All posts by rikkrack

Not all fiber is wool Part I

As I started to write this, it quickly became larger than I expected so I am breaking it down into sections. Part one will be about types of fiber. Part two will be dedicated to quality of the fiber. Part three will be processing fiber.  Part four will be using the fiber. I never really knew there was so much to fiber. We are in no way experts, we are just sharing what we have learned along the way.

For someone who isn’t into spinning, fiber, and the wool world understanding what the differences are can be daunting. We were in this boat about five years ago. We assumed all animals you shear provide wool. Not the case. Sheep provide wool. So what do you call the material from llama, alpaca, or better silk worms? A friend who has now become family started educating us. It is all called fiber. There are different types of fiber, from different sources, different qualities and that also goes for natural vs man made fiber. For the most part we want to focus on natural fibers. We will try and break down some of the lessons we have learned, and point you to places so you can learn more.

Fiber can come from many sources, not just animals. Take the silk worm for instance. The fiber comes from the cocoon of the silk worm moth.  Wee aka Jr. Farm Boss and I found one on the farm one day but had no idea what we had. Using the Insect Identification Page on Facebook we were able to tell we had in fact found a native Indiana silk moth. Antheraea polyphemusThese native species are not great at producing usable silk for working with like you would think of for a silk scarf. But still pretty cool.

Cocoon
Pupa

We tried our hand at raising production silk worms as you can feed them native mulberry leaves here in Indiana.  They are ravenous little creatures. Sadly we never made it to the cocoon stage.  They only like fresh leaves, and are very fragile.  We may try it again someday but at the time had way too many projects going on to properly care for them. If you are interested in raising some check out Worm Spit. I would suggest wait until the warmer months, when you can have access to fresh mulberry leaves. Be prepared, they eat a lot, and you may run out of branches you can reach quickly.

There is a whole magnitude of fiber that comes from plants. Most people immediately think of cotton. We have some local friends here in Indiana at Stillwater Farms who grew cotton this year (2017) on their farm. We were always under the impression that it was a southern state crop. Learn something new all the time. Their cotton wasn’t a large scale production, but more an experiment to see if it could be done, and have the experience. Cotton production on a large scale takes specialized and expensive equipment.

Photo: Yvonne Snyder

Have you ever seen a cotton blossom? We haven’t. Thanks to Yvonne at Stillwater Farms for the picture.

In addition to cotton there is hemp which is far more sustainable and ecologically better than commercial cotton. Unfortunately the Indiana legislature still considers hemp, which has by law less than 0.3% THC (the active compound in getting people high associated with marijuana), A Schedule I  narcotic. A  Schedule I is said to have no medicinal value and Indiana and Federal legislature group marijuana with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, Locally Indiana Hemp Industries Association has been on the forefront of getting hemp legalized here in Indiana. Hemp can replace many synthetic products or materials from ecologically damaging practices from fuel, to animal feed, to toilet paper, to fiber used in clothing. The IHIA has more information on their website and how you can help if interested. Up until the 1938 hemp was grown as a crop here in Indiana.

Yucca is another fiber product you can grow here in Indiana. While not suited for clothing it can be used for rope and crafts. Did you also know the roots of the yucca can be eaten,  made into a flour for baking. and even a shampoo and soap?

We have several different animal sources of fiber on our farm. Contrary to what PETA or other animal rights groups you DO NOT KILL an animal for fiber. Many times shearing the animal improves the animals health and comfort. Imagine, a typical Indiana summer, and you are wearing your heaviest winter coat, two layers of pants, and a hat. You would be hot, right? These animals are too. We only shear in early spring for sheep (helps with lambing) and late in spring for alpaca and llama. Why the difference? Ewes (female sheep) won’t feel the chill of early morning spring air with a heavy coat on. They will give birth in the field and not realize the lamb is cold. If they are shorn they will want to move into the barn, so the lamb and ewe will have a similar experience of temperature. We bread later in the season so that outside temps are warmer, and try to isolate ewes ready to give birth in the barn, but sometimes they surprise us.

You can learn more about individual animals or their breeds at the Our Animals page.

We have Sheep

We have a variety of pure sheep and several crosses. Each fiber has different qualities which we will discuss in part two.

Llama

Initially the llamas were here to help keep the pastures mowed and protect some of the other animals. Shearing for fiber was just a bonus.

Alpaca

All of our alpacas are the Huacaya  (pronounced wuh-kai-ya) breed.

Goat

Yes goat….Many people don’t know that the expensive angora (although typically associated with rabbits), cashmere, and mohair sweaters and clothing comes from GOATS.  Here are all the goat fiber breeds.  We have “Token” aka Norman a Pygora goat. While he wasn’t initially brought to the farm for fiber, we have grown to like it.

