One of the greatest parts of running a farm is raising sheep and alpaca and finally reaping the benefit of the “full lifecycle” I call it, of production.
You start with a few sheep and or alpaca on your farm and it takes you years to breed out a reasonable sized herd. You have the shearer come out and shear your alpaca and sheep and you store your alpaca fiber and sheep wool.
We’ve been doing this for a few years and have simultaneously moved to an entirely new part of the country. In many areas of the country there aren’t fiber / woolen mills around and shipping raw fleeces to the mill begins to add up in cost. Also, in some areas it’s nearly impossible to even find a shearer in your area anymore.
Seeing as we have about 100 pounds of fiber, shipping would be impossible. But, we are fortunate that here in East Tennessee that there is a fiber mill 90 miles away from us here in East Tennessee.
We absolutely love 2 Roots Fiber Mill. You can access there site here.
They have an absolutely stunning property and wonderful mill with approximately 50 alpaca. They spend so much time with you as a client so you can learn and engage as much as you’d like as your fiber and wool is being processed. (I will blog about a wet felting project Chloe did with Ruth Anne at the mill in connection with this blog).
We sent a variety of fleeces for both our alpaca and Navajo Churro sheep this last spring and picked them up this last weekend, January 11th. Here are a few shots of our time at the mill.
For those that are new to wool and alpaca fiber, there are a sequence of events that transpire to go from baby lamb to final product like yarn and it take a year or two (a long cycle process for sure).
First, you want to assure that the animal is well taken care of nutritionally to assure a good fleece quality. Poor nutrition and stress can greatly damage the fleece. Also, you want to keep your animals clean so the fleeces aren’t too dirty. Then, you want a good shearer, who shears the animal well without a lot of second cuts (short cuts). You want all the fiber or wool the same length. In the case of our Navajo Churro, their wool grows up to eight inches per year, so we have them sheared twice a year to assure appropriate length for milling. Then you want to make sure your fiber is stored well so that it can not get compromised by moisture, drying out and bugs. You want to maintain your fleeces in good fashion until they get to the mill. You want to “skirt” your fleeces before they go to the mill as well, which is the process of cleaning the fleece and removing 2nd cuts, dirt, felted areas etc.
Now your fleece is at the mill. You want to make sure you are clear about what type of final products you want from this process. In our case we did bats, roving, rug yarn and hopi yarn. Bats are in rolls that can be laid out for felting and other such projects. Lopi yarn is used for knitting while rug yarn is used for rugs but also can be used for felting and other creative projects. Wool and fiber we had made into roving, which is the form you have it in for spinning.
At the mill the fiber and wool go through a multi step process as well. Here it goes through tumbling, washing, drying and picking. Then it is made into bats, roving, yarn, etc.
In this whole process there will be fall out from the process that we also take as it can be used for wet felting.
Now that the wool and fiber is in the forms outlined above, it is important to store it well once again until you use it. Ruth Anne advises placing in pillow cases and added cedar blocks in each pillow case.
Needless to say, we are thrilled to receive our wool and fiber back and now Chloe can get on with more felting and I can begin spinning on my wheel again.
The colors of our animals are so amazing and to know the history of each animal and to love them so and have their wool/fiber that will be in the form of art for years to come, is so special to our family.
Our next blog we will show you a wet felting project Chloe did at the mill while she was there.
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