Know Your Fiber: Perendale Wool
Posted on May 01 2020
It is time for another New Zealand sheep breed – the Perendale! This sheep is a relatively recent addition to the flocks of the world, only appearing on breed lists by the mid-1900s. Although the most Perendales have their home in New Zealand, this breed has its roots in some old English breeds.
Having first been introduced to New Zealand in the mid-1800s, Romney sheep were the predominant breed of sheep on the steep hills of the North Island of New Zealand for many years. However, these Romneys began to stray from breed standards over time, which resulted in a decline of lambing percentages and an overall lack of vigor. While Romneys originally thrived on the native English grasses that had been sowed on virgin New Zealand soil, over time this soil became exhausted and the pastures reverted to native grasses, bushes, and weeds. Concerned at the declining quality of their sheep, by the late 1930s farmers began to experiment by crossbreeding the North Island Romneys with Cheviot, a breed from northern England/southern Scotland, to improve fertility and foraging capability. This crossbreeding laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the Perendale.
Enter Geoffrey Peren, born near London in 1892. At the tender age of 14, Peren was already making the decision to begin his career in agriculture. Although he originally held dreams of joining the Navy, his family finances did not allow for that career path. Taking stock of his options, teenage Peren decided to move to Canada to work on a farm in southern Ontario, which was followed by a stint in British Columbia as a teamster and an orchard worker. Having become enamored with the agricultural sciences and keen to advance himself, he applied for and won a scholarship to the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph, obtaining his B.S. in agriculture. By the time he graduated WWI had started and, still desiring to serve in the military, Peren made the decision to join the Canadian Field Artillery. Peren served with distinction in France and on the Western Front, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Star, and was recommended for the Military Cross.
After WWI, Peren returned to England where he spent a brief period as an assistant at the Ministry of Agriculture before moving on to become a lecturer at the University of Bristol. But in 1924, recently married and looking to start a new life, he applied for the chair of agriculture position at Victoria University College in New Zealand. Receiving the position, he moved to New Zealand, the country he would call home for the rest of his life.
Excited to contribute to the improvement of agriculture in his new nation, and no doubt also eager to prove himself in his field, Peren began to take an active role in developing what would eventually become Massey Agricultural College in the North Island, later to become Massey University. The farmers of the North Island had been interested in establishing an agricultural college since the early 1900s, but it was not until Geoffrey Peren and William Riddet, a professor at Auckland University College, became involved that it became a reality. Funds were raised, land was purchased, and Massey Agricultural College was established in 1927, with Geoffrey Peren appointed as its principal.
During the remainder of the 1920s and through the 1930s, Massey Agricultural College continued to grow under Peren’s leadership. He continued his role at Massey Agricultural College through WWII, while also serving New Zealand on the home front as the commander for the 2nd Infantry Brigade Group and the 4th New Zealand Division. During this period Massey Agricultural College struggled – enrollment was down due to WWII. After WWII ended, though, enrollment boomed. The college opened their doors to women, created new courses for people who had served during WWII, and by the 1950s, students from Asian countries began to attend. It was during this heady period of growth that Peren and his colleagues at Massey Agricultural College began to consider creating a new breed of sheep.
By the mid-1950s, the continuing decline in both soil quality and the hardiness of the Romneys on the steep hills on the North Island meant that something had to be done; Peren and Massey Agricultural College were confident that they were up to the task. Like many people employed in agriculture in New Zealand at that time, Peren and his colleagues wanted New Zealand to continue to be a steady provider of food for the people of the British Commonwealth; New Zealand had already been a major supplier of frozen mutton and lamb for several decades prior to the 1950s. Additionally, there was a kind of a cultural identity among livestock farmers in New Zealand that encouraged agricultural innovation and that embraced the idea that steady progress and improvement in agriculture could be made through experimentation and breeding.
With this cultural mandate in mind, Peren and his colleagues at Massey Agricultural College began to develop a sheep that could specifically meet the challenges of the North Island. The new breed had to be hardy enough to live on the steep hills of the North Island with its heavy rain and cool temperatures, it had to be active and able to forage over broad distances to thrive on less than ideal pasture due to the sparse shrubs, native grasses and weeds that had sprung up due to declining soil quality, and most importantly, it had to be a dual-breed sheep capable of providing both quality meat and wool. Observing that farmers on the North Island had already been experimenting by crossing Cheviot and Romneys, Peren decided to take it a step further. Using the most recent of breeding science and the highly organized structure of academic research, Peren oversaw the crosses of high-quality Romney and Cheviot in 1956 which produced the sheep named after him – the Perendale. Just a few short years later in 1959, the Perendale Sheep Society was formed to advance this new breed, which still thrives to this day.
in the hills of the North Island have declined somewhat from the mid-1900s – like much of the world, New Zealand has gradually had more and more of its population move to urban centers. Even so, sheep farming remains alive and well, and is an important part of New Zealand identity; New Zealand it quite well known the world over for its sheep. Among the breeds still popular among farmers in New Zealand, Perendale sheep remain a favorite with an estimated population of over 6 million. Perendales can also be found in other parts of the world among shepherds seeking a hardy sheep for areas with high rainfall and cooler weather.
Perendale wool is a very popular, all-purpose type of wool. With a fiber diameter between 28-32 microns, it is firmly in the medium range of wools. It has significant loft and a good amount of spring due to its spiral crimp, along with a staple length between 3-5 inches. If you are looking to spin a yarn with great loft, felt up a project that will be nice and springy, weave a rug that will have a great feel, or just knit or crochet up nice thick and bouncy sweater, Perendale is the fiber for you.
Ready to try out some Perendale for your next project? Check out our Perendale top and other wools on our website!