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Raising sheep only for wool  RSS feed

 
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Besides added value to the wool (felt, yarn, etc.), the wool itself can come from rare breed sheep where the breed itself makes the wool more valuable. Shetland sheep owners, for example, have sold fleece to handspinners for $10 to $15 per pound. But these small sheep produce less wool and there is much labor in keeping the wool clean enough to get premium prices. And then there's finding the right markets. One could work backwards -- first find a unique rare market of the wealthy, such as affluent people who will actually travel overseas to "meet" the sheep from which they will eventually get wool (yes, those kind of people do exist), then they'll hire an exclusive handspinner and weaver or knitter to make them an original shawl. Or, because Shetland wool comes in a variety of natural colors and most feel it's soft enough to wear next to the skin, hunt down well-to-do athletes who want breathable athletic socks or undergarments made from natural fibers. In other words, find out what the affluent want, then cater exclusively just to these folks, selling directly to them.

Although that makes for an unpredictable market if your few customers go elsewhere or lose interest, the "wool-pool" wholesale market is hardly something that could be counted on to offer steady livable income.
 
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David Livingston wrote:I remember many years ago being advised to buy special socks made in Norway that were made from wool that still contained lanolin . So is it's removal that important ?
Just a thought for a value added product



Every spinner has different preferences as far as how much lanolin to leave in.  I like how a greasy fleece keeps my hands soft but too much lanolin is difficult for me to spin. A friend of mine always spins 'in the grease' and washes the skeins before selling the yarn.

My post above was about the question of salvaging some lanolin in order to add value to raising a sheep for wool.  Usually when washing a fleece to spin I use a bit of soap and hot water and that cuts through/dissolves the grease so there's nothing to salvage.

I think the lanolin would gradually wash out of the socks unless you only washed in cold water?  Our little wether sheep's lanolin smelled a little 'boyish' and I had to thoroughly wash his fleece.  I wish I had tried to recover some lanolin from the girl's fleece though.
 
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raven ranson wrote:It's neat having someone from Australia join the conversation.  Pat Coleby did most of her work there and had great success preventing many of those problems with mineral management.  I wonder if any of her work still lives on in the farms there. 



Pat Coleby is living strong on our farm now, but I have no idea if the minerals were used back in the wool days. I suspect not. It's certainly another interesting morsel to add to the conversation.

One thing I do know is that our soil is stupidly high in copper. We don't add it to our mineral lick offerings (we used to, but the animals never touched it, and soil testing told us why).

Careful rotation keeps our sheep from getting internal parasite problems, and the flies don't seem to bother hair sheep in the slightest. Now I wonder how many of the wool sheep problems could have been reduced if they were on mineral lick?
 
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My understanding of copper toxicity in sheep is, that it depends upon what other minerals are in the soil as well. I know zinc is one such compound. I know anywhere above 8-12 ppm on copper and it is in the lethal range. My sheep, based on testing of manure is in the 4 PPM range. Now my soil is high in zinc, so my sheep might be able to handle a higher toxicity to copper, or they might not. Same with molybdenum, that changes the toxicity of sheep.

I cannot say what the numbers are, or if this is x amount, then your sheep can tolerate 2 more ppm; but what I am trying to show is, this is why some farms, some sheep and some micro-locations can have higher amounts of copper before it kills the sheep. Could some breeds be more tolerant? Perhaps...but it could be just a coincidence that Montadales had 10 ppm on copper and did not die.

I don't have all those answers, but that is my understanding of how it works. Mine are around 4 ppm, get sheep grain and get loose mineral mix; the latter two only in the winter though.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have a few wool breed type sheep; Blue Leicesters, but don't wait for me to sing their praises as it might be awhile...if ever. I am not very proud of them. Now maybe it is because of genetic junk, but they have been terrible. I am not talking about failure to put on weight, I am talking about just giving up one day, falling down and dying. Lots of them! That sucked. I had autopsies done and they came back clean, just failure to thrive, keystosis and death.

One interesting tidbit one of the last remaining Blue Leicesters is that they prefer to graze wet lands. I mean wetland type grass. My other meat type sheep stay well clear of it, but for whatever reason they gravitate towards that type of grass. Strange...
 
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Judith Browning wrote:

do you have any more details on how to extract lanolin. You mention boiling? Is there more to it than just boiling, or can it be extracted effectively by just boiling? Thank you so much!



Nicole, I got curious about this and ran across a short video....apparently bringing the wool to a boil is the main part of the initial process.  From my experience with natural dyes I'm fairly certain that this won't necessarily hurt the wool as long as it's done slowly up to temperature (maybe a slow simmer rather than a rolling boil?) and not agitated or suddenly immersed in cold water.  This video makes it look fairly simple and I love the stove used. There was no mention of cleaning the lanolin/wool wax/wool grease after skimming off....Maybe would need remelting and straining at least?  I think it looks completely possible on a small scale.

