Victorian farmer Cheryl Crosbie believes she is Australia’s only breeder of Gotland sheep. The curly fleece yields a wonderfully soft yarn that is world-renowned by spinners and felters.

When Cheryl Crosbie announced she was retiring after a long career as a nurse many of her colleagues confidently predicted she would be back on the ward before the year was out. What they didn’t know was that Cheryl had meticulously planned the next stage of her life and going back to the wards has never even crossed her mind.

Cheryl has lived most of her life in the Strathbogie Ranges of central Victoria. She grew up on a sheep farm and as a youngster earned pocket money by working in shearing sheds around the district. Then she went nursing and pretty much put her farm life behind her. However, she always loved the great outdoors and took the first step towards her post-nursing life began when she and her husband, Warren, bought a 300-acre lifestyle block.

“I was always a keen bush walker,” she explains. “So having our very own property to explore was very exciting. I’d heard about training llamas to trek some years previously, so I bought some and started training them to carry a pack. Basically, it’s a great way of trekking without the walkers having to carry packs and other camping paraphernalia.”

Because llamas grow long hair and need to be shorn annually, Cheryl suddenly found she had loads of llama fibre to offload. “The yarn is popular with spinners,” she explains. “So I taught myself to spin and suddenly found myself involved in a whole new creative world of spinning and crafting with the yarn.”

Meanwhile, Cheryl and Warren, who owned a small earth moving business in Euroa, cast around for a means of generating an income with minimal impact on their land. “I found out about Gotland sheep from the spinners’ network,” she recalls. “They are a breed developed from the Gutes, the native landrace of the Swedish island of Gotland, which is in the Baltic Sea. Their fleece is lustrous and soft and comes in all shades of grey from silver and charcoal to almost black. Merino breeders say you have to have a low micron for a soft handle, but Gotland can go to 20 to 30 microns and still be beautifully soft and that’s what’s attractive to spinners. The clearly defined even curl, which is called the purl, is a distinctive hallmark and that also makes the pelts attractive.”

The full story was originally published in the March/ April 2016 issue of Australian Country. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass