I have dreamed, of buying a little house with some acreage where I can expand my work in the fiber arts. Where I can offer a home to more Angora rabbits, and can finally raise a flock of sheep, of my own.
The farm will be a place dedicated to education in the fiber arts, to the conservation of heritage sheep breeds, and offering sanctuary to fiber animals in need.
Up until now my fiber journey has consisted of incessant learning and immersion about the raw materials involved with our craft. Learning about wool, different sheep breeds, about spinning and fiber preparation, about plants and natural dyeing, and about raising Angora rabbits. My journey has developed and I now spend as much time as I am able helping others learn about all these different aspects of the fiber world.
As my involvement in education has expanded, so has my passion towards conservation efforts. Which has consisted in promoting the conservation of rare and heritage breeds, and will hopefully expand to the stewardship of these breeds on my farm.
The Livestock Conservancy's mission is to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction.
Since its inception in 1977 (as the American Minor Breeds Conservancy, and later, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy), The Livestock Conservancy has been a “central hub” for anything having to do with rare breed conservation in the United States. The Livestock Conservancy conducts research, education, outreach, marketing and promotion, and genetic rescues to help ensure the future of rare breed agriculture. Using this information, the Conservancy publishes America's list of endangered farm animal breeds, and works to ensure those breeds aren't lost to extinction.
Why is it important to protect rare breeds? There are many reasons. To preserve our history, heritage, and culture. To conserve valuable genetic traits such as disease resistance, survival, self-sufficiency, fertility, longevity, foraging ability, and maternal instincts. To maintain breeds of animals that are well-suited for sustainable, grass-based and organic systems.
Shave ‘Em to Save ‘em
The Livestock Conservancy has long said that the way to save endangered breeds of livestock is to give them a job. In the case of wool sheep, we need to start using their wool again. Because of marketing challenges, some shepherds discard or compost the wool after their annual shearing rather than cleaning it and selling it. In addition to encouraging fiber artists to try using rare wools, the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em initiative also educates shepherds about how to prepare their wool for sale and how to reach customers and fiber artists, thereby making it more profitable to raise heritage breeds.
As a fiber artist, the purpose of this challenge is to familiarize yourself with the various sheep breeds on the Conservancy Priority List. By working with these sheep breeds you will learn the varied characteristics and properties of their wool. By purchasing rare breed wool you will be helping to conserve these very special breeds.
To get started visit the Livestock Conservancy website and sign up for the initiative as a fiber artist. You will receive a Passport with a page dedicated to each of the rare breeds. When you make a purchase of wool or yarn, you will receive a stamp to place in your passport for that breed. There are various groups on social media where you can post pictures of your finished objects and will have the opportunity to win prizes.
I am an official fiber provider and will provide corresponding stamps for your passport!
Jacobs produce a medium fleece that is light and open, with a staple length of four to six inches and a weight of three to six pounds.
I will be offering these gorgeous braids of Jacob roving for sale. Jacob is a breed of heritage sheep listed as "threatened" on the Livestock Conservancy's Conservation Priority List. It is the breed of sheep I am hoping to start off with on my farm . It means so much to me to be able to offer this very rare and special wool for sale. It is also so deeply symbolic to me, to help raise awareness on this sheep breed as I work on bringing them home.
Sheep with spots have been described in many cultures throughout history, appearing in works of art from the Far East, Middle East, and Mediterranean regions. Among these accounts is the Biblical story of Jacob, who bred spotted sheep and for whom this breed is named.
Spotted sheep were documented in England by the 1600s and were widespread by the mid-1700s. They became popular in England as ornamental, or "park" sheep. Jacobs were ideal for this role, as they were picturesque but required minimal care. Scant selection occurred for anything but hardiness, spots, and four horns. The result was a -primitive breed that looked after itself well.
Jacobs are small, horned, black and white sheep. Ewes weigh 80–120 pounds, and rams 120–180 pounds. The sheep are white with colored spots or patches. The colored portions of the fleece are usually black, but they can also be brownish or a lighter color called lilac. The Jacob is a multi-horned or “polycerate” breed. Most animals have two or four horns, though six horns also occur. Both sexes are horned, and the rams can have horns of impressive size and shape.
I travel to different locations and venues throughout Minnesota offering free education and paid classes on wool, spinning, natural dyes, gardening, and caring for Angora rabbits. I hope that one day the farm can provide a centralized location for education and immersion, not only in the fiber arts, but also in conservation. I believe that involvement in fiber and textile arts is deeply meditative and therapeutic. It also creates a tactile connection between us as humans and the earth, its animals, and plants. The preservation of these ancient practices is incredibly vital. I have dedicated myself to doing my part in ensuring their preservation.