We will soon be adding rabbits to our fiber animals. Initially as a pet, but possibly production animal as well. Angora rabbits are another source of super soft fiber. Want to learn more about Angoras? Friends at Treen Acres has some info and pictures.

  

Surprisingly you can also use dog and cat hair as fiber. Jack and Freyja our LGD/Farm Dogs have a dual coats and they “blow them out” each spring. Blowing out a coat means the thick fluffy layer underneath that keeps them warm over the winter falls out and they regrow it again in the fall. Major, well, not much to say about Major other than “He’s so FLUFFY!!!”

Cows

In the distant future we hope to add Scottish Highland cattle which has fiber you can use in fiber works. At this time we cannot speak to the quality of the fiber. Aren’t they fluffy looking. Adults have long locks of fiber.

 

Pigs?!?!?!

There is a type of wooly pig that also has fiber. The Mangalica is a wooly pig said to have fiber similar to some sheep.

Photo from wikipedia

So hopefully now you know a little more about fiber vs wool. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.

Sheep Shearing week of March 17th 2018

We will be shearing sheep the week of March 17th weather permitting. If you are interested in attending go the the facebook link here. If you don’t have a facebook account please use the Contact Us page. We will need to escort you to the proper area and time. This is not a learn how to do it, but an observe how WE do it. Not necessarily THE way to shear, but it is how we do it here on the farm.

Letting animals work for you

Part of my training in permaculture has taught me to utilize animals to work for you. One of the biggest challenges has been to clean brush and briars our of overgrown pastures, fence lines, edge zones, and laneways. An edge zone is where one ecological area transitions to a different area such as when a pasture meets woods. There is an area where the two blend before transitioning. We have been utilizing sheep, goats, and pigs to reclaim areas. This has a multi prong approach and benefit.

Sending in the goats first they eat and knock down much of the brush. Eating roughly five feet down to 6-12 inches above the ground. the will even walk down saplings as tall as 14 ft to get to the new growth at the top.

Using the animals allows us to have 32 acres and currently no tractor, and relies less on physical labor from people and machines. The animals get brush and browse in their diets, we have less feed costs, they fertilize the soil while cleaning, and they are light on the land. Using heavy machinery on some of our sloping hills would leave ruts and add to erosion. The animals can get to places equipment cannot in and around trees, and on hilly terrain.

Other than putting up fencing, cleaning a path to install fencing, and building structures for the animals to get our of weather, we haven’t done much to manually clean the area. Once all the brush has been eaten down and mainly grasses remain, we may go out and clip the canes and saplings at the ground.

Many people go out and buy a tractor as soon as they get a large tract of land. Unless you have cash on hand, this sends you into debt when you could allow the animals clean the area for free, and actually save money in the way of reduced feed, no fertilizer, no gas for the tractor, no maintenance costs, or interest on loan for a tractor.

This is what the same area looked like after 2 days of eating for 4 hours each day.

And another 2 days

Here is one paddock before

And After

Here is a comparison of two paddocks on the left after sheep/goats then pigs. On the right regrowth several months later.

Below is a paddock on the left which had only sheep. on the right regrown from of the pasture above left.

This picture is of our middle pasture June 2016.

  

This is what it looked like June of 2017

Here are the pigs moving in after the goats.

In one year we have cleaned 7 acres of brush and brambles with nothing more than the animals. The number of animals have doubled in the last year as we expand further into wooded areas and overgrown pastures. Still not using any machinery except occasionally a chainsaw to remove trees and branches from fence lines or fallen trees.

We have noticed letting the land choose what to regrow after the animals has lead to an unexpected benefit. We harvested a number of plants and herbs that we can use, and sell that we never noticed before the clearing. Plants such as Yarrow, Mullein, Bergamot aka Bee Balm, Goldenrod, and others.

As our herds grow we would like to offer this brush cleaning service to others who want a more natural way to clan property. Currently our goat herd is at 30 (Nov 2017) and we would like a herd around 50 so that some can remain on the farm, and some travel.

The one downside we have found is the sheep love to browse just as much as the goats and as a result their fleece becomes embedded with thorns, burs, twigs and junk.

Welcome

Welcome to Wolf-Beach Farms.

 

Unfortunately due to cyber attack we lost all our website and are currently in the process of rebuilding. We are taking this opportunity to rebuild better, offer online sales, and clean the site up. V 2.0 will be bigger and better. Please be patient with us while we grow it again. If you enjoyed something or would like to suggest an improvement we are listening. Use the Contact Us page.