Cormo Sheep: The science experiment that worked brilliantly and paid off well.
The name Cormo is from the names of two of the parent breeds, Corriedale and Merino, the breed was developed in Tasmania by Ian Downie. He developed a new breed of sheep strictly by scientific methods and empirical data to develop his ideal sheep.
Downie had a flock of super fine Saxon Merino that had an extremely low reproduction rate. He wanted a sheep that would have his ideal qualities without sacrificing quality for production. The selection criteria broken into its basic elements were a large clean fleece weight, fine fiber diameter, quick growth, and fertility.
Bred with science to make a sheep that produces the most desirable traits commercially as well has a good breeding standards for shepherds.
Sheep selected for his new breed were weighed, measured for micron count and tracked for reproduction being either a single or a twin. In 1976 he then used a computer database to analyze production traits and called on Helen Newton Turner one of the world’s leading sheep geneticists to help him stabilized the consistence of traits.
The Cormos were developed to an objective scientific standard and are still being held to one of the more stringent standards today. These standards allow for the development of outstandingly consistent fleeces that are superfine. Often the sheep are coated for cleanliness; however, this requires considerable care by the shepherd to size the coats so the fiber has room to grow without felting on the sheep.
Cormo is a beautiful and fun fiber. It has a luster that allows it to take dye without dulling. It has a well-defined regular crimp that gives it a feel of being “fluffy.” The fiber has excellent elasticity while still being super fine. The sheep have 5-12 lbs fleeces with 50-60% yield, the staple length is between 3.5 – 5 inches with a 17-23 micron count Cormos allow for a 2 point deviation from the micron count, further deviation leads to the removal of the sheep from the registry.
The fleece has a dense rectangular staple, tips can easily be damaged with improper blanketing. Cormo are almost exclusively white because it is the most commercially sound of colors; however, there are some small flocks cross bred to create flocks of purebred colors.
It is easy to overwork this fiber due to its fine nature. It felts moderately well, but can be deceptive when spinning. Check your finished yarns before you commit to a technique for spinning the fiber, you might find when plied the fibers bloom more than expected.
The Cormo we currently carry is from Mountain Meadows, a Wyoming fiber processor who works with its ranchers to produce luxurious fibers and yarn. The mill itself uses only environmentally friendly methods with bio-degradable soaps and natural dyes. Because the fibers are minimally processed only carded and not combed you might find small bits of vegetation, but it provides you with a springy rustic wool, reminding you of the downy natural fiber right off the sheep.
If you’re going to wait a while to spin the fibers, you’re going to want to store them in either a paper or fabric bag to prevent felting before you spin.