Someone asked me this yesterday and my instant reaction was no. Simply no.
Each sheep I have cost me approximately a dollar a day (not including labour or vet bills). If I took the animals to the country fair and IF the animal won a blue ribbon, I might be able to get $90 for a fleece. As it is, I get about $20 a fleece. That's a loss of 345 dollars per year.
So she gave me a new question:
What conditions would be necessary to raise sheep for their wool alone?
My thoughts are two things.
1. change how we calculate profit and loss.
2. increase the value of the finished product.
The value of the fleece is far less than the actual value of the sheep. My sheep have transformed land that wouldn't even grow weeds into lush pasture. Their fertiliser increases the soil fertility throughout the property. They eat weeds and brush that I cannot compost and would otherwise need to be disposed of by burning or sending to the landfill. They are great entertainment and a wonderful teaching aid for visitors new to the farm. These benefits are difficult to calculate in dollars. There are many ways to calculate profit and loss, not all of them have dollar signs.
Increasing the value of the finished product can be done by putting more labour into it. My $20 fleece can become two to five hundred dollars worth of yarn or two $400 sweaters. That's all well and good, but then the challenge is to find someone willing to pay that much for it. There is more to increasing the value than simply putting more labour into it.
Educating the public as to the value of wool and teaching them to tell quality from crap. Developing skills as a farmer and textile artist so that when you make a sweater, it really is worth $400 because the quality is better than anything one can buy in a store.
Quality and education increase the value of the finished product.
But is it enough to make sheep sustainable if just raised for wool?
I'm still thinking no. It's not so strong a no as it was yesterday. I may be wrong.
I would like to hear your thoughts. Can you see an economically viable and sustainable way that sheep could be raised for wool alone?
I think it's an idea worth exploring.
Getting the best quality wool is my primary concern. When a ewe is nursing they are putting their energy into the milk, not the wool. So, if we went that route, we would want to sheer before and after the lactation, which would create a much shorter staple length and may not be such a good fleece.
There's another challenge here - lambs. Unlike goats who can milk for 8 or more years between kidding, I understand sheep need to lamb each year and have limited milk production. This means, an increase of population, which could cause overcrowding or excess pressure on the land. In my experience, at least half of those lambs will be male.
Milk, to me, reduces the value of the fleece and increase population. That doesn't seem a path to sustainability. But I may be wrong. I don't milk my sheep because a) I don't like sheep milk cheese and b) I worry about wool quality. Maybe milking is actually a viable option to make raising sheep sustainable without slaughter. I'm keen to hear your experiences.
But it only is profitable by selling the male lambs for meat just before they are a year old .
I know in the UK that people are paid to maintain the sheep created landscape in the Lake District where they heft the weathers but those sheep are not for wool but for mutton .
Here most sheep farms are for wool, but they are in the 40's on average as far as sheep numbers are concerned, and I am not sure if they are profitable or not, or if they are stand alone operations. My farm is not at this point, and though I am talking with a banker today about the numbers, there are some areas of real concern. I might be able to overcome it with logging sales, but I am not sure most farms have that resource available.
I do think it is possible to raise sheep for wool production profitably, but it is not a popular answer; economy of scale.
I am a numbers guy and have calculated my profit loss for sheep over the last 9 years, and with the good and bad years averaged out, came to about the same cost per year as R Randson. I see 2 ways to make the numbers more favorably:
(1) Charge more for the product (often not feasible because of competition and being more than what the market will bear)
(2) Raising the sheep cheaper
The only real way to do the latter is to spread the costs of raising sheep over a much broader sized flock. On my farm, based on my size acreage, my costs, and my market; the break-even flock size is 265 sheep. In other words, any less than that and I continuously lose money for time affinity. More than that and I make money for time affinity.
Now the real question is: why is this THE break even point.
Well economy of scale is a harsh reality. While it is true SOME of my costs will inevitably increase proportionately to the number of sheep, not ALL of them will. Like feed, yes I will need more feed for my sheep, but since my farm is already x amount of acres, that extra feed is not going to waste, it is being used to feed more sheep and make me money. And the tractor and equipment that produces that feed has cost, but now it is spread out over far more sheep, reducing its overall costs. And electricity. Yes I might use a little more because my barn is bigger, but compared to how many more sheep I can now raise, its a very tiny bit of my overall costs. So that is economy of scale...spreading the same costs over the more sheep.
Now of course there is a cut off. In Maine anyway, we have to have enough barn space, not to mention CNMP requirements and a host of other regulatory statues that have costs to stay in compliance. Sure I can raise 3000 sheep and make all kinds of gross profit, but what about labor, building new barns, and open land to feed those sheep? The cost of doing so might be prohibitive. And of course, once the break-even point is reached, can you sell that volume of product...or have the time to make it?
I realize I am asking more questions then I am answering, so I think the answer might lie in cooperatives.
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, but what if the roving my farm produced went to 10 people who were in the fiber arts? Each of those ten entities (individuals or small businesses) could use the story of my farm: "we get this wool from a 9th generation sheep farm in Maine, who had the first sheep shearing shed in New England, etc, etc, etc...and let that story help sell their fiber arts. I see that as being a truly real possibility, but even then I would think some meat sales...Easter Lambs, 4H, Market Lambs, Culls, etc...would be required on my end.
So I doubt wool-only farms would be truly possible profit wise, but maybe a wool-meat type of farm could work.
Note: I used a lot of pronouns like I, me, and my in this post because I can only use my experience and financial numbers off my farm. Every farm's break even point and strengths and weaknesses will be different).
