ram ourselves to utilise. 'Enter stage left Mat the Whiteface Dartmoor'..

At this time we were still finding the Merinos a bit tender to our climate and outdoor farming so we wanted to see whether we could improve their hardiness by introducing our local favourite, the Whiteface Dartmoor. We did and were really pleased with not only the quality of lambs that were produced and who thrived better on our ground, but we were also blown away by the fibre. The Dartmoor Merino, as we have termed them, give a much longer staple of around 18cm and whilst not quite as soft or as white as their mother fleece still have a wonderfully soft fleece.

The Future for the Rushlade Merinos

The harsh, hot, dry conditions of the summer of 2022 saw grass across our farm and much of the UK burn off completely. We had to resort to feeding our stock hay in the summer as if we were in the depth of winter. Most of the flock found this a real challenge but the Merinos thrived like they were on the best keep of their lives! The Merinos have really come in to their own and have certainly proven their place in the flock!! We are looking forward to continuing to expand our range of yarns, increase our colour ways and see what you all make of this fantastic fibre!!

Where can you get British Merino Wool and Yarn?

Raw fleece, Carded top and Yarn are all available on the website at along side lots more information about our various breeds and what their wool has to offer.

Carded tops are available in 100g lots for £10 with Merino Yarns starting at £18 and Masham at £16 per 100g skeins. There are also lots of offers available!

Why is Merino wool so important?

Merino really is a wonderful fibre that can truly change the way in which we think about the fibres that we are using. Rivalling the softness of any man made fibre and far more luxurious to enjoy.

We have become increasingly more reliant on man made, oil based materials that will long out live us in landfill at the end of their useful life. Wool on the other hand is renewable because our sheep grow it every year and need it removing for their welfare. It is also biodegradable and will return to the soil after its useful life whilst, arguably, each garment often has a much longer life span for us to enjoy.

Caring for wool is much easier today with a huge variety of very easy to use products on the market which make wool washing very simple. Wool is also fantastic at maintaining itself, shedding dirt and wicking moisture so that it requires less washing. Which, in a world where we are increasing more aware of our energy and water consumption and where the cost of both is rocketing, wool can play a really important role in improving our economic and environmental stand point.

All in all, its a win win! Fabulous sheep that are now thriving on our small farm here on the side of the Dartmoor National Park, gorgeous wool that is wonderful to work with and even more fabulous to wear. Plus, the ethical options that we are all looking to for the future.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope that you might have a look at some of my other writing to find our more about what we are doing her on our little Devon Farm!!


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