I might try this with the last bit of unwashed fleece that I have and see if I still like it to spin after that.  I really enjoy spinning wool with some lanolin left in and this might make it too dry.


edit
to add a bit of info from another site... http://www.pbs.org/weta/roughscience/series3/shakers/handcream.html

To extract the lanolin from unwashed wool you boil the wool in water for a few hours, adding salt to improve the yield of lanolin. Next, you reduce the solution by boiling off most of the water. After you filter any undissolved solid material from the hot solution and let it cool, you should be left with a pale-yellow waxy solid floating on the surface of the water. This is impure lanolin. You can purify it, as we did on the show, by taking the crude lanolin and shaking it with a mixture of olive oil and water. The impurities will dissolve into the water and the oil, leaving you with a solid layer of off-white, waxy 'purified' lanolin suspended between the oil and water.


I wonder at the way they suggest 'purifying' the lanolin....now I really want to try this.
On rereading this I think it wouldn't damage the wool either.....at first I thought they were suggesting reducing while the wool was still in the vat....not sure the salt would be necessary? especially if we wanted some lanolin left in the fleece.

http://queenbeefibers.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-to-seperate-lanolin-from-wool.html

Step one- Fill a large pot with hot water (pot should be large enough to fit your wool)

Step two- Put the raw wool in a laundry bag and place in pot

Step three- Add salt (1-3 tablespoons)

Step four- Bring water to a steady boil for a few hours. Do not leave wool unattended. Add water as needed.

Step five- Remove wool from water and place in a container to dry. (Water is very hot so do this with gloves and tongs)

Step six- Continue to boil water until it all evaporates. What is left is the lanolin!

Step seven- Pour the leftover lanolin though cheese cloth or muslin. This will remove dirt and debris.

Step eight- Allow lanolin to cool then jar!




OooOOOOoooooh thank you for this!!! (This also proves I need to watch the Edwardian Farm series. I've seen the Wartime Farm and Tudor Monestary Farm, as well as Tales of the Green Valley, but not the Edwardian or Victorian ones. Now I can see that I need to!)

If anyone has access to sheep and their wool and ends up making some lanolin, I'd love to buy some! It'll likely be years before I actually am able to invest time in the fiber arts beyond knitting/felting with wool other's have made, but if anyone else extracts some lanolin and has enough to share, I will happily pay you for some!
 
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Hi Travis
I know farmers who keep Blue faces in the UK and the reason is that crossed with the hardier but smaller Hill Breeds you get a much bigger lamb so in effect they mostly keep Rams , who have a comfortable life style . I dont think there are many dry parts in the uplands of the UK .

David
 
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Larger breeds like Blue Face Leicester and Texel and Kerry Hill (which were great as they had the body of a large upland sheep but the fleece of a downland, with no kemp) were often used as rams to cross with the local welsh breeds.  We thought we'd be clever and raise only pure Kerry Hill so we had a market for the ram lambs.  We tried to do it without vaccinations and let nature select the strongest genes.  We gave up the year we lost every single lamb. 

We also had a joke about pure Texel rams being hell bent on dying as they seemed to keel over the moment you turned your back on them.
 
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Also thinking about it, the Blue Face was always kept 'inbye ' that is in the fields close to the farm
 
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Is removing lanolin so important?

Yes and no.

I like keeping some lanolin in if I'm keeping the wool the natural colour.  It's easier on my hands.

Lanolin helps traps the dirt in the wool, which makes it more difficult to work with.  When working with the wool by hand, we often leave some lanolin in (mostly because it's difficult to get the water hot enough).  If we want to dye the wool, we need to get most if not all of it out or it will prevent the colour from affixing to the fibre.

For machines, it's a different story.  The lanolin needs to go as it can gum things up and wear them out.  Depending on what machines and what scale, the lanolin is washed out (either with heat or chemical process), then carding oil (often poly-popoline-glycol - I'm not spelling that right similar) is added to the wool. 

Whereas smaller mills and wool prepared for crafters don't have many (if any) chemicals added, in the larger scale industrial processing of wool, there can be quite a bit of chemical.   For example, removal of the lanolin and veggie matter (hay) can be done with heat and/or chemicals.  To make it machine washable, it may go through another process that may use harsh chemicals to strip the scales off the fibre.  Then oil is added to the wool to card it, more for spinning, dye and post dye treatment, sizing is added to the yarn so it can be knit or woven by machine, and then some countries require fabric is treated with fire retardant (even if wool is naturally fire retardant).  Add to this that the wool is often shipped from one factory to another for each part of the processing... well you get the idea. 

My theory is that most people who are 'allergic' to wool are not.  They are allergic to the processing process.  Some of these chemicals can irritate the skin so now wool has a bad reputation.  In my experience, maybe 10% of people who feel they are allergic to wool actually experience symptoms when the wool is processed by hand.  The rest exclaim how amazed they are that this wool isn't bothering them and a few get quite angry and accuse me of lying "This isn't wool, I'm allergic to wool and I'm not allergic to this, stop lying, it's not wool!"