For me, working with the land I have is a vital part of keeping expenses down. I don't have a barn or facilities for a large flock (yet), so I keep my flock small and resilliant. That way the land feeds the sheep and my minerals and hay are just supplemental instead of their main source of nutrition.
The biggest problem for me at the begning was that just about every local breed of sheep has some detriment. They make crappy wool, they aren't resilient to our weather, they have poor feet or most often, they aren't able to have a varied diet and need to eat just grass. So I took the kinds of sheep that had the traits I wanted and started mixing up genetics. But this is breding and without culling my flock size grows faster than the lands ability to feed them. Basically, I'm working on creating a landrace and this has been sucessful. I now have sheep that are hardy in our conditions and produce the wool I want.
But this method involves culling and the thought experiment is how to raise sheep for wool without them going for meat.
So how do we do it?
Getting the costs down is a big step. For a small scale like me, knowing the land and working with it. Knowing the sheep and working with them. These are the two methods I've tried. I'm hoping with some more infostructure; I can double the capacity of sheep on my land and get the costs down to 50 cents a day per sheep.
Increasing the value of the wool. When I quote the price per fleece, I'm quoting the price as it comes off the sheep. Anything after that takes labour which adds expense to the wool (but also adds value), so pricing the fleece at the shearing stage makes a good base place. If I had pure bred sheep, I could get $60 per fleece. By reducing the cost of keeping my flock through breeding, it brings my raw fleece value down to $20.
Adding value to wool. This I want to talk more about and will soon.
Felting a Yurt takes a lot of fleece and a fair amount of labour. But it is a great way to add value. If you can also make the frame, market your yurts, make them special somehow, then it's one of the easiest ways to add value. This is espcially good for meat sheep wool that may not be soft enough or strong enough for making yarn
I don't know the numbers make this worth while.
Most yurts now aren't covered with wool or natural materials. They often use a synthetic canvas to cover the frame. But there are still a few natural yurt makers out there. Your yurt example has some wool in it and cotton canvas. groovy yurts are the Canadian equivolent of your link. They are made in Mongolia to the traidtional Mongolian design.
One of the books (living in the round - I think is the title) says that it takes 100 fleeces to make the fabric for one small-ish yurt. I don't think it's that much, but I haven't felted my own yet. I hope to do it this year so then I can speak from personal experience how difficult or easy this is.
My local costing for a 4 wall yurt is the wood frame starts at $400 (getting the wood right from the mill) plus some sort of cord or bolts to hold the walls together (another hundred). The ceiling joists are between $200 to $500 and I haven't cost out the central ring and door frame yet. With the economy of scale, especially if one has a coppiced woodlot, one could probably get the material costs for the wood structure down to $500 to $1000 (Canadian dollars).
I did just check my records and found that I average -34 cents per sheep per day. I honestly thought it was closer to -$1.06 per day, but it is a good thing that I checked. Still 34 cents is closer to $1 then 4-12 dollars.
Now this might be slightly construed. Some years were profitable and some were not, at the same time I might calculate things a bit differently too as I calculate everything by "sheep days". Let's say that yesterday I had 150 sheep, but today I sold 5, but tomorrow I bought 10 more...I would put that down as 150, 145, 155 sheep respectively. By doing it this way, I get a day by day count of the sheep I have...including lambs...and then add them up month by month until I get a total for the year. On excel this is chartered and has been done since I started out with 4 sheep. Then by calculating profit and losses, including sales, subsidies, expenses, etc; I get the cost per sheep. Now with expenses, those are carefully calculated too. Take my bulldozer, it cost $10,000 in cash, but I use it for both logging and sheep farming, so I divided it up as $5000 for each. That to me is accurate. And if I put fuel in it, that cost is put into either logging or sheep farming depending on what I am doing with it consuming that fuel. So I try to be very accurate.
One thing that is hard to quantify though is other aspects of having the animals. I agree 100% that sheep improve pastures like no other livestock could dream of, yet there are other ways to obtain that same improvement. Which one is more expensive is up for debate, and beyond the scope of this thread. My point though is that some benefits are just fringe benefits and cannot be calculated. A case in point...call me silly but watching sheep graze is almost therapy for me. It quiets my heart for a lack of a better term...I can't place money values on that though. But I cannot add the cost of my property taxes onto to the backs of sheep either...I would have to pay my (obnoxiously high) taxes no matter if I had sheep or not. The flip side is, sheep also have inherent value, and while not a lot, in numbers they do add up. (150 sheep @200 per sheep is $30,000 after all), and I could buy a new truck for what I have in sheep fencing...so all that stuff can be sold off for what is know as intermediate cash. Paul Wheaton simply called this person Girt...
I wonder if the answer to this over all issue; wool production without meat sales (culling of some sheep would have to take place obviously to properly maintain wool quality), might be interweaving other natural fibers to make a superior/hybrid natural fiber. Would it be possible to raise flax, interweave it with wool to make a natural fiber composite, then have the sheep graze down the stubble, or winter rye for nitrogen fixation for the next crop of flax? I am not saying this is THE answer, but hopefully the concept is being presented well enough.
Would it be possible to raise flax, interweave it with wool to make a natural fiber composite
I think you've hit on linsey/woolsey, Travis ...some of the reasoning behind it might have been economics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linsey-woolsey
Linsey-woolsey (less often, woolsey-linsey or in Scottish English, wincey) is a coarse twill or plain-woven fabric woven with a linen warp and a woollen weft. Similar fabrics woven with a cotton warp and woollen weft in Colonial America were also called linsey-woolsey or wincey. The name derives from a combination of lin (an archaic word for flax, whence "linen") and wool.
