What is your Favorite Roving Mill?

After washing wool here at the farm, we also send out for machine carding and blending into beautiful roving! 

We send wool to our good friend Shari at Morro Fleece Works. The the fiber is carded into beautiful loose or pin drafted roving. She is wonderful, has been good to us/our fiber for a long time now-we adore her. The pin drafted roving is one step further than loose roving and allows us to run roving that has different colors side by side- fun and easy to spin!! Thank you Shari! 

We also send fiber locally to our friends at Argyle Fiber Mill. They have wonderful loose roving, roving bumps and clouds (clouds are located on our washed and dyed pages). We always love what the girls send home! 

Both mills are environmentally conscious so that makes supporting them even more worthwhile... they all love their 'work' with fiber --and it shows. 

Please remember that even though we work hard to only use the cleanest wool in our fleeces, most of the fleeces we work with are from sheep who do not wear coats or covers. We do not carbonize our wool so you may find a bit of vegetable matter here and there--we try to make our descriptions as accurate, both in words and color, as possible! Our sheep are encouraged to be sheep first, clean last (thank goodness because they could care less about clean!!)

**Not a spinner of yarn? I am happy to spin any of our fiber for you- special orders happily encouraged!**

What is the Homestead Shearing Philosophy?

We do not believe sheep shearing is inhumane if done correctly. Shearing sheep each year is one of the most important parts of their care. Left unshorn, sheep can have a myriad of health problems that are all equally horrible—from fly strike to heat stroke, sores and more--even the inability to move correctly when the fleece tangles and matts around their legs.  Imagine never washing your hair or cutting it- that would be pretty gross right? It is the same for sheep.

Pictured is our Gabriella, a Cotswold sheep. She was a sheep with a lot of wool growth on her face. It is so very cute! However, if she wasn't sheared every year AND her bangs kept trimmed the rest of the year- she would go 'wool blind.' That can lead to a sheep becoming permanently blind if left unattended. 

Example: Mary and I spent over an hour shearing a little sheep who had not been shorn for several years. That poor sheep had an approximately 20 pound + fleece that was completely tangled, matted and filthy. She had a collar embedded around her neck that had to be cut away with a bolt cutter and the fleece we removed had to be thrown away. Luckily, despite the 4 inches of matt, we were able to leave about 2 inches of good wool on her to keep her warm the rest of the winter. The little ewe is older and was so happy to be free of that mess that she fell asleep while we were shearing her. The people who gave her to my friend had taken excellent care of her otherwise, things changed in the family and they were later unable to find a shearer that would make a trip for one sheep..... 

While it is important to shear, it is equally, if not more important to have a kind, caring shearer who is skilled and careful with the sheep. We have several sheep who have had broken limbs, arthritis and even our little Trillium who is missing her front leg. We spent a lot of time looking for a great shearer and have found Ryan Ullom. He is just wonderful. He is so careful and kind to the sheep, takes a break if they are scared and talks to them (although he may not want us broadcasting that part! Ha!) 

Shearing is accomplished by setting the sheep on its hinder and carefully turning the sheep to shear the entire fleece. He is careful not to cut them with the clippers and the whole ‘ordeal’ is over in about 5 minutes or less per sheep. The gift in a shearer is definitely personified by Ryan, he has a unique way of handling the sheep that keeps them calm and comfortable—cradling them so there are not any injuries or traumatic experiences….

Years ago we had Angora and Pygora goats. Each spring and fall we sheared them ourselves—they are easy to work on and require nothing more than a scratch on the head to keep them standing still for me. We also have several sheep who we shear that are just easy enough to do, keeping them from being traditionally sheared to keep the stress off their once broken limbs.

Why do Homestead Sheep wear Jackets?

Why do we jacket the sheep? Jackets protect the best part of a sheep's fleece, keeping out hay and debris. I like to use them most on our smaller sheep (Shetlands & Jacobs.) The little sheep are 'victims' of their bigger pals, who despite my many pleas for good manners, still choose to eat their salads over the top of the smaller sheep. We could separate the little sheep but they would hate that- and so would I. This allows us to have  gorgeous fleeces to share! 

