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Baa, Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?
References to "black sheep" are usually negative, but not at Jones Sheep Farm in Kansas where an entire flock of black sheep is a profitable business.
Gary and Marilyn Jones, of Peabody, have probably the largest black sheep flock in the United States. Their 150 black ewes produce nearly a ton of wool a year, plus a crop of lambs that are in demand as breeding stock.
Their black sheep are a strain, not a registered breed, though there are two black sheep associations in the U.S.A. But the black sheep breed true and produce 90-95% black lambs, Gary points out.
The idea of breeding black sheep started when the Joneses got a Border Leicester ram that was black. When bred to a Karakul, a naturally black breed, the offspring were almost 100% black. Since then, the Joneses have mixed other white wooled breeds such as Lincoln, Cotswold and Corriedale to get long staple wool into the strain.
Breeding stock of the black strain is in heavy demand all over the country, with biggest demand currently in New England. The strain has a placid temperament and can stand hot temperatures. Rams and ewes of breeding age are sold for $200 or more a head.
Black wool is also in heavy demand for spinning. Wool from the Jones' flock is 6-in. staple length and has a low percentage of wool grease and therefore minimum shrinkage. Fleece weight averages right at 10 lbs.
Black wool generally brings more than double the price of white wool. Greys, silver tips, and mixtures also bring premium prices.
An offshoot of the sheep business is a spinning school conducted by Marilyn for two weeks every June. She can accommodate 12 students at a time. In between the spinning schools, the Joneses have started classes in plant identification and photography. These subjects are also related to wool, as plants are used as natural dye materials, and photography is used to record wool colors and the finished products of spinning and weaving.
For more information, including a descriptive brochure, send $1 to: FARM SHOW Followup, Jones Sheep Farm, Rt. 2, Peabody, Kan. 66866 (ph 316 983-2815).

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1983 - Volume #7, Issue #2