Travis Johnson wrote:Another underutilized resource I think is lanolin.
That's an excellent resource. Many of the finer (read higher value) wool breeds produce excessive lanolin that has to be removed from the fibre. Lanolin has many healing qualities.
I wonder how we go about extracting it and if it can be done without harming the fleece. I bet it could.
Judith Browning wrote:I think you've hit on linsey/woolsey, Travis
Interesting, never heard of it before, but it makes sense.
I am wondering if other materials could not be substituted too though. Gosh there must be something better than cotton that is awash with pesticides and insecticides in order to get it o grow, or garments regurgitated out of the ground half a word away then melted and cloaked over our bodies.
Blends just to make the wool softer for those that get itchy by it would help a lot.
(And for the record, I am wearing wool socks right now because it is so wet and rainy outside).
I'm not so fond of mixing them in the same cloth because they have such drastically different care requirements. Linen loves water and a good, wet thrashing to get it clean. Wool likes a gentle wash. Linen like alkili and degrades quickly in acid, wool is exactly the opposite. Linen being so much stronger than wool and can abraid the wool yarns causing them to pill and fray. But then again, mixing them together does also have its benefits. It depends on the end result.
So far we have value added with
-better quality wool
-educating the customer
-stacking functions (manure and lanolin)
Are we there yet? Is this enough to raise sheep for wool without slaughter or culling? Would this be possible on a small scale (less than 50 sheep)? Medium scale (50-100)? Large (over 100)?
If so, how can this be sustainable?
Sheep thrive on the poorest land like the uplands of the UK high limestone areas in particular ,there is even a breed that will survive on the beach eating a high % of sea weed .
If your land comes free... And the weeds too ....
Interestingly Criehaven Island, also known as Ragged Island on the maps, has had sheep on it for 18 years. When Little Burnt Island got its name from a forest fire, lobstermen knew the 2 sheep on it would die because it lacked vegetation, so they hauled hem off to Criehaven Island. They were either 2 rams or 2 ewes because they never reproduced, but thrived on the island for years and that island has no fresh water and is 28 miles out.
If you look up lanolin on youtube, it tells you how to extract it from the wool. As I said, I am pretty frugal and am outside a lot so I used to use Chapstick. I disliked the way the sticks would turn in my pocket and jam the chapstick into the cap, so I switched to those tin cans of Carmex. They survived the occasional trip through the dryer too. Then I stumbled upon Lanolin as an alternative and use that, putting the lanoline in the empty tins of Carmex. Granted it does not help against cold sores like Carmex, but I don't have that issue anyway, and it is equal too, or better then carmex/chapstick. I have used lanoline in this way for years. I cannot imagine that it would be a homestead breadwinner, but if a person had a sheep milk soap making product line, they might be able to extract lanoline from the wool and augment sales with something they are already producing that is considered "a problem". Now that is Permiculture for sure!
I am not sure if this is possible, but what about a silk/wool blend...all natural and both require very gentle washings? I have no idea what the percentage would be; 90% wool and 10% silk for instance, but would that be possible. Again I don't know much about silk production except my Great Grandfather was scammed by it in the early 1800's as silk cannot be grown in Maine! Still others have that ability perhaps.
I am seeing on TV now an add for a bamboo bra; again I know zero about bamboo, but have some growing on my land, could that be woven with wool to make a hybrid cloth that is both comfortable and warm?
It does sound like if you grow flax for linen you would benefit from having at least few sheep to rotate through those fields just for soil service.
travis, silk is a moth cocoon.
However, looking for information on bamboo silk did lead to an article about rugs. Apparently the higher quality bamboo silk rugs have a silk to wool ratio of 3/7 minimum wool content for durability.
Talking about value added products, rugs are expensive. I can't imagine there's much more labor involved than in weaving fabric but they clearly use more materials. I don't know how that would measure out in real economic terms, but people regularly spend hundreds and even thousands for nice area rugs.
What makes bamboo environmentally 'friendly' is that it's not made from old growth forest. Bamboo is a fairly renewable resource, but the process of transforming it into yarn is nowhere near as eco-friendly as sheep.
Silk, as in wormspit, real silk, from silk moths, can be very environmentally friendly. It often goes well with raising fish and the larvae is also an excellent food source for humans. Traditionally we have two types of moths for making silk: Bombyx and Tussah. The first eats only mulberry leaves and the second is less domesticated and is often fed on oak. What a lot of people don't know is that there are many wild moths that also produce lovely silk. More importantly, these moths are able to eat a large variety of tree species, not just oak or mulberries. We have 10 locally, including one of my personal favourites, polyphemus. This moth can eat over 25 species of tree. Most of North America has native silk moths, so you might be able to find some, where you live. These silks combine beautifully with wool for added lustre and strength. Somethwere between 10 to 20% by weight is about right.
When I calculate out expenses, growing wool is one thing, but everything after skirting and sorting the wool, is a whole different set of expenses. I'm a fast spinner, but even still, to get 100g of yarn (singles - unplied, fine enough for clothing) to a stage that I can sell to the weavers, this takes me 2.5-hours with my current set up. If I changed the kind of yarn I spin, this could go as little as 1-hour per hundred grams to as high as 8.
Financially, it is well worth handspinning the yarn for sale or for use. But it does require quite a bit of labour which adds expense. If the quality is good enough and the customer can see the value of buying local yarn, then it works out great. Otherwise... so I guess the solution to adding value is to educate the customer that it really is worth it.
