Kainuun harmas, Kainuu Grey

Kainuu Grey. Photo used with permission from Aholan Lammastila

Kainuu Grey. Photo used with permission from Aholan Lammastila

Kainuu Grey, Kainuun harmas in Finnish, is one of the very sparse Finnish sheep breeds. It was considered to be a variety of Finnsheep until quite recently, but is now a recognized breed. It’s originally a dual purpose sheep that produced pelt for clothing, and meat. Nowadays it’s mostly a wool and meat sheep, as furs are not used to the same extension as before. The lambs are born black, and turn into various shades of grey when they grow older. The legs are black. I think the breed will develop into a more defined wool producer over time, as clothes made from sheep fur are seldom used any more. Some of the Kainuu Grey fleece’s I’ve spun have the tight curls that are wanted in fur sheep, whereas some are clearly more like the wools we want in spun yarns.

But as with most breeds nowadays, meat is the main product. How that will effect the breed is difficult for me to say. Many of the farmers that breed Kainuu Grey want to preserve the breed, which means bringing in big meat breads in the breeding program is not an option. A spinning friend in Wales said that moving a breed from lands with meager food to a region with better feedstuff will make the animals bigger and they produce bigger carcases, which of course sounds very plausible. The landscape in Kainuu is pretty well suited for livestock, but too far north for growing grains. In Scandinavia cattle was traditionally kept on better grounds, sheep could take what was left. Nowadays most of the sheep farms are farther south, and they are often on good lands. All sheep breeds in Finland have become bigger during the last 100 years. My guess is that over time Kainuu Grey with soft, Finnsheep-like wool will be used in breeding rather than the fur types. Right now the farmers mostly try to make the breed survive. There were not so many left when Kainuu Grey was saved at the last moment.

The first time I came in contact with Kainuu Grey it was in the form of a skin. I fell in love with the beauty of it: silvery grey at the sides with darker, tight curls at the back. It felt lovely, my hands loved it also! At that time I had no thoughts of spinning Kainuu Grey. Later, when I heard yarn was being made from the wool, I thought it wouldn’t be very nice, that it would be prickly. But something has happened, and I believe it’s a result of the furs not being used, and because all animals that are of any value for the breed have to be kept alive and in the breeding program so they are not slaughtered if not necessary. The Kainuu Grey I now come in contact with is often soft and nice, a joy to work with for a spinner who likes short wools.

Dark grey Kainuu Grey

Dark grey Kainuu Grey

I bought the fleeces from Aholan lammastila, one of the few that breed this sheep. It was good wool, no VM, but it was very dirty (it had been a rainy autumn). I had dark and light grey fleece, that I combed and rolled into faux rolags.

Wool combs: Valkyrie fine

Wool combs: Valkyrie fine

Louet extra fine carders

Louet extra fine carders

Faux rolags

Faux rolags

Now why on earth did I do that? The wool is short, and could easily have been carded into real rolags for soft woolen yarns. Because I almost destroyed the fleece when scouring! It felted, and carding was a pest. For several months I attempted thorough teasing by hand, flickring, beating, but nothing made me happy. So one day I took my Valkyrie combs designed for short, fine wool and made a test: it worked! I lost pretty much valuable fleece in the combing process, but on the other hand I saved some for really nice semi-woollen yarns.

The rolags drafted like a dream. Spinning woolen was was a joy, so I chose a long against twist / double draw. I’m quite happy with the result.

Kainuu Grey. 2- and 3-ply, light and dark grey

Kainuu Grey. 2- and 3-ply, light and dark grey

Light grey:

90 grams, 214 meters: 2-ply
160 grams, 470 meters: 3-ply
Dark grey:
130 grams, 360 meters: 3-ply
40 grams, 117 meters: 2-ply
Kainuu Grey is suitable for everything. Sweaters, hats, mittens, knitted and woven scarves and shawls, and socks if you blend with silk for strength, and woven cloth. When combed and spun worsted it makes a very strong yarn. The darker shades can be a bit prickly, which is typical to natural colored wools. The black lamb’s wool is soft and not suitable for socks, but makes lovely yarn for hats and scarves.
When browsing today I found two shops on Etsy where you can buy Kainuu Grey: Woolgrey and Mielitty, but there may occasionally be a few more. As it’s a rare breed and almost unknown everywhere else except in Finland, it’s not easy to find fleece and yarns if you don’t speak Finnish. There are a few farmers that sell fleece and yarns: Villa LaurilaHerrakunnan Lammas, Noittaan Tila, and Aholan Lammastila (link above). The wool and yarns take dyes beautifully. If you’re looking for fleece you should do it the next few weeks, as they usually sell out pretty fast after the autumn shearing.
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2 comments

  1. Jody

    Born black and turn various shades of grey just like the Gotlands 🙂 In our flock of Finns and GotlandX we have such a variety of those grey genetics.
    Lovely yarns, perfectly spun.

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