Wool Culture

I am a frequenter of Ravelry, a knitters’ and crocheters’ forum with 7 million users worldwide.  I have a favorite group with a mostly social focus that I like to participate in, but I also read other discussions to keep tabs on what people want from their wool products.  I want to make sure I am providing the wool people want.

Recently, a poster asked a question about the modern wool market.  She noted that when she was a child, knitting was a functional skill more like being able to cook and drive than a fancy craft for leisure time.  Certainly, it was a space for self-expression in color and pattern, but knitting was undertaken for the simple fact that hats and sweaters and socks were not easily obtained in other ways!

Like my previous post about the globalization of meat, fabric and textile changed massively in the age of petroleum and globalization.  Synthetic fabrics have replaced wool in many applications, even though wool often performs better and is more sustainable.  The effort of properly caring for wool has turned many people away while others have been scared away from wool by misinformation about sheep and agriculture in general in our culture of increased fearmongering.

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At the same time that people were using free time in different ways or having less free time to knit, cheap, imported, mass-produced wool and non-wool items began to appear in stores.  It soon became equally or more expensive to knit a wool sweater than to buy one.  How is this possible?  Economies of scale, lack of environmental regulations where the clothing is made, cheap labor, mechanization, and commodity bulk wool.   When the time wool subsidies ended in the 1980s, growers of mid-grade work-wear type wool from Down breeds and Medium breeds couldn’t find as many outlets to sell to.   Farmers that used to raise Down breeds have turned to hair breeds, as the cost of removing the wool from the sheep is greater than the value of the wool on the bulk market.  More than half of the US wool clip is finewool today, where once there was a greater diversity of breed types.   Sheepraising on the whole, for wool and for meat, has declined precipitously since WWII, effectively pushed out in the modern era of industrial farming.   Sheep simply don’t industrialize well.  They need to graze on extensive lands and are susceptible to disease in confinement.  Even though there are confinement lamb finishing operations in the US, these operations are declining and struggling to compete with cheaper grass-fed lamb from New Zealand and Australia.  Only the direct-to-consumer and direct-to-store markets in the South and Northeast are growing for lamb in the US.

With respect to yarn: as the generation that knit for need disappears, knitting is much more of a leisure craft activity that consumes extra money and is fed by some degree of nostalgia, plus the satisfactory feelings of accomplishment when a garment is created.  As a wool seller, I know that the stories I share on this blog become part of the wool I sell and the crafts and garments you create from it.

This is the finale of what I wrote responding to the question:

The hard truth is that even though we’ve chosen to join this community of makers here on Ravelry, the number of people who cook, sew, knit or quilt by necessity has shrunk significantly in the last 50 years. All of the people who didn’t enjoy those activities but needed to do them to save money have been bailed out by fast food, by cheap clothing, by synthetic fabrics, by cheap bedding. The people who are left often will spend more money for quality, hence the “boutique-ification” of the yarn, fabric and food markets.

The hard thing for me to acknowledge as a farmer is how much I depend on the small number of people who care more about how their food and clothing was produced than about the price at the register.  Small producers are waging an uphill battle against globalized pork, corn subsidies that secondarily subsidize factory-farmed chicken and pork, petroleum clothing and the petroleum that brought that clothing across the ocean to our stores, and the devaluation of the art of making.

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Some handiwork – find more in our store!

What are your thoughts about current trends in knitting, spinning, crocheting, cooking and making?

 

 

A Sick Lamb, Part Deux

An update on Steven gets…scatological.

When last we left our heroes, Steven the lamb was on the couch, looking a little perkier but not really ready to go back out.  Even through my “everything needs to be economical, this is a business” mindset, Steven has really touched my heart, so what follows reflects my failure to follow my own advice.  I really wanted Steven to be okay.

Our first thought about his symptoms was to assume pneumonia because his breathing did seem labored.  But as time went on, we realized that gastric upset might be the more correct diagnosis.  If you have four stomachs, gastric upset is a big deal.  We noticed that Steven was grinding his teeth, which indicates acute discomfort.  He was also lethargic and his eyelids were very pale, indicating anemia.

So Matt and I decided to fetch him an iron supplement, and we also worked on getting him eating more hay.   Finally, some farts and ball-bearing-like pellets indicated that he wasn’t obstructed.  Pellets aren’t hard to sweep up and a little cleaning spray and we are in business, so we kept monitoring Steven inside.  A few hours and dozens of pellets had Steven looking brighter, but certainly not well.  I treated him with the usual constipation/bloat treatment- some olive oil to get things lubricated and moving again.

Matt had posted this adorable picture on his favorite discussion website:

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And another user had made the comment “Wait, you have a lamb with gastric upset INSIDE YOUR HOUSE?”

As we pondered those prescient words, Steven started to baa.  His tummy gurgled and we tried to bring him over to the mats beneath the parrot perches where bird droppings land.  But he didn’t make it, and soon a jet of absolutely rank manure came straight out.  We had the idiotic idea of putting him in the tub, but he’s large enough and tall enough to get out.  So we had the obvious idea of *taking the lamb back outside where it clearly belongs* and we did so, post-haste.

I was still really worried, so I got up at 4:30am to check on Steven.  He was fine, and more energetic than before.  He had clearly, ahem, continued to empty his digestive tract but was happily munching a bit of hay.

Today, Matt and I were smarter.  We realized that it was really too much to expect Steven to cope with weaning while competing with adult sheep, so we put him in a less-competitive environment- in with the other two bottle lambs.  Despite the inconvenience of removing him from the pen so they can be fed without harassment, Steven can now eat his hay without being pushed aside, and he can more easily reach and drink the water he needs from a correctly-sized bucket.  We are withdrawing them from being Certified Grassfed and will give them creep feed to help them gain weight without a mother’s TLC.  Steven looks happier already, and I’ve already washed the floor again.

