It was a wonderful time at Shepherd’s Harvest in Lake Elmo, MN this past weekend. Unlike last year when I borrowed mittens, both days were warm and sunny. The fleece competition went about as well as could be expected. Three of my four fleeces got first place ranking (blue) and the 4th got 2nd place – because it was competing against one of my other fleeces. I was especially happy about receiving 2 ratings of 19, 1 of 18, and 1 of 17 out of a possible 20 pts. for cleanliness and purity. In all, I sold 8 plus 2 halves out of 10 fleeces taken to the event, so I am very satisfied. One customer already reported back that she spun some from one of my fleeces “in the grease” and loved it! I got to talk sheep and wool the entire 2 days, plus was able to see friends and the other exhibits. It was great! I’m looking forward to seeing some of the folks who stopped at the both at the North Star Farm Tour September 30th and October 1st. I’ll be at Clear Spring (Yak) Farm with a couple of this year’s lambs and more wool.
The display got a little sparse towards the end. Note the ribbons displayed on the card/rovings rack.
It was a super busy day at Prairie Plum Farm on Saturday. Guests pitched in and helped shear the flock – learning as they went. There were also 2 new arrivals – ram/ewe twins, tentatively named Calvin and Calista from Hattie and 5 lambs were reserved to go to new homes.
Steve Johnson showing good form holding Beck a in the on-deck circle.
Naomi Johnson and Ken Heidlebaugh taking a break after cornering Bashful and removing her coat for shearing.
Brent Winslow in the middle of shearing, Carol Wiegrefe and Moonshadow watching. He’s hoping for an opening so he can make a jail break.
Kari Jovaag awaiting fleece to scoop up, Lilly contemplating next coat to hand over, and Carol discussing some random sheep with Sara West.
Larisa Walk and Hailey working out the intricacies of the bag holder for storing the new fleeces.
The newly shorn ladies in their new spring attire.
The first morning for Hattie’s twins. Watchful mom to upper right.
Twin sisters (Fergie’s) cuddling in the corner of their jug.
Shearing on Prairie Plum Farm will be Saturday, March 18th starting around 10:00. This is approximate as the shearer will be working another farm prior to mine. Individuals interested in sheep, wool, showing kids how wool is harvested, and/ or in getting a taste of lamb balls are invited to join us. I’ll be serving the lamb balls with choice of sweet and savory sauces as well as lasagne for lunch (in case the cute sheep put you off eating lamb). It will be simple fare and I’m accepting donations if you choose to help cover the cost (=optional). The shearing will be in the barn (duh) and lunch will be in my unheated greenhouse, so dress appropriately. A friend who spins will be demonstrating that skill. Cleaned wool and yarn will be available for purchase as will fleeces fresh off the animals. Come a bit early (9:00?) if you want to pick out your fleece while it still has its personality attached to it.
Directions: from the intersection of Hwys 43 and 44 in Mabel – go north about 1/10 mile on 43. Turn left on Co Rd 28/120th Street. The farm (fire number 42443) will be on your right about 1.7 miles out. Gray buildings and plastic covered greenhouse are key landmarks.
I’ve become super excited about this coming season’s shearing! This week I was out changing up coats on the flock to keep ahead of growing wool and got to see and feel their fleeces – up close and personal. They so impressed me that I’ve decided to enter a number in the fleece competition at Shepherds’ Harvest fiber festival this May. If all goes as planned, here is the line-up:
Olivia Purebred Medium Babydoll Southdown
Adrien Purebred Medium Babydoll Southdown
Becka Colored Medium? Babydoll Southdown X Finnsheep
Bro White Medium? Babydoll Southdown X Finnsheep
Below are a few close-up images of the wool beneath the coats. Nina’s fleece is always longer than most, but she was only coated since November, so Olivia’s, who also trends longer, will be entered. She’s been coated since last shearing. The Finnsheep crosses may be fine enough that the judges will move them to the fine category. There they would be up against Merinos who have very fine textured wool. Since cleanliness is highly weighted, I’m thinking they should do fine anyway. I am planning – time permitting – to post pictures/ weights of fleeces and offer for sale on this website. The fleeces exhibited at Shepherds Harvest will be auctioned off there (unless I get an “offer I cannot refuse” 😉 ). I am also planning a shearing day open house (March 18th) where newly shorn fleeces can be purchased. My coat provider, Rocky, was telling me that it’s been a good wool growing year with some flocks growing into sizes of coats they’ve never had to use before. Click on each image for a close up look at their crimp!
