Rambouillet & Lincoln = Columbia
The Columbia sheep is an all-American breed, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture back in the early 1900s. It is generally regarded as one of the first breeds to be developed in the United States.
Rams from long wool breeds were crossed with top quality Rambouillet ewes. The result required was large ewes that would yield heavy wool fleeces and raise heavy lambs. The most promising of the crosses was the Lincoln-Rambouillet. The Lincoln was well known for its long, coarse fleece and the Rambouillet were large white sheep with fine wool and good maternal instincts. The Rambouillet came to the US from France in the mid 1800s.
Lincoln rams were put over Rambouillet ewes producing one of the largest of the crossbred wool breeds. Other crossbreds such as the Corriedale, Targhee and Panama are not as large as the Columbia.
This line was maintained by the Bureau of Animal Industry and, through intensive breeding and selection, a superior crossbred line was 'set' – a true strain which bred true to the high quality characteristics exhibited by the best of both parent breeds.
The first experimentations were carried out at Laramie, Wyoming in 1912 with the flock moving to the Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho, in 1918. The original idea was to produce a sheep breed that would do well under the dry conditions of the western ranges. However interest in the new breed was such that sheep breeders tried them on the lush pastures of all parts of the compass. They are suited to a variety of pastures and flock management systems. Columbia ewes are sometimes put to Suffolk or Hampshire rams to produce fast maturing, meaty prime lambs. Although originally a crossbred itself, the Columbia is now a parent breed, together with the Cheviot, of the dual purpose Montadale breed.
The Columbia is a large sheep with an upstanding stance and legs squarely placed. As adults, rams weigh between 225 and 300 pounds and females between 150 and 225 pounds. Ewes give a fleece weighing between 10 and 16 pounds with a staple length ranging from 3.5 to 5 inches. The wool is classified as medium and has a numeric count of 50s to 60s.
The Columbia is a polled breed and the white face should be open and free of wool, covered instead with short white hair. The ears are moderately long and also covered with white hair although there may be occasional black spots on the ears and the nose. The neck should be free of wrinkles and neatly attached to wide, meaty shoulders. The chest is wide and deep with ample width between the forelegs. The back is long and wide, leading to a long, wide rump with the tail set high. Well sprung ribs give plenty of room for bearing lambs. The thighs are thickly muscled and the legs heavily boned. Hooves may be white or black.
The fleece should be dense with a long staple of uniform fibre from shoulder to thigh and carrying a heavy yield of clean wool to the underline.
The most important features of the breed are the absence of horns or scurs (small horns) and poor quality or coloured wool. Wool blindness (wool over the eyes) is also a serious fault.
The formation of the Columbia Sheep Breeders Association of America in 1941 saw the establishment of a breed standard. Purebreds were registered and great efforts made to improve the breed. Today the Columbia is popular at shows throughout the States.