When do we put jackets on the sheep? When we start feeding hay, which is usually some time in November. The jackets are then removed on shearing day (April) for spring through fall. Since our sheep are on pasture, we feel there is no need for the jacket at that time. 

Are the jackets too warm or uncomfortable for the sheep? Not in our opinion. We buy quality jackets that are made of a strong, light weight 'wind breaker' fabric- made to not rip (sheep LOVE to challenge me by ripping the coats to shreds!)  They are also designed to adapt to a growing fleece- with out matting the locks. We used canvas jackets in the past (pictured above) and found it was easy for the sheep to shred them- big game for them and too much sewing for me! ;0) The new jackets are light weight but do not keep the sheep completely dry-which we feel is not necessary. They slip over the sheep's head, have loops that slip over their hind legs and we monitor their fleece growth frequently to be sure they are fitted properly, if their wool outgrows the jacket, they move into the next size up. The jackets are easily laundered between uses and stay remarkably clean on the sheep too- thanks to the rain I think? ;0) 

If you have ANY questions, I am always happy to answer them as things pertain to our own sheep, or I'll look about and find the answers! We would ask our sheep to do anything that would harm them, jeapordize their safety or just make their lives unhappy. Happy sheep is numero uno rule here, but since they gleefully do not heed my please for at least trying to be clean fleeced, I really prefer the jackets so we have enough sparkling clean fleece to share! Even though I DO tend to oink snort a lot of wool- I DO like to share too! 

Long story short (short??Me you say??), we do not feel sheep jackets are inhumane for our fiber animals to wear. They truly don't mind. 

Please remember, this is not a commentary about the only 'proper or improper' use for a sheep jacket- our theories do not always work for other shepherds. Their decisions are based on each flocks needs and if you have questions about their practices, just email them, I am sure they would be happy to chat. It is a big world out there with many many different situations and not all theories could possibly be a blanket answer for everyone. (tee hee) 

**Our little Shetland sheep Becan is pictured above.**

How to Care for Homestead Wool Items

Caring for wool is easier than you may think--and much more forgiving than people often give it credit for! A simple way to wash an item or yarn is to fill your sink up with luke warm water and a dash of dish soap, gently add the item/yarn and let soak. Then drain the water, set the items into your clothes washer to spin the excess water out. Then fill the sink with lukewarm water one more time to rinse the item, just set it in, let it soak, then back to the washer for spinning out the water! 

If you are storing an item long term, wash it before you store it, we recommend in a sealed ziplock type bag, and add a dryer sheet or lavender sachet to keep it free of moths--you can also tuck things into your freezer just to be safe, they will pop out when you need them all nice, fresh and ready to be worn or used! Nothing to it!!

How to Wash Wool - The Homestead Way

Here is what we suggest for washing larger amounts of wool in your top loader washing machine: 

  1. Skirt and sort fleece, removing as much hay, undesirable wool, sticks and debris as possible. A good shake outside will remove lots of smaller debris! 
  2. Fill washing machine with very hot water.
  3. Add your favorite soap (Ours is Dawn Dish soap or laundry soap). TURN MACHINE OFF!
  4. Gently add wool (generally up to 5 pounds of wool). Let soak for 45 minutes.
  5. Even though it is tempting, do not move the wool around while it soaks or you could end up with a washer full of felt! Hot wool felts very quickly!
  6. WITH LID UP ON MACHINE, turn machine on and allow water to drain.
  7. When the water has drained, turn washer to spin cycle, close lid and allow water to spin from the wool.
  8. Remove wool, wipe out washer.
  9. Refill washer with hot water, turn machine off. Gently add wool, allow it to soak for 1 hour. Repeat step #3. 

This process should give you a nice clean, fluffy wool that is ready for the dye pot or let it dry on a screen outside as it is. If you feel it needs further washing, just repeat the two steps. Some wools that are heavier in lanolin (such as Merino and Rambouillet) do require more washing to completely remove the lanolin. 