There are ways to leave the lanolin in the wool, but on a large scale, it is inconvenient.  This is an opportunity for smaller scale processors to fill a niche market because they can do this so much better than the big guys.  A rather large niche market.
 
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I did some YouTube Video watching which is another way of saying I am extremely dangerous now and still completely stupid on the subject, but I do have some experience and history to share...more in the form of questioning then in any authoritative way.

I am wondering if the water does have to be brought to a boil? I say that because when shearing, it is my job to run the spare clippers to the house and run them under hot water and clean the accumulated lanolin off the shears so that my sheep shearer can keep on churning through sheep. In this case the lanolin is stripped of the shear blades, yet my water heater is set for only 120 degree water to prevent the kids from getting scalded. It is not close to boiling, yet it makes lanolin "melt" so to speak.

Another thought I had was an idea my Great Uncle (Erastus Johnson) had way back in the 1870's. He was working in the oil industry setting up his own refinery and found out that if he boiled traditional petroleum grease in a vacuum, it became, tasteless and odorless. Today we still find his invention in almost every bathroom medicine cabinet; petroleum jelly or as one brand name is: Vaseline. I wonder if lanolin could not be cleaned organically in the same way, by boiling the lanolin itself to purify it?

 
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In watching other videos; everything from micro-carding machines, to high speed wool production, I noted a lot of homemade machines that used plywood and wood for simple parts. A lot seemed super small, or high speed factory, but I can see where with a bit of design work, a decent automated process could be cobbled together so that a farm could produce its own clean wool at the very least inexpensively, and maybe even woolen yarn. I have yet to put anything down on paper as an eventual plan for my farm, as I have A LOT more researching to do before I start designing equipment, a wool barn, and how everything would flow, but it could work. In the interest of this thread, it MIGHT make wool-only sheep farming possible, but it would probably be a 100 sheep plus farm.

Now there are low interest loans and even grants for this kind of thing in the USA. They are called "Value-Added Products for Farms" and have real appeal to the government and institutions giving them because it not only makes small and mid-sized farms viable, it makes them profitable with retail prices, which often means sales taxes too.  I have got my share of loans, grants and subsidies for wool for sure, but I have not got any Value-Added grants for my farm, so I am not very well versed in that.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:  Now there are low interest loans and even grants for this kind of thing in the USA. They are called "Value-Added Products for Farms" and have real appeal to the government and institutions giving them because it not only makes small and mid-sized farms viable, it makes them profitable with retail prices, which often means sales taxes too.  I have got my share of loans, grants and subsidies for wool for sure, but I have not got any Value-Added grants for my farm, so I am not very well versed in that.




There were wonderful Value-Added Grants promoted in part by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (USA). Here's a link to the description in 2016 http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/44-million-vapg/ Because ag money has since been restructured, I'm not sure about 2017.
 
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There is another process called "spinning in the grease".  Sometimes this is done with raw wool, but often the wool is left out in the rain for a few days to wash away the suint* and much of the dirt.  The wool is then processed and spun in the grease, and only after it is yarn, is the lanolin washed out.  We may remove all or just some of the lanolin, depending on the desired finish.  This creates a different yarn than spinning clean wool which has it's charm to be sure. 

The wool needs to be spun warm and within a few months of sheering because the wool may start to get tacky.  The texture of the wool prepared this way is lovely and it's splendidly nice on the hands.  I like this yarn for outerwear as it fairly water repellent.

I don't like the process as much as regular spinning because the lanolin makes my tools sticky which makes them attract dirt and grit which is almost impossible to get out.  It also clogs up the orifice of my spinning wheel when I've done a lot of it.  I think if the wool was combed instead of carded, this would be easier. 


*a water-soluble substance found in the fleece of sheep, consisting of peptides, organic acids, metal ions, and inorganic cations and formed from dried perspiration. (aka, sheep sweat)
 
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Hi I'm a weaver. Recently stared weaving rugs from raw fleece. The fleece is not washed before weaving, just lightly hand carded. Afterwards I wash the rug in a regular washing machine. Thus cuts out so much time! I love the finished product and hope to sell them for a decent price ... inspire more weavers to try it! I got the idea from this Irish woman on utube using fleece from the "milk sheep" up the lane ...
 
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Heather Dewey wrote:Hi I'm a weaver. Recently stared weaving rugs from raw fleece. The fleece is not washed before weaving, just lightly hand carded. Afterwards I wash the rug in a regular washing machine. Thus cuts out so much time! I love the finished product and hope to sell them for a decent price ... inspire more weavers to try it! I got the idea from this Irish woman on utube using fleece from the "milk sheep" up the lane ...



