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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CVM - The Sheep With a Sci-Fi Name

California Variegated Mutant. It sounds like a good topic for an episode of X-Files. In reality it is a rare breed of sheep that originated right here in America. Here's the story.

Around the turn of the 20th century a California rancher named A.T. Spencer started cross-breeding Romneys and Rambouillets. He wanted to develop a breed of sheep that had long, fine wool for the wool market, and a hefty, fast-growing, hardy body for the meat market. He wanted ewes that only gave birth to twins and didn't have difficulty giving birth, and rams that were vigorous, enthusiastic breeders. From this crossing, and subsequent selective breeding, the Romeldale Sheep was developed.

Fast forward fifty years. In the 1960's, rancher Glen Eldman found a single multi-colored ewe lamb in his purebred Romeldale flock. Instead of culling her, he kept her. Two years later a multi-colored ram was born. Eldman got ideas.

Over the next fifteen years Eldman bred the mutant sheep and found that the color patterns stayed consistent. He selected for the spinnability of the fleece, twinning, and lambing ease. He eventually registered the breed under its new name: The California Variegated Mutant Romeldale.

In 1982 the flock was dispersed. Some ranchers bought CVMs and kept the bloodlines pure, others used the CVMs to breed with other sheep to improve the stock. In 1990 the breed was put on the "critical" list, with fewer than 200 purebreed registrations per year and a total of only 2000 purebred animals in existence.

CVM fleeces are highly sought-after by spinners. The wool is soft (64 ct is not unusual) and comes in a rainbow of sheep colors - red, brown, black, spotted. CVM Sheep typically have a "badger face" as shown in the photo above.

Last year I had a farmer send me samples of CVM fleeces she had just skirted. By the time I got the samples, washed them, and decided that I definitely wanted the black one, the brown one...they were sold. If you can get a CVM fleece, don't hesitate!

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