Romeldale / CVM

The Romeldale is an American fine wool breed, and the California Variegated Mutant, or CVM, is its multi-colored derivative. Both the CVM and the Romeldale are unique to the United States and are endangered.

The Romeldale was developed in California by A. T. Spencer in the early 1900s. Spencer purchased the entire contingent of New Zealand Romney rams that were exhibited at the 1915 Pan American Exposition in San Francisco. He bred these rams to his Rambouillet ewes, with the goal of improving both the meat and wool qualities of his stock.

This group of Romney-Rambouillet crosses were bred for several years and selected for both wool and meat quality. They became known as Romeldales. Much of the establishment of the Romeldale breed was accomplished by the J. K. Sexton family during the 1940s and 1950s Soft-handling wool was also a priority, as was fleece weight (ten to fifteen pounds) with a grade of 60s to 64s. The wool of the Sexton flocks was so highly regarded that for many years the entire clip was sold to Pendleton Mills.

During the 1960s, colored lambs appeared in the Romeldale breed. Glen Eidman, a partner of the Sextons, became interested in these sheep and linebred them for several generations, further selecting for fleece quality. He referred to this group of sheep as California Variegated Mutants, usually shortened to CVM.

Romeldale sheep are white, but the classic color pattern of the CVM is the badger-face, a light body with a dark belly and dark head. This pattern creates a range of shades of color on a single fleece. Selection has increased the range of colors to include gray, black, brown, and moorit. Fleece colors darken during maturation rather than fading as the sheep ages. The CVM and Romeldale sheep have never been numerous, and today they are quite rare. The breed's fleece quality and performance characteristics, however, make them useful for many production systems and valuable to handspinners and other fiber artists.


Sheep have lived on the Shetland Islands for well over 1,000 years, adapting to the harsh environment and thriving in the cold, wet climate. The sheep of Shetland were an important par of subsistence agriculture of the islands, and the rugged habitat and geographical isolation produced a breed that is distinct and significant.

The Shetland breed likely descends from ancient Scandinavian sheep, and it is a member of the northern short tailed sheep breed family. Historically, only a few Shetland sheep were exported, and it was not until recently that large populations were established on the British mainland and in other countries. Though fleece continues to be the breed's primary product today, Shetlands in Britain are also finding a commercial niche for crossing with Cheviots and other breeds to produce market lambs.

Shetland sheep are fine boned and small in size. Rams weigh 90-125 pounds, and ewes weigh 75-100 pounds. Most rams have spiraled horns, while most ewes are polled. Shetland sheep are calm and charming in disposition, docile, and intelligent. The breed is considered "recovering" on the endangered breeds listing.

The Shetland breed is especially prized for its wool, which is fine, soft, and strong. Fleeces average two to four pounds and vary in crimp from wavy to straight. Other characteristics of the fleece vary according to recent selection history. Populations of Shetlands in Britain, for example, have been selected for more standardized characteristics. These sheep tend to be single coated with fiber diameter averages of 23 microns and staple lengths of two to five inches. Landrace populations, such as those on the island of Foula, include a greater range of fleece types. These sheep may be double coated, with coarser outer wool of 30-40 microns and finer inner coat wool of 12-20 microns. Eleven colors and thirty color patterns are recognized in the Shetland breed. This diversity is a great asset both to the breed and to the fiber artisans who enjoy using its fleeces.