What a great idea, thanks for sharing this! Did you notice if the workability of the unwashed fleece was different, harder, easier to handle?
 
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J. Adams wrote:

Heather Dewey wrote:Hi I'm a weaver. Recently stared weaving rugs from raw fleece. The fleece is not washed before weaving, just lightly hand carded. Afterwards I wash the rug in a regular washing machine. Thus cuts out so much time! I love the finished product and hope to sell them for a decent price ... inspire more weavers to try it! I got the idea from this Irish woman on utube using fleece from the "milk sheep" up the lane ...



What a great idea, thanks for sharing this! Did you notice if the workability of the unwashed fleece was different, harder, easier to handle?



I think that I was fortunate to have pretty clean fleece to work with. I found it pretty easy and it certainly saved a tun of time not washing it. The light carding took about the same amount of time as the actual weaving. The project took an approximate 20hours.
I'll try  sharing a photo - this site is new to me and figuring it out slowly ;>
IMG_5164.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_5164.JPG]
 
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I love this rug.  I think it embodies everything this thread is about.

Heather's weaving is gorgeous!  It adds value to the wool. 

It's elegant and a style that is easy for non-textile types to see the value of it.  A wonderful chance to educate the customers on the value of local wool.

What's more, she was starting with a high-quality fleece.  One that was raised with good nutrition, and not contaminated with hay and other foreign matter.


Maybe the path to making raising wool for wool alone requires many people?  Maybe it takes a community to make it work? But how would that work to get the money back to the farmer so that their farm can be sustainable?
 
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Today I got a free fleece.  It's a rare breed and gorgeous colour.  This has made me very sad and has inspired me to start a thread on how to evaluate a fleece. 


The story of this fleece.  A person bought it some years ago because they had just learned how to spin.  It's very exciting learning how to spin.  One of the things people want to do is to learn how to transform raw wool into yarn, so what they do is to find a farmer and buy some wool.  She got a beautiful fine fleece, with delicate crimp.  Gorgeous colour.  The fleece was very expensive.  She takes it home, and after a few hours on Youtube starts to transform this fleece into yarn. 

The result is terrible!  Lumpy, bumpy, not strong, noils everywhere!  This spinner is so frustrated that she gives up.  Not just gives up on that fleece, she gives up spinning.  She feels that she's just not cut out for spinning a good yarn.  She will never have the skills.  She put all this money and effort into the project, and it just totally sucks.

And now she passes this fleece on to me.  The first thing I see is that the fleece is tippy.  It has a weak spot half way down the length of the fibre so that the slightest bit of pressure makes the fibres snap in half.  This is caused by stress in the sheep's life and the only time I've ever seen a break this bad is when my poor boy larry had pneumonia.  The farmer didn't know how to evaluate her fleece and she sold an inferior product.  This fleece caused a would be a spinner to loose heart and give up.   The fleece is now mulch.

All this trouble she had spinning the fleece was nothing to do with her skill as a spinner, it was just a really crappy fleece.



The challenge came from one farmer overcharging for something that wasn't very good.  This decreases the perceived value of all wool.  What if instead, the wool was very good quality?  This would have given the spinner a good experience and increased demand, and price, for future wool. 

 
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Raven:

I am probably one of those farmers and deserve a swift kick in the seat of my pants for it. Since I primarily produce meat, and wool is just a byproduct of my sheep, I have given a lot of it away. That is; uncleaned wool, with no idea what the true quality is, and to people who have no idea on how to process it. If repeat customers is an indication, then you are indeed correct, they must have dropped out of the woolen making business because I have not had one person return.

Even now I have no idea what my wool quality is, I suspect poor because my fields were planted for dairy farm production, so high protein grasses. That makes the wool brittle by nature.

I definitely need to educate myself more on the subject as anything "is what it eats". I am sure there is a good middle ground on high quality feed for meat/wool production both, but am not sure my fields, nor winter feed provide it.

I'll stop giving away wool if that means we can continue to be friends!
 
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I'll stop giving away wool if that means we can continue to be friends! 



Please keep giving away your wool. 

The farmer was selling the wool for more than a top quality fleece goes for in this area.  The new spinner trusted the farmer to give her good value.  If it's expensive, it must be worth it.  So when the spinning didn't turn out well, she thought it was user error and couldn't imagine it was the very expensive wool.


Free fleeces, on the other hand, are a wonderful thing.  With a free fleece, it's okay if it doesn't work out.  We don't have so much money and status invested in it, so it's okay to blame the wool.  Does that make sense? 

Free fleeces were my gateway.  I wanted to learn to spin but very quickly discovered I couldn't afford commercially prepared fibre.  So I got free fleeces.  Some were wonderful, others not so much.  It was a really good learning experience and once my spinning was good enough, I could sell the yarn to buy some sheep.


For me, it's important if one is going to charge a lot of money for something, that they make sure that something is of high enough quality to reflect the price. 

