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Looking for sheep

This is a funny story from when we started Moeke Yarns, more precisely the part when we started to look for sheep. I knew that Romania has lots of sheep. The estimations were over 9 million sheep! Most of them are from a breed called Turcana that has coarse long hair, way too rough for knitting but great for carpets and such. But we were looking for a breed called Tigaie and for the rare Romanian merino sheep. The Tigaie sheep is a medium-wool breed, with good milk and meat production but they are harder to find – they represent only around 20% of the sheep population in Romania. The Merino sheep is ever harder to find as they represent only around 9% of the sheep in Romania.

 And so, here was our strategy to find sheep. I went to Romania in the spring, me and my brother got in the car and we drove to the country side to visit a flock that was recommended to us. Did we know how a Tigaie or Merino look like? No, we had no idea! Did we know the difference between fine and semi-fine wool? Well, I read about it. Crimp? Staple length? Only in theory… But I thought, well, how difficult could it be, right?

 We drove to the farm and saw sheep. Did they look good, all fluffy and cuddly like you see in pictures? Nope. They did not have pajamas on, and I was sure I saw some thistle heads tangled in their wool. And they looked kind of dirty. Was that normal, I wondered? In the photos of sheep that I saw, they did not really have so much poop clung on their wool. Why do they look like that, I asked? “Well, they stay during the winter inside because of the cold, of course they sleep on their poop sometimes.” And the thistle heads? “Well, some escaped to a nearby land full with the pesky thistles and they are very good at picking them up.” Right. Clear. And the breed? “Merino!” Really? They don’t really look like merino… “No, no, they are merino!”

Now, you might think that this was an awful experience and that the shepherd was trying to trick us. In fact, he was just being honest and had no idea that his sheep might seem so unbecoming. All sheep stay inside during the winter and none wears protective coats – why would they? Wool has no value in Romania so there is no point to make an effort to protect it. They feed on natural pastures, but those pastures are full with various types of vegetation, and some gets in their wool. Their tails are not clipped, nor is the skin around the buttocks removed, but they look rather filthy and unappealing. And they were not merino, they were Tigaie mixed with other breeds, maybe even some Merino, but the peasants call them “merino” because their wool is considered to be soft and they associate softness with merino sheep.

After that experience we learned how to understand the shepherds and all the synonims that they use for various sheep breeds. With some shepherds we had bad experiences, with some others, good ones. But we will never forget the naive way we started to look for sheep!