Wendy said the Drysdale breed started in New Zealand in the 1920s when a Romney Marsh breeder identified valued medulated or hollow fibres on a hairy, horned ram lamb. Horns were vital to identifying the medulated fibre carrying sheep, as were crimps in the fibre in the elbows of lambs; if there is no crimp in elbow wool when they are lambs, they are not Drysdales Wendy said.
New Zealand passed an act of parliament banning the export of Drysdales but a Tasmanian was able to import semen and use that in a Border Leicester flock in Tasmania in the late 1970s.
Drysdale fibre became important to carpet manufacturers because it significantly helped the spinability of the natural fibres they used. But when synthetic fibres became dominant in carpets, the need for Drysdale fibre largely evaporated. “It pretty well killed the Drysdale breed here,” Wendy said. But she maintains her sheep with dogged enthusiasm, supplying a fairly limited, but equally enthusiastic craft/hobby market.
While focussing on hand spinners and fibre crafters, Wendy aims to supply quality raw fleeces, as well as hand dyed fleece, combed tops and yarns. Her Drysdales produce two to 2.5kg of outer, inner and mixed yarn per head and it is very like the wool produced by Shetland Island and Icelandic sheep. Wendy said the wool was difficult to felt because of the medulation but a Tasmanian woman has perfected a method of doing so for craft purposes and showed a sample at the meeting.
Although there are about 10,000 Drysdales in New Zealand, Beersheeba is the last pure Drysdale stud in this country. That and border security hurdles to be jumped to import NZ semen, makes sourcing new genetics a difficult proposition, she said.