I have read in a couple books now, where larger scale farmers are getting 10 to 25 cents a pound for their raw wool.  They start skirting and sort their fleeces, evaluating them as they go.  By doing this, and consistently providing a quality fleece, they can get $1 to $2 per pound of raw, unwashed wool.  Both these books are late 1980s, so maybe it's different now, but maybe it's not. 
 
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I have a very small plot of 1.67 acres in cold southeastern Idaho and sheep have been a gamechanger. I buy a bum lamb and raise it on my goats so that I don't have to bottle feed and I can raise two or three easily on one goat for meat in the Fall. If I put them on bottles I sell them for $80 apiece once I see they are healthy and can hand them to someone less experienced. 4-H lambs they are called here. I keep one ewe to raise her own babies and she is the only sheep that I shear. Her wool keeps me in spinning and knitting wool for the year. I do put some items on my etsy store and was making $250 for a two layer hand dyed, hand spun, hand knit hat. I receive much more for a sweater but all of these products are very time consuming and I only make a few of them a year for special requests. The wool is the least valuable part of the sheep to me as far as money goes. I do also love that sheep graze on rough ground so well...we started with dead pastures but when the sheep rotate grazing with the goats they are lush without an overabundance of any one plant.
 
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I have given a lot of it away. That is; uncleaned wool, with no idea what the true quality is, and to people who have no idea on how to process it. If repeat customers is an indication, then you are indeed correct, they must have dropped out of the woolen making business because I have not had one person return.



Travis, I've been a recipient of questionable fleeces for free and it never stopped me from spinning   Both were dark brown sheep, so it was impossible to tell just how dirty they were (one was very, very, the second was not).  Neither were skirted, one we did the shearing in trade for the fleece.  We both did a lot of spinning with those fleeces and maybe lucked out with the quality of the wool.  I didn't know to separate, nor how to test for quality as Raven explains above.  At the time, I thought wool was wool and I had a set of cards, a drop spindles and eventually a small wheel.  Fast forward more than thirty years...I have friends who spin and raise sheep,  I have the internet with so much info...no excuses anymore .  I think the most difficult thing back then was washing the fleece and because I hadn't skirted it I was washing way more poopie stuff than necessary...and at the same time I had a baby in cloth diapers that I was washing by hand also, with no running water, just a small wet weather creek and rain buckets.....
 
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I've been thinking a lot lately about the economics of sheep. We'll hopefully be moving up to 11 acres soon as I would like to raise sheep--initially I wanted them just for meat, but after researching more, I would like to have my own dairy sheep, too, to produce all the dairy we'll use here at home. (No plans to sell it, so I'd be okay with a lower-production breed like Icelandics.) Fleece would be a minor part of the ROI from sheep, as far as I can tell, since fleeces just don't sell for all that much.

Good info to comb through here, though, and develop my sheep strategy! Thanks, everybody! Great discussion.
 
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Depending on your local market, a good Icelandic fleece can fetch between $30 and $100. 

Icelandic is a nice wool to work with, and in some climates can be shorn twice a year.  A little bit tricky for milling with industrial equipment due to the dual fibre (they have a short, downy, undercoat and a long overcoat).  But they are a treat for hand spinners as you can make so many different kinds of yarn from one fleece. 

If you are milking, maybe sheer the sheep before lambing and at the end of milking.  That way, you can get a good quality wool without the weak point that so often happens when a ewe is lactating. 
 
Travis Johnson
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Judith, you are absolutely right and there is no excuse for me.

I actually printed off a 80 page or so management guide for farmers on how to get quality fleece and how to gauge what you have, but I never read it, then after 5 years or so, tossed it out. I should have kept it and at least read through it at bedtime so that I was at least knowledgeable. So again you are right...

Now what I am about to say does not change the above, and I am not making any excuses. You guys and gals know me; if I make mistakes and things do not turn out the way I wanted, I say so, and this still holds true...I am accountable for not producing quality fleece, but honestly there has not been any reason too. Raven is spot on regarding prices. I think the wool indemnity program kicks in at 27 cents, but it has been a few years since I collected it. I am not even sure if it is available now; it is so on and off depending on the current farm bill. It is essentially a subsidy, but like most USDA things now, they are moving away from subsidies to indemnity programs. Basically the way it works is, if the price of wool drops below a certain threshold, say 27 cents for instance per pound, and the current rate is 25 cents per pound, the farmer gets the difference per pound. In this case 2 cents. lets say a farmer produces 2 tons of wool, then they would get a indemnity check from the USDA for $80. Needless to say it is not a lot of money! The basic premise is, the government figures a farmer has to make 27 cents per pound to be worth their time, and if they only made 25 cents per pound, they would make up the difference. It is a method they have been using for years on many commodities now. But as I said, I am not sure if it is in this current Farm Bill or will be in the next one. The sheep farmers association lobbies for it in any case every time it comes up.