David Livingston wrote:Price of yurt 3,000 + thats a lots of money in my book No idea about how many fleeces but how would that compare with seven and a half jumpers ? http://www.yurtsdirect.com/buy-a-yurt-traditional-price-meters.html
Inspired by this, I started a thread on how to felt a yurt wall. https://permies.com/t/65643
I'm only just begining my research, so we can learn about it together.
This article https://strivegreen.com/blogs/strivegreen/truth-about-bamboo seems to do a good job of explaining both that there are different methods and that the chemical extrusion process isn't environmentally friendly.
raven ranson wrote:It seems like we are focusing on adding value to the wool after harvest. This is one method of adding value, but it also adds labour. When I calculate out expenses, growing wool is one thing, but everything after skirting and sorting the wool, is a whole different set of expenses.
Yes, I agree. Education and Buy Local do a lot, but at the end of the day we as farmers have a moral responsibility, and for our own well being, to get the cost of production down. Processing wool and spinning it into yarn is indeed expensive. So that is a challenge, but with economics, challenges are simple in concept; either reduce the cost in processing, or increase the value of the end product to justify the processing. The problem with the latter is; the cost of the product has exceeded what most consumers are willing to spend, so the demand goes down. So in my way of thinking, as a sheep farmer it is kind of on me to somehow produce a woolen yarn cheaply. It is kind of my mantra in life: meet people where they are. In this case, if woolen items are beyond their means, let us collectively see if we (as society) can reduce the cost of woolen yarns.
I have had a few ideas on this. One observation I have made on my own farm is, once on pasture the sheep do not get their wool all that soiled; the majority of that gets soiled in the barn. Since this is Maine and winter housing is required for about 150 days, this is a significant amount of time. I have also noticed their wool gets soiled slowly; a few strands of hay that get on the wool that slowly works down into it over time. I am thinking of installing a homemade blower that dislodges hay from off the sheep as they pass through a chute on their way to being fed. Since I feed them once per day, every day they would get the debris removed. Would a blower remove all the debris however? My wife says no, so maybe it would have to be brushes like at a car wash, but not so harsh as to grab the wool? I don’t know, but something like that would aid in keeping the sheep automatically cleaner. Kind of a clean-the-wool-as-it-grows sort of idea. Not a complete answer to the problem, but maybe a part of one.
Another idea is a vat room located on-farm where the water is heated by a wood boiler (or rocket stove). In that way the warm water required for cleaning the wool could be brought up to temperature without purchasing #2 fuel oil, natural gas, electricity or propane…all expensive options. Solar water heat might also be an option. (I have a wood boiler that is unused kicking around which is why I mention the wood boiler). When I built my barn, it was built 100% only for sheep and there is nothing I would change on it. It gave me confidence to realize that I knew sheep and could design and build something that works. I have the utmost confidence that I could build a on-farm vat room that was labor and energy efficient.
And finally there is the process itself. Around here there once were many woolen factories, but they were all built in the 1800’s. There is something to be said for that, but equally there is something to be said for modern manufacturing and new materials as well. A case in point is plywood, not 100% Permiculture approved I know, but at least renewable. I have a band saw built of plywood that is 30 years old, and considering the tremendous forces it is placed under, I could see homemade equipment being built to card, clean and produce into yarn in an on-farm workshop. I am a welder by trade so I can build things out of steel as well, BUT plywood is far cheaper as a material and quicker and faster to fabricate. Granted this is value-added to farms that might chose this route, but it would eliminate transportation to the woolen mills and eliminate their profit margin. Again; take out the middle-man and you get to keep his profit...yes you must do his work...but you still get his chunk of the pie.
It is wrong to make generalities I know, but for the most part, FiberArts are just that: Art in nature and those who are mechanically inclined are not so Art Focused. If we could combine the two personality types however, I think we could bring down the cost of wool cleaning and carding needs so a small farm could afford mechanization. That is what Gillion did for woodworking. There are a few cast steel parts that a homeowner can buy as kits, but the bulk is made of plywood so that a $2200 18 inch bandsaw can be kit-built for $250, or a table saw or sander, etc…a whole shop of possibilities. So it can be done with woolen cleaning as well I think. Interestingly enough, my wife worked at a wire mill as does her entirely family, past and present. They used the same Mule spinning machinery of the 1850's to spin electrical wire that Bartlett Yarns does to spin wool. So we might be able to build something together that would work for us.
Granted these are rather radical ideas, but I present them nonetheless.
I am interested in having sheep on my property. I would benefit from the soil improvement, and would also love to get a tax benefit (although that is generally less than people think, most properties here are zoned agricultural and the taxes are on the home) to pay for the improvements. I think on my end it would make sense just for the soil health. I even would fence to prepare for it. This is expensive, but people forget that pre-1900s that's how you had a lawn!
The fact that water is not a big concern, like cattle, means a much bigger list of places they could be "sharecropped". I would be interested in working to create a list of properties that would accept rent-free flocks of sheep. I really think this might have some wings. From the landowners' perspective, mowing sucks. Liming sucks, fertilizing sucks, having crappy soil sucks- people like privacy and the illusion of rural life. I think many people might consent to a shepherd and his/her agent being reasonable invasions to privacy.
What would be a general list of requirements for sheep on someone else's property? I have friends/family that can comment on the legalities to protect both parties. I'm thinking fencing/water/acreage for a flock that makes it worthwhile. Also, what do they need for forage for woolies?
