Color Changing Lambs

I’m often asked about Tunis wool.  Is it soft?  What projects are it good for?  Why do lambs have different colored wool than adults?

Tunis wool is a fine to medium, down-type wool with lots of loft.  If you’re not familiar with wool or fiber terms this means Tunis wool is soft and bouncy and makes light and springy yarn which is great for a variety of projects.

Explaining the lambs’ coloring isn’t as simple.

Tunis lambs are born with a short layer of cream-colored wool over their torsos and necks and light to dark cinnamon colored hair on their legs, heads and tails.  Intermixed in the wool are longer kemp fibers (think guard hairs) that can sometimes completely hide the wool.  The amount of kemp fibers can vary between lambs, just as the cinnamon shade can.  Below are twin lambs.  Notice how one is much darker and also has more kemp fibers covering his wool.

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twin Tunis lambs

Over their first few months lambs appear to change from cinnamon to the lighter cream color of their parents.  Their color doesn’t actually fade during this time.  Their wool grows longer, though the kemp, but they also begin to shed much of those longer, darker kemp fibers.

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close-up of a kemp fiber

You can see this in the photo below of a 6 week old lamb.  The kemp fibers are longer and becoming more sparse overall.

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close up of Tunis lamb

By the time Tunis lambs are 3-4 months old they have the typical coloring associated with the adults.  As Tunis sheep age their wool does lighten slightly.  Their first fleece is usually a beautiful cream color and each year it will become whiter, although Tunis wool doesn’t ever become pure white.

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Jack at 1 year old, before first shearing

You can see the differences in color in the photo below.  The two shorn ewes are 5 years old in this photo, the smaller lambs are all up to 8 weeks old and the larger lamb on the far right is 4 months old.

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And that is the not so simple explanation of why Tunis lambs seem to change color.  Hope you enjoyed it!