At current wool prices I cannot really invest too much and expect to get much of a return on investment; the deciding factor for any for profit operation.

I am hoping there is a way to raise the wool industry out of the ashes. Sheep farms...even commercial ones like mine...just are not intensive when it comes to energy inputs. As with everything in life, it is what we do not see that really matters. With cotton it is the amount of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides it takes to get cotton to grow, and for synthetic clothing, it is the wars, transportation, and sweat shops that takes pumped oil out of the ground just to be draped over our bodies, only to be tossed away in a few years. Woolen items are a huge answer to that problem...

 
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When I immigrated to Australia (~1970), I ended up working on a sheep station.  There, they grew very high quality wool. It was explained to me that they kept mostly wethers because they made the best wool.  They produced the best wool because that was their only physiological "work", nothing going in to milk or pregnancy.  That was a lesson to me, brought up in the US where the "lambs wool" mark was carried on many many items and implied the best most soft wool.  Those wool growers said lambs wool was not that great.

I agree about the creation of more animals than needed, but currently it is dairy goats having kids I am studying.  I've devised a scheme to cut the number of kids in half, and hope to put it into practice later this year.

A lot of the current farming practices that we (USA) accept as logical and normal are not necessarily logical, biological or the best way for any given farmstead.  Let's keep on looking closely at what we are doing in our interactions with plant and animal life around us, and devise "better for us" systems, as well as better for the soil, the plants. the animals and the results we work to produce.

Lastly about the free fleeces, there are a few benefit to these I did not see mentioned yet. 
A person gets to see what the raw material is,
gets to experience the benefits of lanolin on their skin. 
If it is an intact fleece, and they unfold it, they get to see the differences in the wool from different parts of the sheep's body.
They get to see the work that goes in to the cleaner, sorted, higher priced wools available to them.
They are getting an education about  a material they have chosen to work with. 
It can encourage a beginner to gain some skills and education before they begin to spend significant amounts of money.  
When they do, they'll be better equipped to make good choices about what will meet their needs.
When I used to buy roving and other prepared wool fibers, sometimes they had been stripped of their oils. Had I never spun lanolin rich wool,I would not have realized the "dry" wool was not "normal", would not have known anything was missing.  Would not have known that my hands did not necessarily need to be stripped of their natural oils in the spinning of wool.

Then there is felting, dying in the wool, and weaving with the unspun fleece. 

A lot made available to beginners who are lucky enough to come by a "free"  or very low priced fleece. (IMO, value wise, 15-20 dollars is about as good as given away).
 
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If folks are interested in raising sheep for just wool, it's totally possible...I do this. The key is to stick to your scale and figure out a lifestyle that works for you. We are a vegan homestead in western WA where I have several sanctuary wethers. Choosing this type of sheep raising cuts out the possibility of lambs, but that also cuts down the amount of work and resources that you're dumping into sheep breeding (which is something I just don't want to do), plus I am rescuing them from slaughter rather than making more lives to end. With my few sheep that don't multiply, they keep my landscape well trimmed, require no grain, and give a wool harvest once or twice a year. I am getting more wool than I can process and while I haven't pursued selling it I know that I could make enough to fund whatever resources I do put into my wethers. I believe there is a way for animals to be present and active on the homestead or farm without having to pay their dues in their own flesh.

Sticking to your scale to me means that you don't acquire more animals than your landscape can support...I only have five acres and if I had a dozen sheep they'd eat it to dirt and I'd have to buy food. One (make that two, they shouldn't ever be alone) will provide a homestead family with enough wool for yearly Christmas sweaters and then some. Plus, the dirtiest wool not fit for spinning makes great mulch and lasagna compost material.
 
Travis Johnson
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Katie and I looked into sheep dairy as it does just make sense; no kill of the main flock and yet retain income through the years, just adding replacement ewes and culling sheep as required. I understand it as I grew up on a dairy farm (and still have a dairy farm in the family...at one time we had (5) separate dairy farms). Besides being no-kill, and having dairy experience, we have the acreage needed, fields planted into high protein grass types, and could cheaply add the barn space...heck I even talked with the Cheese Makers Guild of Maine and they would buy all the sheeps milk we could produce, but sadly the cost of the milking equipment and parlor was so high that it was a debt load I dared not enter. At the same time East Fresians do not breed out of season, and so the lactation period is between April and September, not really long. Thinking out loud here, maybe that would be a good time to shear the sheep and work up the wool into value-added products

I even knew one of the two sheep dairy farms in Maine, and she did it interestingly. She ran two flocks; a meat breed flock and then a dairy flock, which was of course East Fresians. She was making a full-time go of it, but I think her husband worked off-farm. Her demise ended up being a divorce sadly enough. She ran the two flocks because East Fresians grow so slowly as they just do not convert grass to meat well. I think their wool is no worse then meat breeds of sheep though.