Travis Johnson wrote: Then I stumbled upon Lanolin as an alternative and use that, putting the lanoline in the empty tins of Carmex. Granted it does not help against cold sores like Carmex, but I don't have that issue anyway, and it is equal too, or better then carmex/chapstick. I have used lanoline in this way for years. I cannot imagine that it would be a homestead breadwinner
I can imagine it being a homestead winner! Nursing mothers--especially 1st time mothers--get very chapped on the nipples. Lanolin works WONDERS for that, but many are discouraged from using it because I gather most sheep are sprayed with pesticides, and those pesticides are concentrated in the lanolin, and the baby will be sucking that lanolin off of the mother, thereby ingesting lots of pesticides.
After I gave birth to my son, my nipples were excruciatingly chapped. Coconut oil barely did any thing, and one application of lanolin healed them almost all the way. But, then my husband did reading on the pesticides in lanolin and was adamant that I not use it (which makes sense, but man, those nipples hurt!). I suffered for at least another week until they healed all the way. I would have LOVED to have been able to buy--it doesn't matter how expensive--some pesticide-free lanolin. When I checked last year, there still wasn't any available.
Lanolin is also great for wool diaper covers--it makes them leak-proof, from what I understand. But, once again, some cloth-diapering mama's shy away from it because they don't want pesticides on their baby's bum.
The market for a pesticide-free, organic, eco-friendly lanolin is huge, I think, in the natural baby-care community.
Lanolin is also used to make vegetarian vitamin D pills. Pills that, once again, I didn't take because they were potentially too high in pesticides....
What would be a general list of requirements for sheep on someone else's property?
We lend some of our sheep out to a friend's place each summer. He has rocky ground that is impossible to mow. Depending on the breed of sheep, they were able to get all their nutritional needs from the scruffy grasses. The Black Welsh Mountain did the best job, Icelandic next, the hair sheep were the worst.
The most important requirement is fencing. The first year we lent him sheep, a neighbour's ram broke his fence and broke into the yard with my sheep. I the ewes got free ram service which is not a good thing. There are several diseases that are very easy to transmit between sheep, some of the STDs are horrible and can take years to show. By that time, the whole flock is contaminated. Thankfully I was able to track down the ram and determined that it was tested and found free of Caprine arthritis encephalitis which was my biggest concern.
Water - Sheep need less water than many animals, but they still need constant access to fresh water. If you are lending out your sheep, you need to trust the person to keep their water fresh, clean and full.
Minerals and salt - they need a place undercover to keep these. equal minerals equal good fibre.
Speaking about fibre, some weed seed is pretty nasty in a fleece. Burdock, cleavers, brambles, thorns, and stuff like that can get lodged in the wool and reduce its value.
These challanges aren't difficult to work around. If you can get the landowner to invest in a good fence AND you trust them to give them water and other necessities, then yes, this is a great way to reduce costs.
Legal issues will depend on where you live. Where I live, transporting sheep requires special tags which must accompany the sheep everywhere it goes. These are usually put in the ears.
Bylaws are another legal issue to think about. If you have a 'right to farm' act in your country, many of these (like noise complaints) don't apply to farm animals. But some still do.
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. The scale we grow them locally (most flocks are less than 50 adults), I've never heard of anyone dipping or spraying a sheep. It seems rather expensive for the perceived benefit when a lot of these issues can be prevented with a little attention. At least on the smaller scale, we do around here. 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.
The market for a pesticide-free, organic, eco-friendly lanolin is huge
This is great news!
I was looking for some sheep handling equipment, and could not find what I wanted in the USA, but did in New Zealand and Australia and noted in those videos that they showed the equipment being used as they sprayed their sheep, and I was like, "huh, I guess they do that over there?" This was about 3 months ago. So I can see where maybe that is true, but it probably depends on where the lanolin is produced.
Kind of a funny story on chapstick though. It is embarrassing because I do have very sensitive skin, but I got some chapstick as a gift from Avon. I applied it and then my lips got sore, but like the idiot that I am, I am thinking my lips are chapped, so I apply more, and so it goes, and finally they are just raw and finally I think, "maybe it is this no-brand crap I am using", and sure enough it was.By then my lips were red and blistered!!
I use Bag Balm now, only because you can buy a pint of it for the same price as a tiny can of carmex. I refill my old Carmex Tins from the pint tubs; and I have used it for years, have very sensitive skin, and all without issues.
Travis Johnson wrote:In a perfect world it would all be so seamless: milk, meat and wool, but it is not that simple. Sheep breeds that are excellent for meat have really poor milk production, and I am talking like half of what the dairy breeds are. Sadly the dairy breeds make poor meat sheep because they really grow slow and are smallish in size, and make rather poor wool. And of course great wool means less protein since it makes the wool brittle, which is not the ideal way to raise sheep for slaughter.
Milk sheep breeds produce perfectly usable good wool, just not the same wool as a merino. Meat sheep breeds produce perfectly usable good wool, just not the same as a merino. Merino is a breed that is currently only great at super fine wool and nothing else. AND. Merino wool isn't thee only wool or thee most perfect wool. Actually I really hate merino wool for many reasons. The main thing is that all sheep breeds are good at different things and all wools are good at different things.
As with the OP, herein lies the issue of educating people. Merino isn't the god of all wool. Just like angus isn't the god of all beef. And since I live in a rural area and right now every black cow, calf, heifer, steer, or bull that passes through the local auction is trying to be passed off as black angus.. and almost none of them have any worthwhile meat type.. and they all are black so the price will double or more what any other cow sells for just for that. It is really hard to educate people.
