Manx Loaghtan

The Sheep

Manx Loaghtan is an endangered sheep breed that is originally from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and that was almost extinct at the beginning of the 1970's. Meanwhile their number has increased to about 1500 ewes, but nevertheless the species is still at high risk. Today, Manx Loaghtan are bred only very rarely, because they do not fulfill the commercial requirements that dictate white wool and a faster growth of the lambs.

The name is Gaelic, basically meaning „brown sheep from the Isle of Man“. The wool of the Manx varies from caramel, when bleached by the English sun, to chocolate brown, when freshly shorn. Both the rams and ewes have horns. However, the rams can have 4, and in rare cases even 6 horns.

Like the Hebridean sheep, the Manx are a primitive sheep breed, which has adapted to its landscape over the course of centuries without commercial sheep farming.

Our Unique Vintage Yarn – a Rarity

We refine the brown Manx Loaghtan wool with our particularly soft, white Merino wool in order to create the luxurious mélange yarn Manx Merino Fine. It is, for many reasons, something very special:

  • Because the sheep breed is so rare and, to our knowledge, there are only two sheep farms in the entire United Kingdom that keep Manx Loaghtan according to organic farming standards, the precious mélange yarn is also produced only in small amounts. Once it is out of stock, we have to wait for the next sheep shearing, which takes place only once per year.
    Therefore we came up with the idea to create a yearly vintage yarn with its terroir, where the sheep are bred, and the year indicated – as is common for a special wine. We also wanted to emphasize the uniqueness by numbering each skein individually. Similar to a good wine, the appearance and quality of the wool can vary from year to year, depending on the weather conditions (with the amount of sun, temperature, rainfall) and soil conditions, all influencing the terroir.
  • The yarn has subtle light and dark reflexes due to the natural colour of the sheep and is available undyed and in 6 dye colours. It is a Fingering weight yarn with 200m/50g (218yds/50g) that is particularly suitable for Fair Isle knitting, shawls, accessories, and luxurious tops. Because of its high share of softest Merino wool it can be worn comfortably on the skin.
  • We process this yarn, as we do for all our yarns, according to the strict GOTS criteria, without dangerous chemicals, under strict controls for harmful residues, and with fair working conditions.
  • We donate 0.50 Euro of each skein we sell to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust which is committed to the protection of endangered sheep breeds in Great Britain. We hope that by doing so we are able to contribute to the support and further spread of these unique four-legged survivalists.

Protection of the Species

Great Britain has a long tradition of sheep farming and with almost 60 different breeds a fascinating variety. However, almost half of these breeds are in danger of extinction according to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). The RBST is committed to the protection of endangered breeds of farm animals and especially of sheep in Great Britain. It also publishes a list of endangered species.

In Germany, there is an organization with a similar concern, the Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e.V. (GEH). It initiated, among other things, the Arche project with over 90 participating farms in Germany, organises an animal sponsorship project and supports local work by means of regional groups.

Rosy Green Wool supports the RBST with a donation from each mélange skein sold and the German equivalent GEH by means of a sheep sponsorship.

The Sheep Farm

The raw Manx wool which we use for our yarn comes from Fowlescombe Farm in Devon, England, where the sheep are kept according to certified organic farming standards.

Fowlescombe is located close to Dartmoor and its history goes back to the year 1537. The estate has now for many years been led with dedication by Barbara and Richard Barker and is certified by the Soil Association to organic standards. The Barkers are committed not only to the conservation of rare sheep breeds, but to the protection of animals and environment in a much broader sense and they are members of the committee of the RBST's Devon Support Group. Fowlescombe offers holiday cottages in a magnificent landscape – 2009/2010 the farm has won the Beautiful Farm Award for West- and Southwest Great Britain.

We first visited Fowlescombe in June 2014 for the sheep shearing in order to meet Barbara, Richard and their exceptional sheep. The animals graze on bountiful pastures over several hills and on meadows with apple trees. The lands stretch over 191 hectars in all. Currently, they have about 100 ewes of the Manx Loaghtan and Hebridean breeds. Together with the lambs and rams, there are about 250 sheep in total on the farm.

In our video Richard tells us about the Fowlescombe flock.

Manx Merino Yarn to Dye

While searching for organic wool from rare sheep breeds we also visited the beautiful Langley Chase estate in Wiltshire (England), where Jane Kallaway cares affectionately for her sheep. Luckily we're now also able to source organic Manx Loaghtan wool from there, so that we're able to offer this exceptional yarn for hand dyers. You can find out more about the properties of this yarn here.

Video Video: The Fowlescombe Flock
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Fowlescombe: Barbara and Richard Barker
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Langley Chase: Jane Kallaway (left) and her Manx Loaghtans with Rosy