Sheep dairying is definitely on the radar for us, and always a possibility, and who knows, maybe someday we enter into that segment of it. We could easily sell the meat sheep, take the money and buy in East Fresians and then just have to contend with the building of a parlor.
 
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Michaelyn Erickson wrote:... raising sheep for just wool, it's totally possible...I do this. .... We are a vegan homestead in western WA where I have several sanctuary wethers. ...

This is interesting! Most vegans I know (about) do not want to wear wool, because it's 'animal'. But here you show there is a very good vegan way to have your own sheeps' wool!
 
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I know the French Govt has put a lot of money into sheep milk production and increaced productivity of French breeds 5 fold since WWII I wonder if other types of milk sheep may be more productive than the ones you mentioned . Getting a different type could mean a big demand from other producers .
http://en.france-genetique-elevage.org/Dairy-sheep-breeds-selection.html
David
 
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The climate is an important consideration when choosing a breed of sheep.  Where I am, in the high desert, the engllish breeds don't do as well as others.

When I thought of getting a dairy ewe to eat along side my dairy goats, I thought the Icelandic sheep might be the best fit for me.  And looking in to that breed, I learned that Icelandic are considered a 3 purpose breed, the breed developed for meat, milk and fiber.

Not a dairy breed, but a good fiber breed, I used to LOVE getting a fleece of "Finn" wool.  Very long staple, with not much crimp, probably  not so good for knitting, but for rugs and other wovens, I really liked it. 

Very much worth looking in to breeds as a person goes in to it.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:
I recently found out that a local woolen mill (the last in the United States) is near me and will custom process my wool. Now I will be honest, I don't have the time to fuss with woolen arts because, well I have too many sheep to raise, not to mention a wife, 4 daughters and a substantial woodlot. So for me, raising the sheep is enough. Yet I doubt one entity is going to be able to handle all that roving and make products from it...



I don't know what you mean by "woolen mill".  If you are saying, a processor that goes from raw wool to woven blankets (like Pendleton) then yes, there are maybe two or three in the country that I know of. But if you just mean processing mI'll (and I assume you are, because you are only going to the roving step) then there are Mills all over the US.
Jared
 
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Reading through just the first couple posts makes me think you need to assess your marketing more than your production. I don't know what kind of sheep R Ranson has, but we have Icelandics.  $20 a fleece is ridiculous, we charge $20 per POUND for adult fleeces, $25 a pound for lambs. And people don't balk at these prices. 
There is no way to run a sheep dairy "no-kill".  Like R Ranson said, 50% (on average) of your lambs will be males- and even if you wether them, there just aren't enought people out there that need fiber animals or pets (and you are being more irresponsible than cat and dog breeders) There was a goat dairy in Eastern Washington that always had a glut of kids they were trying to get rid of. 
We have a neighbor that sells pigs for 70 cents a pound live weight.  We have three pigs he gave us to keep them from dying (runts or injured)  we sell for $4 a pound hanging weight.   Same animals, just different feed (no corn, no soy) and not living in mud- but marketed to a totally different clientele.
You also have to be knowledgeable and excited about your stock. My wife LOVES to talk to people about sheep, wool, and lamb (meat).  When we sell animals, we give the new owners support- call and ask questions, call with emergencies, we do the best to support them because we got so little when we started. We make friends with the mill owners, attend fiber events, and market exclusively.
The problem is, when ONE PERSON sells for less, then the customer base expects that.  "Well, so-and-so will give it to me for this price".  Well, you buy from them then, and we will sell our to someone else- and what you wanted may not be available when you come back dissatisfied with "so-and-so's" product.  When MN chicken farmers were culling their flocks due to avian influenza, Walmart was selling "organic" eggs for $5 a dozen- yet people at the farmers market weren't changing their prices, and selling farm raised, free range eggs raises on bugs and worms for $2.50!
Be prepared to change at any time- your farm plan should be a living document, not a lead weight.
Jared
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

raven ranson wrote:Nicole, thanks for the list.  Really neat stuff.

I'm curious about the pesticides and sheep so I googled around a bit.  I couldn't imagine why anyone would feel the need to spray sheep.  ...
  But the problem is the solution, and if others want to spray their sheep, then it's going to up the value for those of us who could make wool and lanolin without pesticides. 



Thank you, Raven, it's really reassuring to know that it's not as common as it was being put out to be (AND, as a total side note, it's really cool to call you by your first name. It's like a great mystery has been solved! Weeee! ). Here's a quote from one blogger about the dangers of lanolin (http://www.happy-mothering.com/07/parenting/why-breastfeeding-moms-shouldnt-use-lanolin-and-what-you-should-use-instead/)

One of the problems is that sheep are commonly treated with pesticides and insecticides because they're susceptible to pests. A Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study published in September 1992 discovered lanolin samples they tested contained several types of pesticide residues. Some of the types of pesticides they found can accumulate in breast milk.