To wash smaller amounts, just use the same procedure in your kitchen sink, with a smaller amount of soap.

When is our Shearing Season?

We shear our sheep each year in the early Spring. It is like Christmas 'unwrapping' our sheep. Their fleeces are so fun to watch change over the years. Black sheep go silver and gray; some sheep have cinnamon/auburn tips, white fleeces may have cream colored tips, others have blonde. The color changes on the tips of the locks are so pretty and unique to each sheep. 

I like the sun-kissed look of the locks. To me they represent a healthy sheep who spends time as a sheep should- grazing a big pasture and napping in the sunshine. Listening to me read them detective novels, feeding them treats and being generous with hugs and smooches. I absolutely adore the sheep and working with their wool is as good for my soul as the sheep are. 

Shearing day puts me in a perpetual whirl at least 3 weeks before we even have an actual shearing day confirmed. To be honest, I start fussing about shearing right after Christmas. Bet you are surprised right? ha! I always make lists and plan to be so prepared- ahead of time. I ALWAYS forget something. 

If the weather is supposed to be rainy we have to plan our activities to keep the sheep dry for shearing. This year it is supposed to rain all week so we will have to lock the sheep up for around 4 days. Extra bedding, hay and they'll be set. Hopefully they will all behave so we have no escapees this year. There are always 1 or 2 Shetlands who sneak out and won't come back in. We end up shearing them ourselves a different day. Stinkers! 

We shear 54 sheep so having good help is key to a smooth shearing day. My hubby Jim and I are the main crew, along with help from our friends. Our day starts out early, out and about around 6 a.m. to get the sheep squooshed into pens. Then we bring out all the supplies for the day. We go through a LOT of fleece bags! Shearer Ryan is usually here around 7:30 a.m. then away we go. We get about half way done around noon so we break for lunch. Back at it around 1 and if all goes smoothly we are done, fleeces all over the fiber palace downstairs and the sheep back where they belong by around 6 that evening. 

Ryan leaves about 1/2 inch of wool on the sheep but they still look so bare. The wool closest to their skin has so much lanolin! It doesn't take long for the wool to floof up again, usually a day or two. The sheep don't recognize each other at first so there is a lot of fussing til they find each other. 

Our sheep's fleeces range from a few pounds all the way to 18 pounds. When they take that first step off the shearing floor they look so puzzled and surprised. Almost like they forget how to walk! Then they get their shots, feet trimmed and off they go. Usually with a giant, gleeful jump! 

It takes a day or two to get the sheep settled down again and for us to recover. Then I label each fleece with the sheep's name and set them on shelves in the fiber palace (aka basement).

What Breeds of Sheep are in Our Flock?

My hubby might ask, what type of sheep DON'T we have! ha! Again, a varied group lives here, including Suffolk, Lincoln cross, Romney cross, Merino, Rambouillet, Shetland, Jacob, Corriedale, Wensleydale, Border Leicester and more! We do not have a policy about what type of sheep live with us, they all have beautiful wool and are happy to be here and that is all we ask…. 

Our younger sheep live in the west pasture and call the ex-dairy barn home each night. Our elderly/special needs sheep live on a smaller pasture near our house. Their home is a nice warm spot in our pole shed.  The little group moves over into the dairy barn in the winter. That barn is around 100 years old and built to be warm!

While the coyote factor is scary for any flock owner, we really seem to be able to co-exist peacefully for the most part. We love to hear them calling at night--but prefer they stay on their own side of the fence! We have replaced almost the entire perimeter fence with woven wire panels that are strong and tend to keep the coyotes from entering the pasture. They have so much room to roam here it does work so far. We believe they have a place on the earth so have chosen to go with llamas and the dogs to keep our flock safe. SO far so good and hope the coyotes stay on their side of the 'world'! ha!

Where do our sheep come from?

Our sheep are quite a varied group, we have purchased some from various friends and shepherds but many have arrived as young orphans (woo—hoo my favorite-- bottle babies!), injured, sick or just from sad situations. 

