Monday, November 24, 2008

Sheep on the farm (not my farm)

Nick, a friend who lives down the road from the farm, told me the other night that he is thinking seriously of putting sheep on his farm. Nick is fully retired and has lots more acreage than we do, and his place can probably handle it.

I had been thinking about sheep -- but certainly not tempted to do what Nick is doing -- when I ran across this article, Shear Delight, in the Tennessee Farm Bureau's Tennessee Home and Farm magazine.

The article describes Beth Collier and Steve Shafer, a couple near Charlotte, Tenn., who raise sheep, selling the lambs and shearing the basic herd, on their 56-acre farm. They say there is a ready market for raw wool.

Shafer and Collier (the couple in question) shear the sheep together each spring, worm them, trim their feet and assist with lambing when necessary. The couple processes much of the wool by hand – washing, combing and carding it into a soft, fluffy texture. To help lighten their load, they’ve recently started shipping hundreds of pounds to a processing mill in Oklahoma.

Collier and Shafer sell roving (wool that has been washed, combed and carded) and fleece (a year’s worth of unprocessed wool from one sheep) at festivals and from a small shop on their farm.

“Our primary market is other spinners,” Collier says. “Most spinners cannot also raise their own sheep, and they may not have any interest in it.”

In addition, Collier and Shafer raise flowers that are used to dye the wool.

Shafer and Collier grow their own herbs in a greenhouse, and they harvest wildflowers and raise traditional dye plants – including chicory, woad, amaranth, marigold, zinnia and black-oil sunflower – to create their own natural dyes.

“It’s a good excuse to raise flowers,” Collier says. “I love gardening, and when your flowers can also dye your wool and yarn, it combines two of your loves into one. It’s kind of a macho thing to be able to say, ‘I raised the sheep, I sheared the sheep, I washed the wool, I spun the wool, I dyed it with flowers I picked – and I crocheted a sweater or shawl.’”

They have quite an operation, and I wish them the best. As they say -- and I certainly believe -- it's a lot of work.

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