Here's another (http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/the-11-best-nipple-cream-that-is-safe-for-moms-and-babies):

To make the lanolin cream, lanolin is first recovered from shaved sheep’s wool. The wool is soaked in chemicals to remove parasites before the lanolin is scoured out of it and at the moment there are no truly organic options out there.



That's quite the blanket statement, and I always kind of wondered just how much these bloggers knew about sheep raising. But then, maybe the sheep who's fleeces are used to make lanolin are all in Australia where Travis said they did spray their sheep?

Interestingly enough, supposedly lanolin can't be called organic. At least, that's what this website states (http://www.sheepishgrins.com/faqs.php):
...

They make it sound like everybody HAS to spray their sheep. It's good to know that you guys--and those you know that raise sheep--don't spray them.
There's got to be a better way!



-Agree about learning Raven's name. 

-Agree there's got to be a better way.

- MASSIVELY DISAGREE with that quoted statement that "lanolin supposedly can't be called "organic"."

Absolutely, a small farm can get and maintain organic certification. 
We have many organic farms and orchards in our valley, despite the fact that it's a low income area, distant from urban eco-markets.  At least two of these organic farms included sheep (one for artisan felting wool, one as a sheep dairy).  I don't know that either of them produces lanolin commercially, but they do sell raw organic fleeces, fiber art, milk or sheep cheese.

Yes it costs to certify.

The folks who say "it can't be done without chemicals" and then "our [chemically-fertilized and sprayed] product is ALMOST organic" are showing their ignorance.

A lot of folks just like to believe what they hear.  They believe their product is healthy and they are good, wholesome family farmers; they believe the chemical salesman's pitch, and may repeat that sales information as fact. 
The degree of ignorance when it comes to chemicals can be truly terrifying. 

Those statements make me grateful that the organic standard DOES include a third-party inspection requirement. 
I suspect there's no third-party verification of the website claims!

A lot of excellent farmers and gardeners do grow near-organic and avoid chemicals.  If folks don't want to certify, that's their business. 
But to tell everyone "it can't be done," or that there is no such thing, it's OK that we use these chemicals because "everybody does it," is deceptive to the point of fraud.  Grrr!

It does sound like raising sweaty sheep in hot climates tends to result in unhealthy sheep, and in chemical last-ditch measures to save them from parasites becoming 'normal practice.' 
Just like using antibiotics in corn-based feed mixes to offset the stress from high-density factory feed lots. 

I wonder why so much of Australia raises sheep, while so much of the USA doesn't. 
We do seem to have had "sheep vs. cattle" range wars in the Western US.  Looks like the cattle barons and burger franchises gained a strong upper hand in that one.  But why a "war" in the first place?  I'm told sheep graze too close for cattle to follow them, but that hardly seems valid when so many other places combine both species in rotation-grazing. 
I wonder about other factors... like, were the young cattle ranchers connected to old cotton families, trying to grab large swaths of new territory, and raised on the privilege to terrorize competitors without fear of law enforcement? 
A lot of Civil War veterans went West looking for a new life, some of them as "peaceful" cowboys and miners, some as notably bloodthirsty army officers that led campaigns against any/all "Indians" with genocidal violence.  Maybe exterminating sheep was part of displacing the Navajo and other pastoral tribes; they also lost ancient peach orchards during those persecutions.  Some of the best sheep herders may also have been "foreigners," maybe it was part of the race war / manifest destiny thing.
 
Seems like the rest of the world tolerates sheep and cattle in very close proximity, without malice.
On the other hand, do Australians have some kind of cultural/historic fixation on sheep, despite the inhospitable climate, due to being paid to grow wool as a British colony?
It sounds like the South American alpaca, and other camelids, do well in their climates (to the point where introduced camels are considered invasive, yes?).
...

Chemical processing does offer tempting economies of scale for the big producers.  If this is how most of the lanolin is currently produced, I agree there's a huge market potential for genuine organic product. 
This seems like one of those things that can be processed and sold locally, at a cottage scale, and the retail price per oz. for boutique skin-care and baby-care products might be a lot more attractive than for bulk commodities.

When I worked a job that required frequent hand-washing, I paid tidy sums for nice, greasy, well-packaged hand creams.  Not too heavily scented, and the longer it would stay on my hands between washings the better.

...
However I, too, have hand-washed free fleeces.  There are definitely practical considerations to work out before deciding on a price per oz!

-Erica
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Hi Erica, I love the way you think of historical/cultural, reasons why ... (in this case why there are so many sheep in Australia and not in the USA)
 
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I went and visited Natalie Redding in Southern California and that is how she makes her living, raising longwool sheep and teaching others how to dye, spin, and which wools to use for the best outcome. She has been my wool guru for years and pretty much taught me how to dye and even to delve into the world of art yarn rather than just worsted and woolen. Here is the video I made while I was at her place.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Humk8xMr6PI
 
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