Cyril Lieschke

Cyril had a life-long passion for naturally coloured sheep.

From the age of 13 he managed to save any coloured lambs from his father’s white flock. When he lost his entire small flock in a storm in 1967 Cyril set about replacing his black sheep by travelling from South Australia to Queensland seeking and purchasing coloured sheep at various sheep sales.

By 1997 Cyril had 1800 sheep on Cora Lynn at Henty and was the largest breeder of black sheep in the world.

Most of the wool was sold to hand spinners. In view of the Australian Wool Board’s intolerance of coloured wool, farmers who breed it have no option but to market their product on their own. So in 1971 Cyril undertook the first of 6 overseas trips to market his coloured fleeces directly to hand spinners. These trips were mainly to the U.S.A. and Canada (his biggest markets) but also included 3 visits each to Scandinavia, U.K. and the Middle East and one trip to China and Japan.

When Cyril went on his overseas trips the itinerary was always carefully planned. On each occasion he conducted lecture/workshops at spinning guilds. These tours proved to be sell-outs. By 1997 he had clients in 41 countries. As well as the more conventional uses, his wool was used for doll’s wigs, Santa beards and habits for Italian nuns.

Ninety per cent of all orders came from overseas and this involved Cyril in a lot of work. He survived on as little as 4 hours sleep a night and most nights wrote letters until 2.00am to accompany fleeces packaged up earlier that afternoon, or to send out staples of his range of fleeces in response to particular requests.

The big appeal Cyril’s business had for spinners was the variety of fleeces he could offer. These ranged from very fine (19 micron) to rug wools (40 micron). The breeds he carried included Merino, Polwarth, Bond, Corriedale, Border Leicester, Tukidale and a small number of Romney and Lincoln. At breeding time, Cyril separated the ewes into 13 different paddocks for joining, to cater for the wide range of requests for different spinning needs.

Softness and cleanliness proved to be the greatest selling points, especially in the American market. In order to maintain the quality of his product Cyril classed all his own fleeces. He was particularly careful with skirting and therefore only hired one shearer for the season; otherwise he would not have been able to keep up. Each fleece was individually labelled and stored in the shearing shed. At any one time, 300 fleeces were on display in the warehouse.

Cyril was a member of the organising committee for the Fifth World Congress for breeders of coloured sheep in Geelong in 1999. The congress is held every 5 years and the Henty farmer was one of only 13 breeders in the world to have been to every congress.

Always ready to follow a new trend, from 1981 Cyril had been breeding Moorit sheep that produced the lovely chocolate brown fleeces sought after by hand spinners. Then from the year 2000 he selectively bred sheep for spotted fleeces and skins. By 2004 he had 37 sheep producing spotted fleeces.

Cyril loved his coloured sheep. He generously gave his expertise to members of North East Yarns and gained much pleasure from the friendships he made through selling his fleeces.