The Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep is classed as a minority breed by the British Rare Breeds Survival Trust in its 2016 watchlist. That means there are between 1500 and 3000 registered breeding females living currently in the UK.
Wool from Balwen sheep are currently available in the Crafternoon Treats Etsy shop but stocks are limited.
History of the Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep breed
The breed was originally from an area in Wales called the Tywi valley and it almost disappeared completely in 1947, when Wales and the whole of the UK had one of the balworst winters of the 20th century. Temperatures plummeted and snow lasted in deep drifts until April. The Balwen flock were all but wiped out but one breeding ram and a handful of females survived.
Since then, farmers and breeders have managed to increase numbers and the Balwen Welsh Mountain Breed Society (Cymdeithas Defaid Mynydd Cymreig Balwen) was established in 1985 and has extended interest in these lovely sheep in other parts of Wales and beyond. It is a smaller sheep than many breeds so is in demand by small holders.
Although they didn’t fare well in that cold winter of 1947, the Balwen is a hardy breed, well suited to living on the hilly and rocky terrain found in the uplands of Wales.
The sheep get their name from the bold strip of white on their faces – Balwen in Welsh means ‘white blaze’. The rest of the fleece is a rich dark brown/black. Rams have curled horns and both rams and dams have white markings just on their feet, so look like they are wearing socks.
Balwen wool characteristics
The staple length is between 5 and 7.5 cm and has a micron count of around 32. It spins well and is rustic in nature with a rich variation of dark shades, with white highlights in the yarn.
Crafternoon Treats Balwen rare breed wool
Wool from Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep has been processed and spun in Yorkshire using fleece obtained from a single flock in the UK. The animals are allowed to graze and are kept in conditions that are as natural for them as possible. The sheep are ethically farmed and the wool has been spun ethically.
The raw fleece have been skirted, graded and washed at the Halifax Spinning Mill then woollen spun and washed before packaging into 50g balls, ready to use for crochet, knitting or weaving. Each ball contains approximately 120 yards of yarn (110 metres).