As to protein for meat vs wool what you state is not correct at all for wool. Sheep all need the same thing to thrive and do their best at whatever it is they are doing, be that making milk, meat, wool, or all three. If a sheep isn't getting enough of something their health will decline and they will not produce well no matter what the purpose of production. Be it protein or minerals or any number of things. That said, some breeds are much better at doing better on lesser feed. This is only after many generations of breeding and mostly found in the heritage breeds which are now used more for wool or small farm stock than for large production like in the breeds hay-days. That doesn't mean they can't be great producers.
raven ranson wrote: But this method involves culling and the thought experiment is how to raise sheep for wool without them going for meat.
In short my answer to this is, there isn't any reason **other than human delicacy or anthropomorphizing** to not eat/sell at least a portion of a flock, or really any livestock.
In detail here is my reasoning:
1) you cannot make the population better without removing the unwanted. If I want all superfine wool merinos I cannot leave the higher micron testing sheep with the flock. They will reproduce along with the flock and bring down the micron of the flock as a whole by having more and by letting them breed with the finer animals. From what I read and have seen so far in person when breeding sheep the wool will always be of a micron on the coarser side of the parentage. If I breed a fine wool to a medium wool I will have lambs that are finer than the medium wool parent but definitely not as fine as the fine wool parent. I have to remove the coarser wools to get a finer wool flock.
2) there is always undesirables to weed out. No matter what the cause for an animal being undesirable. This could be animals that produce poorly, that have fault in type, that are not as hardy, that have serious genetic conditions,...
3) you have to have at least minimal reproducing to keep up your stock numbers for wool production. Even if this is kept in very careful balance there will always be that year you have 13 ram lambs and 4 ewe lambs or vice versa. Even if you keep a predominately wool wether flock with just enough ewes to keep up numbers, you have to realize animals will all age and their production changes with age, and what you will do with the sheep when they become old gummers and can no longer eat. Very very very few people are willing to keep every animal until it may be 15 or 18 years old and dies of old age. On top of the fact that by that time the animal is becoming a cost in money and time and either not producing or producing wool that is of much lesser value or even use.
raven ranson wrote: Increasing the value of the wool. Adding value to the wool.
Increasing and adding to the value of wool depends entirely on the consumer you are marketing to and what you are marketing. This also plays ALOT on the education of the consumer.
Are you marketing raw fleeces? Are you gearing toward handspinners who want cleaner fleeces to hand process? Are you marketing to handspinners who want to buy multiple fleeces to be milled into roving? That in itself is two very different marketing goals, and I say that as a buyer and a seller. Are you willing to pay more for a better shearer/shearers? Are you willing to pay more to have someone with knowledge skirt and/or pick your fleeces? Are you willing to buy and put in all the extra work to coat at least some of the best fleece sheep? All of the last three would increase the value of fleeces to a handspinner looking at a raw fleece.
Are you marketing milled rovings or yarns? Are you skirting and washing the fleeces or paying the mill to do that? Or are you paying to work for you to do that? Are you dyeing the rovings or yarns? Are you marketing the yarns to indie dyers as one of their yarn bases? Do you even know that indie dyers are a thing to be marketed to?
How much time and money are you willing to invest in making and marketing value? And are you adding in this to your costs to pay yourself or to pay someone to do it for you?
Travis Johnson wrote: Another underutilized resource I think is lanolin.
Not without boiling the wool. Making the wool unusable other than compost. The best I can stretch the idea is that you would have to process the wool into cloth wholly in the raw (shearing to fabric off the loom without having washed or wet the wool) and then using the fabric to carefully make a boiled wool felt to be made into coats. This of course would not happen at scale period because large scale wool processing has to have clean wool. This would have to be done strictly on cottage scale and would have quite a hefty price tag on the resulting fabric and/or coat.
I have several more points I would like to make about my own price points both for my sheep and my fiber/spinning/crafting but it needs more thought and I currently need more sleep. So I will leave this for now.
r 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. The scale we grow them locally (most flocks are less than 50 adults), I've never heard of anyone dipping or spraying a sheep. It seems rather expensive for the perceived benefit when a lot of these issues can be prevented with a little attention. At least on the smaller scale, we do around here. 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! 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):
The United States Department of Agriculture requires that anyone who produces, processes or handles organic agricultural products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier in order to sell, label or represent their products as "organic." To become certified, an organic producer, processor or handler must develop, implement and maintain an organic system plan. Most small manufacturers simply can't afford to jump through these hoops so they can legally call their products organic.
Another quote, this time from a lanolin company in New Zealand that's now no longer online, but the data was copied from it's site (https://community.babycenter.com/post/a20642085/whats_wrong_with_lanolin):
We receive frequent questions about "organic" lanolin. Other companies may claim that they sell organic lanolin but it is our view that there is no such thing. Sheep like to play and roll around in their open fields and while the sheep are having fun, their woolly coats accumulate insects. This necessitates insecticide dips once in a while that are essential to preserve the health of the animal and the quality of the wool. Currently, there is no alternative to these dips. In NZP products, our lanolin is purified to the point where insecticide traces are undetectable; however, this does not make the product "organic." Our view is that "organic" means never exposed to artificial chemicals, not that chemicals have been removed by purification. Is there an alternative? Probably not, because it would mean confining the sheep indoors and not in their beloved open fields; something we would see as inhumane and unimaginable. Our product is as pure as it can be with the most advanced purification technologies available.
Here's another page about lanolin https://www.superfoodly.com/what-is-lanolin-safety-and-side-effects/. It mentions the types of pesticides, as well as the fact that China makes 27% of the world's lanolin, and 10% of our lanolin is imported (perhaps from China?).
