East Friesians are a specialized dairy breed but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of their wool. While certainly not known as a higher end fleece, the reality of it seems to outshine the metrics. With a diameter of 35-37 microns this places it on the coarser end of the spectrum but after shearing last year we sent some to be be spun just across the Strait at the Belfast Mini Mill and they were very complimentary of the fibre quality (“better than the breeds most people keep”). They said be sure we don’t just throw it in the woods like many sheep farmers do (the market for wool is quite depressed with China and Australia/New Zealand accounting for 55% of production and the bulk of processing, and as you might imagine, demand is down with cotton and synthetics making up the bulk of most people’s closets).
Sheep associations, individuals and academia are exploring local options for this sustainable and versatile product (wool as housing insulation, growing medium for plants, the Matthewsons just outside Truro are making wool filled comforters). But most shepherds do nothing or wholesale their fleeces which doesn’t even quite cover the cost of shearing. Most sheep produce fleeces in the 8-12lb range so even my modest flock of 40 is throwing off hundreds of pounds of wool/yr (and at 4oz/skein, over a thousand potential balls of yarn).
While we’ll never compete as fibre bigwigs with those who have the fancy fibre breeds (and manage their flock with that product in mind), I do think an opportunity exists to have yarn or rovings (clean, unspun locks of wool used for crafts or for someone to spin themselves) be a marketable product for Harrier Hill. At the worst, we’ll have lots of yarn which thus far has resulted in Christine’s mom Lillian returning a crocheted hat and small woven mat so I’m going to say this is working out perfectly so far. The red yarn is from our friend Delia down the road who keeps sheep (the fancy fibre ones) and washes, dyes, and spins her own yarn under the name Cobweb Woolies. If you’re in Pictou you should visit her beautiful store Water Street Studio.