We don’t always actively go out and look for them, they seem to find their way here on their own. Once they are here, they are here to stay (whether they like it or not-haha!) for the rest of their lives. 

Some years ago we rescued 11 sheep from a national rescue group in Pennsylvania. They were part of a 150 sheep flock that had gotten to be more than their owner could manage. By the time we got this group from OohMahNee Farmed Animal Rescue, their feet were much improved and they had gained back weight—looking very fit and healthy. We still keep an eagle eye on their feet though, because they had not been trimmed for most of their lives, several of them have toes that grow into angles that are very uncomfortable if left untrimmed. We are proud to say that as shy as they were when they arrived, all but one is happy to come up to us now for a hug and some Fruit Loops—the treat of choice at the Homestead! 

This group is just one example of the type of ‘rescues’ we have been a part of. I am happy to report that the remainder of the OohMahNee rescue flock has been placed—the remaining 65 are heading to their new home in northern Wisconsin soon! 

Sometimes the word rescue can really have some scary implications, and while we have had some very sadly treated sheep to take care of and love, many we adopt or take in are caught up in the middle of family situations where people really do love them, their lives are just not such that they can keep their sheep--they do look to find a good home for them and we try our best to help them place their sheep into forever homes.

What does "Animal Friendly" mean to us?

Here at the Homestead, Animal Friendly means our animals are treated humanely, with the utmost consideration and respect for their physical and mental wellness. 

They are never sold, once they make their way here, they live out their lives as a member of our family, and are never eaten or allowed to have babies (unless they arrive here pregnant!) as we would be unable to bear to part with any of them. I absolutely LOVE having bottle (orphan) lambs tromping around the house with me too!

We feed the sheep only corn from local farms that we know has no chance of including copper (which is toxic to sheep) or animal by products. We also feed them organically raised hay (as of 2006 raised here at our own farm!), minerals and of course their favorite treats of Fruit Loops (not very organic but definitely a treat) and carrot/apple bars. 

We do neuter our boys, for both their health (to avoid cancers later in life) and to avoid over population of our farm--because we could never part with any of the babies! HOWEVER, we do use the most current pain medications to keep them from hurting and the surgery is done early in life when it is least stressful for them. The neutering also helps them be more mannerly boys during their lives! 

We accept them for who they are and love them unconditionally, no matter their disabilities, age or special needs. We spend hours every day out visiting, walking with the sheep and handing out hugs! The are members of our family and are treated as such..... they are our blessing!

**Please know that we are lucky to be able to do this and our theories may not be an option for other farmers. There are many good people out there taking great care of their sheep!**

How did this Farm Adventure Begin?

I would have to say my life with animals started with my beloved Crissy—a little unwanted foal who needed a home when I was 11. My parents could not afford a horse at the time, but decided to go ahead and adopt that sweet little red baby with the white nose. They gave me a precious gift in more than one way--they not only made their daughter the happiest girl in the whole world but I learned to have compassion for animals and a love of working with and caring for them. 

I am not sure my parents always looked at it as a gift, there was lots of driving to the stable and shows on weekends once Crissy was old enough to be ridden but they unfailingly supported my efforts and loved Crissy too. I worked hard to help provide for her—whether it was cleaning stalls or riding horses for other people. 

I was lucky to have Crissy as part of my life until she was almost 30—we lost her a few years ago but I still catch myself looking for her when I go outside to visit our animals. I will always miss her horribly but I think my life with Crissy set the tone for the rest of my life—she was the sweetest, most patient creature on earth and certainly more than returned my devotion to her…. 

Taking care of animals is a wonderful way to spend your time. They give so much back to you and are truly a blessing! I also spent many years as a veterinary technician and working with several rescue groups in the past so my background in rescue and care of animals has been a part of my entire life. 

Long story short, the sheep part of our lives began with one black sheep—our Woolamina! Someone gave her to me for a birthday present as a joke--(I always said I wanted a black sheep) and you can see what happened to us since!