Nearly two decades ago, I fell in love with the process of making yarn from scratch, starting with the sheep. Since then, keeping sheep, fiber craft and writing about fiber farming have become my full-time vocation.
At the turn of the millenium my husband Mike and I ditched our careers (mine in teaching, his in the corporate world) to purchase Springdelle Farm – 220 acre working dairy farm on a high windy hill in western Massachusetts. Armed with gumption, optimism and a healthy shot of naivety we became farmers. Our business plan, if you can call it that, was simple: Raise sheep. Make yarn.
Our farm is now home to our flock of Cormo and Cormo cross-bred sheep. From its modest beginnings (2 sheep in our backyard in 1997) our flock has blossomed in size from 60 – 100 depending on the season. The former dairy barn now houses our flock in winter. In summer our flock ranges expansive pastures once dotted with Holsteins. In winter we feed our sheep second cut hay harvested from our own fields.
We proudly produce a line of high-quality yarn literally from the ground up. I’ve chosen Cormo sheep for the foundation of our yarn line – for its next-to-the-skin softness, enduring elasticity and juicy, delectable texture. There is nothing finer than a skein of Cormo wool.
My breeding aspiration is to produce healthy, sound sheep with high quality, high yielding fleeces. I shoot for an optimal micron range of 18-21. We look for dense fleeces with bold crimp and excellent length. I know all of this may sound a bit dull and technical – but trust me, it makes a difference in the yarn.
Our yarns are processed at small-scale fiber mills where I’m on a first name basis with every person handling my fiber – from scouring, picking, carding to spinning. When the skeins come back to the farm I dye the majority of them myself in my dye studio at the farm. My color palette reflects the beauty of the New England landscape in all seasons. Larger lots are sent to a small dye house with whom I work closely to match my custom colors.
We care for our sheep day in and day out with the highest possible standards for their well-being. Our pastures are ample, so the sheep can forage freely in summer as nature intended for them to live. For their health we rotate them onto clean fields regularly. This also makes them very happy – as they love investigating new fields periodically. In winter, our sturdy barns shelter the flock. Our guardian llamas keep them safe from predators.
We do the grunt work of maintaining pastures to keep our wool free of unwanted debris (like seeds, burdock, thistles and thorns). In winter we dress our flock in special frocks, to keep contamination to a minimum. Our efforts are rewarded with fleeces of superior quality – many of which have taken champion ribbons in fleece shows throughout New England.
Although wool production is our primary focus, we raise replacement breeding stock for our farm and for other farms. Each year we raise a limited number of market lambs for the table – for discerning clientele seeking grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free, naturally and humanely-raised lamb.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it is. Twenty years ago, Mike and I never dreamed we’d be full time sheep farmers and stewards of working farm. But we couldn’t ask for a more soul-satisfying lifestyle. Sharing our days with our flock and preserving the agrarian heritage of our land are the cornerstones of our daily life.
You can read more about life at Springdelle Farm in my book, Adventures In Yarn Farming (Roost Books, 2013). If you’re seeking a solid “how to” instructions for dyeing yarn and fiber, check out my book Teach Yourself Visually: Hand-Dyeing (Wiley Publishing, 2009)