The top 3 pesticides used on sheep in 2005 were permethrin, fenvalerate, and malathion, according the Organic Trade Association (3).
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.
After more searching, I did find a source for supposedly organic lanolin. It's sold out (http://www.gogonatural.com/organic-lanolin.html), and looking at the manufacturers website they don't sell the pure organic lanolin any more, only "certified contaminant-free and residue-free pharmeceutical grade lanolin," whatever they mean by contaminant and residue... (certified contaminant-free and residue-free pharmaceutical grade lanolin )
Okay, this post is getting long now, but I found more info about the production of lanolin (https://cousinrichie.com/2009/04/06/lanolin-a-wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing/). It looks like the wool is dipped in pesticides AFTER it is sheared?
Currently, Lanolin is removed from the wool with chemical scouring. In conventional wool production, the wool is dipped in pesticides to kill any mites and parasites, and then it is chemically scoured to remove the lanolin. It is then put through a centrifuge, and then it undergoes a distillation process, which yields the finished lanolin. Conventional lanolin that you would find in your “all-natural” lip and body balm has been through this chemical cocktail processing. Current regulations call for it to contain less than 40 parts per million (ppm) of pesticide residue in order to be applied topically, but who is watching? The Organic Monitoring Research institute admits that it is not clear who is monitoring this 40 ppm of pesticide residue for compliance. You and I both know the answer: NOBODY!!! As of today, there are no International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) standards for lanolin production. It is a free-for-all and nobody is paying attention to the safety of the finished product.
Lanolin is exposed to a number of pesticides when the wool is dipped. A few of them are: Organochlorine, organophosphate, pyrethroid. Residues of these toxic pesticides in lanolin are well documented. Sheep also ingest low levels of dieldrin. Studies show that the pesticides bind to the lanolin due to its waxy consistency rather than to the wool fiber itself. The pesticides become concentrated in the lanolin.
... To extract the lanolin from the wool, processers use Methyl chloride as a solvent. There are numerous studies to the toxic effects of this chemical.
There's got to be a better way!
Kadence, 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!
The problem I see today is the influence the dairy farm industry has had on homesteading in general. I grew up on a dairy farm, and still have a dairy farm in our family and know it well. In that industry producers are paid premiums for the protein content of the milk. It used to be they were paid high premiums for butter fat, but that is no longer where the profit for creameries lies. To get protein content for the beverage industry, it is extracted from milk.
Now for us as dairy farmers to get that protein, we had to drastically change how we farmed. It started with changing the very grasses we were chopping. We went to planting orchard grass, timothy, clover, and alfalfa; the latter being harder for us to grow because we live in Maine where winter kill is an issue. It also meant changing when we cut our grass. In fact if the grass ground is at optimal protein levels, we will actually stop planting corn, cut our grass to glean that protein and then go back to planting corn, because in the end we will make more money then what we will lose by having a smaller corn crop. We are also no longer harvesting our grass in 2 crops, we had to get it when it had the most protein, meaning we are now up to 5 crops of grass per year. Since this meant harvesting less tonnage per crop acre, it meant getting bigger equipment so we were not burning 3 times as much fuel. Now all that was done because the higher protein content paid for that kind of farming change.
Today a lot of homesteaders have jumped on this bandwagon thinking "high protein, must have high protein", and that is not the case at all. Yes high protein is critical to the dairy farmers bottom line, but for the other industries, it is not warranted; wool industry included. High protein levels do make the wool brittle. Now I am not saying wool sheep should have none, but overall the dairy farm industry has accidentally pushed this notion that the higher the protein levels, the better. That is not the case at all; as R Randson mentions, sheep do well on some crappy feed. Now I say that in general; sheep versus other livestock, as obviously certain breeds do better than others. My Montadales (also known as Western Sheep) were range sheep and grazed on nothing and got fat, my Suffolk's...oh my they are stuffed in a barn and force fed feed all winter and come shearing day looked like I starved them. Breed does matter...
Now granted on my farm, I have (2) sheep nutritionists and they call out feed rations for sheep going for meat production, and should I go with meat/wool or a milk/meat I am sure they would adjust the ration. Even now there are (2) kinds, one for the lambs going to market and the breeding stock ewes/replacement ewes. The latter of course having different rations depending upon where they are in their gestation rotations. Now I wish I knew more about sheep nutrition; it is fascinating stuff, but it is so complex that I do not feel qualified in making the right decision for my sheep; I would either over-or under-feed them for sure. But that is why I pay sheep nutritionists to give me that information; it is money well spent.
Now if I only could employ a human nutritionist for me and my family! Pretty sad huh, technically speaking my sheep are fed better than my family!
I mentioned economy of scale, and while that is an option, it may not be for many, so l am just going to take that out of the equation for a moment as I explained what I meant, made some sound points, but want to move on to having thoughts on how to reduce the overall cost or raising a smaller flock of sheep. I am in NO WAY trying to control the conversation here, just showing that I am not disregarding what I ppreviously said was an alternative, just narrowing my scope for the moment.
I think an excellent point was what TJ Jefferson mentioned, using other people's land. If the Permiculture Community wants to get utterly disgusted, come to my town. We have the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association here, where they have a HUGE fairgrounds and put on the Common Ground Fair where some 70,000 people stroll through in 3 days time...all on homesteading stuff. We also have the best soil in the State of Maine, I know, my farm is listed as soil Vital to the State of Maine Agriculture. YET...my "Village District" as it is called is a ghost town of houses for sale. And right in back of these houses...probably 50 acres or more of land starting to grow up into brush because no one does anything with it. When I was on the fire department we used to burn the fields just to keep the brush down, but that no longer happens. Now I am not sure what fields go with what houses, but why not buy a house with 2 acres, and then use land that someone else is paying for? I am a large land owner and I can tell you taxes are not cheap. I pay $28 an acre!! That right there is a huge way to reduce the overall cost of raising sheep...
