May 25, 2023

Tasmanian farming couple turn their cormo sheep's fleece into family keepsakes at Launceston mill

When it comes to giving gifts, what's the most you've spent? Does $16,000 sound a bit extravagant?

That's what Tasmanian farmers Mandy and Carl Cooper have forked out to get their wool made into blankets for family and friends.

The semi-retired pharmacists run a small farm at Rowella, in the Tamar Valley, with farming now their main occupation.

Mandy reckons a lot of great ideas were born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their keepsake project was one of them.

"We had a lot of time to think, so we went okay, this will be our COVID project," she said.

Their fleece is from a flock of cormo sheep, raised on their property alongside cattle.

Cormos are a breed developed in Tasmania's Central Highlands, a cross between the superfine saxon merino and a corriedale.

The Coopers kept two bales of wool from market, and took it across Bass Strait to Victoria to get it cleaned, combed and straightened.

They were left with 250 kilograms of soft ropes of fibre, known as tops.

The pair then approached Waverley Woollen Mills in Launceston to turn the fibre into blankets.

It's Australia's last remaining fully operational mill and turns 150 next year.

Waverley chief executive Dave Giles-Kaye said it was a unique project.

"We've learnt a lot in the process, " he said.

"We ended up taking their fibre, spinning it into a beautiful boucle yarn.

"We dyed it, weaved it, finished it and turned it into these beautiful blankets."

Mr Giles-Kaye said the business wanted to reconnect with local woolgrowers as part of its multi-million dollar facelift.

"Tasmanian wool has been produced into traceable textiles before," he said.

"But it always has to go overseas to get spun or woven.

"We can do all of that in Tassie and it's a unique opportunity to work with the farmers."

It's not a cheap exercise to get wool processed in Australia, but the Coopers were willing to overlook that to get the project off the ground.

"Our wool at the time was worth $9.60 a kilogram, " Ms Cooper said.

"All of the processing cost us nearly $16,000.

"So it was a cost of $64 a kilo for us."

But they didn't take on the project to make money.

"We did it to give our kids, grandkids and people close to us something that came from these cormo sheep, which was uniquely Tasmanian and uniquely Australian," she said.