A Sick Sheep

I did chores as usual this morning- I fed hay to the rams, bottle fed the two lambs, checked and changed everyone’s water…

But then I noticed that everything was too quiet.  Our older bottle lamb,Steven was not baaing for the “cookie” he gets each morning . Usually, he would be insisting on my attention.  The cookie has oats, cornmeal, molasses, salt and vegetable oil, so just a bit of extra energy so he won’t have to bad a setback from being weaned off milk.

Today, I found him lying down next to another lamb, looking poorly.  When I got him up, he was lethargic and sad, with drooping ears and a sad posture.  I’m thinking he has pneumonia and a touch of anemia – just too much stress from weaning.

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Sad Steven!

I brought him in to the house, where he drearily half-followed me.  Time for some penicillin, some Nutri-Drench, and a little TLC.  I admit that I gave him a bit of milk, hoping that the hit of nutrients and hydration would offset the potential for an upset tummy.  And he did perk up with the milk, but he certainly isn’t out of the woods.

So if you have a moment, please spare a thought for Steven.  I think he will recover, but nothing is guaranteed.  We are watching Great British Bake-Off and petting him on the couch.

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Perking up, eating some hay.

 

 

Pork and Soybeans

Talk of trade wars in the news gave me some thoughts.  I’m not going to wade into politics, but I will wade into farming.

Given their intelligent, social nature, I feel comfortable saying that pigs are some of the most abused animals in factory farming.  According to a recent article in Civil Eats, 75% of breeding sows in the US live in tiny crates without room to move or socialize

 

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So my first thought about the trade war and possible damage to the conventional pork industry was “Good!  Maybe this will decrease the amount of factory farm pork and improve the prospects of pastured pork, where pigs can engage in natural behaviors.  As I read more, though, I realized there was a problem.  China isn’t buying whole pigs at low-cost.  Most of the US pork headed for China consists of offal and parts that most Americans don’t seek out like tails and ears.   I considered that even though many cultural groups within the US may seek these parts, would they go to waste without China buying them, downgraded into pet food.  That’s part of why pastured pork goes hand in hand with eating nose to tail.  Could we convince more Americans to eat ears, tails and offal?   I am still enamored of the liver pate that I made last year.

Soybeans offer a similar conundrum.  On the Chinese market, they are human food and feed for animals.  In the US, most soybeans are fed to animals in confinement.  If soybean prices crash, will we increase the amount of meat grown in confinement, fed soy?   The answer, according to the recent Planet Money podcast I listened to, is that Europe will buy it to feed their farm animals.  Thus, we move carbon and other nutrients around the world using more carbon.

It isn’t lost on anyone that China can read an electoral map and chose to target economic sanctions in areas that voted for the current administration.  How will people affected by price changes view this change and how will they respond?

 

 

 

 

Getting Through Lambing

Twenty of our thirty-three ewes have lambed so far at Cloverworks Farm.  Thirty eight lambs have been born, with thirty six surviving.  One loss was a little BFL ewe lamb who failed to nurse overnight with her mother.  Another was 1627’s lamb, whom we had indoors and who just faded away, likely from pneumonia.  Though some amount of loss is usual, I am still disappointed with my failure to keep these lambs alive.  I’ve been intervening more since the first loss, feeling that I could have done more to warm and feed the lost lambs.

But the sad part aside, we have 34 healthy little lambs in the barn and two bouncy lambs in the house. Due to weather and mis-mothering, we have one lamb each from the recently-born triplets in our custody.  With Steven Jr. weaned and on his own, we can deal with lambs in the house again.   The lambs in the barn are happy and bouncy.  Since the oldest lamb is now four months old,  we have quite a range of sizes.   Some of the youngest lambs still haven’t figured out how to home in on their mother, so I’ve been helping 123 find her mom, 264, often.  All of the adults are struggling to tolerate the shear number of lambs who want to climb on their backs.

We are still waiting for the snow to melt and the pasture to start to green.  Not much by way of spring weather yet, other than a few days with highs in the 40’s F.

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Starting to look crowded in the barn!  
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The lamb with the bright yellow tag is three and a half months younger than the lamb in the foreground facing us.  That fella is about 2/3 the size of his mother right now.
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Some of the newest arrivals
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The bleakness of early spring.

 

Mismothering

First, I will start with the good news:

A year ago, we had a fiasco where several sheep tested as positive or as exposed to CL: Caseous Lymphadenitis.  We were never able to determine the source of the disease, but several good sheep went for meat in our effort to eradicate CL in our flock.

Last week, we received our test results back for CL, Ovine Progressive Pneumonia and Johnes (which is kind of like Tuberculosis in humans but not zoonotic).  We are clear of all diseases!  We have one ewe who came up as “suspect” for CL, (neither negative nor positive) so we are watching her with a gimlet eye.  That said, I think we are in the clear, so I am now willing to consider selling rams for crossing purposes.  So let me know if you would like one!

So, mismothering:  On 3/31, ewe 1627 went into labor.  Many ewes chase existing lambs thinking they’ve given birth, but 1627 somehow managed to convince one of 1606’s lambs that he was in fact hers.  So when her real lamb was born, she had milk for one but a huge, hungry single to feed.   1627’s real lamb was hypothermic on Monday morning, and we’ve been trying to energize him ever since.  He seems to brighten, only to stop eating and weaken again.  I admit I am finding him rather frustrating!   So we will end up raising him, even though his mother was willing to try, because she won’t give up her stolen lamb and there is only milk for one in her udder.