And then there is bartering. This is one way I keep my costs down. Granted I know a lot of people, and have been here all my life so my reputation is sound making it a little less intimidating, but the biggest hurtle for other homesteaders is NOT ASKING? Take a chance, good people are good people and will often try bartering even with a stranger, just do what you say you will. Sometimes it can sting you and later you feel the deal might not have been exactly fair, or at the time you really needed this or that and pushed into it, but maintaining integrity in barters is always best.
Equipment versatility. Now you guys (and gals) know me...I have equipment, but I don't buy equipment on a whim. It must be very versatile. It has to be, if I am not constantly using it, it has to go. Even used I can sell it and apply the money to something that is used more. Now some say do not buy equipment at all, BUT I don't agree with that. Part of it is, here in Maine, when we need crops in, we have short windows of time, and it must be in. Borrowing from a neighbor gets old for them fast, and people are not always motivated for your best interest. yes barter if you can, but as I found out, I have to get my own equipment (but I am not a small sheep farmer either).
Travis Johnson wrote:
I was looking for some sheep handling equipment, and could not find what I wanted in the USA, but did in New Zealand and Australia and noted in those videos that they showed the equipment being used as they sprayed their sheep, and I was like, "huh, I guess they do that over there?"
The farm I work on used to do wool sheep a couple decades ago. Problem is, wool sheep are WOEFUL in our bioregion...
~ Our pasture quality is poor (even though it is quite lush due to grazing techniquss, it's lousy nutritionally), and the wool breeds don't cope well with that. This means we have to supplement feed, increasing price.
~ The wool breeds are stupidly vulnerable to parasites in our area. Internal and external. And the fly plagues that blow in from the deserts each summer will eat wool sheep alive, literally (dark and damp hideouts in wool = perfect fly brood habitat). This is where mulesing and sheep dip comes into play, just to keep the flock alive. There's still one paddock we can't use on the farm (we're certified organic now) because of the arsenic in the soil from those sheep dip days.
~ They get heat stroke in our harsh summers, even under constant tree shade and abundant cool water.
~ The wool sheep were lousy mothers- they would disown their young and wander off in rotational grazing systems, leaving the farmers with the extra work of trying to hand rear lambs or attempting to re-bond the babies with mum.
~ Good shearing hands are rare and get paid a lot of money. On top of that, you really need to find them enough work to keep them employed year round, or you risk losing them to another farmer who can offer employment stability.
All of the above points meant that keeping wool sheep in my area is really tricky to do in a cost-effective manner. Kinda like growing bananas in Antarctica- it can be done, but how much money are you willing to spend? We decided that having wool wasn't worth all the downsides, and the farm switched to african hair sheep breeds. For meat production only. Haven't looked back- those critters are absolutely perfect for our bioregion.
As for wool production? Alpacas actually do really darn well on our farm, and they double up as "guard dogs" for our sheep. Alpaca wool doesn't make me itch like sheep wool does, too.
Hmmm... organic, hypoallergenic alpaca wool... I could see that as a boutique product.
I guess all this ^^^^^ is a long way of saying "it depends". If wool sheep thrive on neglect (within reason) on your land, and your labour input is very very low, it might just work. It doesn't work on my farm.
Random side note- organic, ultra soft lamb skins fetch a stupidly high price from mothers wanting to use them for baby rugs. Organic wool baby blankets are in a similar arena.
the thought experiment is how to raise sheep for wool without them going for meat.
I've been following this thread with interest.
Two years ago we traded for two young jacob sheep to clean up the gardens and then sheered their lambs wool late winter and then butchered soon after when they were still young enough to be called lamb rather than mutton (at eight months, I think). This worked very well for us, economics aside....beautiful lambs wool, excellent meat and they did a pretty good job on the clean up (except they didn't touch the bermuda grass as I had hoped) and they mixed well with the chickens and, we think, kept the raccoons and other chicken predators away (soon after we butchered them the chickens were taken out by raccoons).
This summer I hope to get two more young jacob lambs to keep for wool and garden/pasture clean up. I suppose they will be more like 'pets', interesting for the grandkids and maybe some positive balance for all of the loud mowers in the neighborhood. I want them for the long term this time, really mainly for the wool, so am looking forward to any tidbits of advice from this topic. I'm not locked in to this breed, we just really liked them the first time around but have considered something without horns for children's safety.
According to her book Natural Sheep Care, many of the wool breeds need a high amount of copper to prevent some of the challenges described above. Some like merino have a tiny tolerance range, others like Black Welsh Mountain and many of the Finn descendants have a wide tolerance range and in the case of BWM, can tolerate levels on par with goats. Too much copper in sheep is near enough instant death, but too little copper leaves the sheep extra prone to parasites and reduces wool quality. Coleby advocated free choice minerals where you put each kind of mineral out separately, and the sheep chose which one they needed (sheep are smart that way).
I like what she suggests and although I'm not set up yet for free choice minerals, I took a lot of the ideas and adapted them to my location. The quality of the wool is much improved, and parasite issues are almost nill in my flock.
Location, location, location. This makes a huge difference in how profitable sheep are and what their needs are.
Breed also seems to be a big thing. Choosing the right breed for the land and custommizing the care to suit the breed.
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.
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!