The Fiber Guild had its September 9, 2012 meeting at Marlene’s farm. Adell W told us about her Meigs County fiber farm operation, about the care required for her various animals, and how raw fleeces are processed to the finished product. Look for an account of the balance of the meeting and the show-and-tell pictures on another post.
This month marks our fourth installment of the “Where We Create” series. Most of the pictures shown are from our February 2010 visit to Adell’s farm on shearing day.
We watched as an Angora goat and a babydoll sheep had their fleeces shorn and hooves trimmed. Adell has also sent some recent pictures of her animals for your enjoyment. Each animal has a name–Bell, Miss Molly, Mo, Shaft, etc. and Adell knows each animal intimately.
Adell began her entry into fur farming five years ago with a single babydoll sheep. Since then, she has added more sheep (her own lambs bring the total up to 11) and branched out into other species of fleece-bearing livestock. Non-human inhabitants of Adell’s farm include: 5 alpacas, 10 Angora goats (some from Marlene), 1 Jacob (four horned) sheep, 2 horses, 9 cows plus unnumbered chickens, cats and dogs.
Goats and sheep prefer different food–sheep are grazers and need pasture, while goats are browsers and prefer brush. Alpacas both graze and browze. The moist ground is bad for them, and in this area, there are serious pests and parasites. Since she has only 2 acres of pasture, Adell puts up her own hay and buys hay from area farmers.
Sheep are normally shorn only in the spring, while goats are shorn twice. At least on Adell’s farm, the goats are shorn standing on a milking stand to keep them still. The babydoll sheep don’t require anything to keep them still. In fact, they almost become catonic once they are rolled back onto their haunches.
Angora goat fleece provides mohair roving and yarn. Babydoll sheep produce much denser fleece and require different clipper heads. Adell is now starting to sort fiber from a single fleece according to its quality. Like-grades of fleece from several animals are combined for processing. Finer fiber is used to produce the softest products used next to the skin, while the coarsest fiber is harsher, more durable and used to make rugs, for instance.
Adell is also tracking individual histories on her animals, looking for a relationship between the quality of fleece judged by diameter in microns of individual fibers, and environmental and animal characteristics (age, type of feed, injuries and other stressors, etc.) As animals age, their fiber becomes coarser. Adell hopes to identify the point where the animal should be replaced by a younger one to keep her farm as productive as possible.
A raw fleece can be stored until you have the time to process it. Here is the process for producing the finished product, starting from a freshly sheared sheep fleece:
- Skirt the fleece (pick out trash, mud and otherwise dirty fleece.) This is a backbreaking job and a good activity to carry out while watching TV. Your hands become very soft from the natural lanolin in the fleece.
- Wash the fleece to remove extra lanolin. Actually, this is really just soaking the fleece in very HOT water in a top loader washing machine with grease-cutting dish detergent or Orvis paste soap. No agitation is used, as this would felt the wool. The fleece is spun dry. (I’m not sure what happens to the lanolin–does it gunk up the washing machine?) This is often a winter activity.
- Dry the fleece. Adell drapes the damp fleece around the house, on radiators, etc. Having dry weather, or doing this during heating season is definitely recommended!
- Take the fleece to the fiber mill to card it and make it into the final product: quilt batting, pre-felt, roving, or yarn.
Fleece from different species can be combined before carding to produce products with desirable characteristics–softness, ease of spinning or felting, durability, etc. Having the fiber pre-sorted by quality, rather than just processing the whole fleece at once, results in more high quality fiber with fewer guard hairs. The coarser fiber parts are reserved for other uses. The pre-felt can be in different thicknesses, and yarn can be produced in various twists, thicknesses and number of plies.
Adell likes raising animals best, but also enjoys weaving, quilting and cross stitch when she has time off from farm and family business.