It’s not ALL work with the farm. I had a mini-vacation earlier this month to play with fleece. I had long wanted to learn needle felting from Stacy Dreckhan of Beelighted fiber shop and Artify consignment art store in Zumbrota. The opportunity presented itself and I made the voyage for a private lesson, no less! It was great fun and I was quite satisfied with the resulting gnome. The sheep is, I believe, a product of Nancy Ellison’s daughter, but is something I am interested in emulating.
I’m looking forward to this Saturday’s Spin-In in Decorah, IA. The Oneota Weavers are hosting the Iowa Federation of Weavers and Spinners Conference at the Winneshiek Co. Fairgrounds. I’ll be vending my Babydolls’ wool as raw fleece, rovings, top, batts (quilt and craft sizes), sport yarn, and felting 4-packs. There are sessions most of the day for Federation members, but the vendor building will be open to the public from 11:30 to 1:30. Any Fiber Fiends among you are invited!
Mabel, MN March 19, 2016 – The wooly ones have been relieved of their fleeces! I had a fine crew of helpers and we got all 15 done in less than 2 hours. Brent Winslow, shearer from Chatfield, MN, braved the snowiness and led the crew. Thanks to Mark, Ken, Carol, Jonya, and Gwen for their help in wrangling the livestock and collecting the fiber. This year I’m storing the fleeces in kraft paper landscape waste bags so the bags can lose moisture even if they are sealed shut to exclude moths. If mice want to make nests in the fluffiness, the paper will be no deterrant, unfortunately.
I’m super excited to be getting a duvet (comforter inside a case) made from the bulk of my second-quality wool – FOR ME! The St. Peter Wollen Mill offers this service. I send them 8 pounds of greasy (but skirted and sorted) wool and they return a 90″ by 90″ duvet. I also intend to take them up on their service of sewing the zippered cover once I figure out what 10 yards fabric I will send to them. I will be cozy this winter snuggled under my flock’s old coats!
2015 has been a good year with healthy interest in registered Babydoll breeding stock. The flock has been pared down to the essential numbers for my farm going into breeding season and winter. This season I will be using only one babydoll ram (Winslow), who is off-white, 18 months old and a proven ram. I anticipate 10 to 12 registerable lambs next spring – probably all off-white – from 6 ewes (Claire, Nina, and Sara (off-white) and Fergie, Penny, and Hattie (black)).
The experimenter in me has led to the purchase of a brown/badgerfaced Finn ram to breed just 3 of my ewes (Olivia, Tammy, and Abigail). As much as I love my Babydolls, this will introduce 4 traits they don’t possess: another color (brown), longer fiber, a sheen to their fleece (but may detract from the lovely springiness), and a greater probability of multiple births. With multiple births I may have fewer losses from problematic deliveries as twins are generally smaller than singles. My ewes are definitely of adequate condition to carry multiple lambs and nurse them successfully. I am also redoubling my efforts to prevent 2 of my ewe lambs (Adrien and Audrey) from being bred their first season. I will compare their growth and performance with Abigail, the one ewe lamb that will be bred. Finn crosses are also known for their exceptional vigor as lambs. Depending on the number born, some of the lambs may be available for sale, though I may need to wait until later in the summer to sell so I can evaluate what the fleece characteristics will be. I expect off-white and black lambs from these parings as brown is a recessive trait.
Things appear to be taking off on the fiber front. I prepared materials explaining my fiber offerings for sale and sent them to a couple of potential customers and received good feedback from both. North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN and Blue Heron yarn shop in Decorah, IA both expressed interest in buying rovings. I will continue to do direct market sales at fiber events but this will enable me to move more volume. The direct sales margins are better but the time invested is also seriously greater.
Brochures highlighting rovings for retail outlets and class materials use.