When we began raising sheep, I looked forward to the warmth they would provide. I did not consider the other ways that sheep would warm us. With quite a few years as a shepherd now behind me, I can see that the wool that sheep provide is but one way they heat our bodies.
The visions of sheep roaming the gentle slopes of a picturesque farm may be heart warming. However it does not portray the amount of heat producing labor that goes on behind the scenes, when raising sheep.
For example, feeding, and lugging hay during the winter when the pasture grasses are dormant. Or scrubbing water buckets, mucking out stalls, repairing fence, and other regular tasks.
The once a year shearing provides quite a physical workout for the shearer anyway. But even the wool collector and person clearing the shearing deck gets plenty warm. Raising sheep is hands on, physical work.
I was pulled to raising sheep for yarn. The entire process called me. Raising the sheep, shepherding, and being part of the process of turning the yearly harvest of wool fleece, into yarn. And finally, using that yarn to create clothing we can use.
The romantic picture of warming myself by the fire, drinking coffee, and working on a wool project was my dream. And that dream came true.
And then there is reality. Staring you in the face on the days you can’t figure out what is wrong. The reality of losing an animal you raised from a lamb, the reality that not all illnesses are caught in time to cure. And then your tears warm you.
Eventually your heart heals enough to get back to work. Because there are other sheep that still need your caring hands. Other sheep that still need hay, and fresh water, and a list of other less frequent needs. Grief and disappointment can only take up a tiny percentage of your day. Move forward. Learn from the past.
Once the yearly shearing has been done, the work of cleaning and sorting and processing that fiber begins. Raising sheep is what you do to receive this bounty! At some point you begin to experiment with natural dyes for wool. The colors are nature’s rainbow.
Spinning the wool roving yourself or sending the wool to a fiber mill transforms the wool into yarn. Seeing the yarn starts the warm tears flowing down your face.
The yarn that is a year in the making. The yarn from raising sheep on your own property. This is when the fruit of your overheated summer days and the cold frigid evenings making sure the sheep have access to the dry barn and hay and thawed water all comes together.
Raising Sheep Brings Connection
Raising sheep connects you to basic human needs. There’s a circle that connects it all together. The need for warmth. The need for contributing to something greater than yourself, the need to provide, the need to see a connection. And then to use the product to create warmth for yourself or a loved one. It repeats in a natural step by step process, over and over. It is comforting.
How to Participate in the Circle
Raising sheep is not for everyone. Even with a small flock of two, raising sheep takes time. It takes strength, and energy, something you may not always have to share. But it doesn’t stop there.
The buyer and creator that choose wool also participate in this cycle of warmth. You become part of the traditions handed down from generations before. Sharing patterns, teaching knitting, weaving, crochet, and tapestry builds the requirement for wool.
Choosing wool encourages future shepherds. Using wool continues the cycle, because the sheep are making a renewable resource. Raising sheep warms you while you raise them and again when you use the beautiful fleece.
My own journey raising sheep led to creating a yarn product we sell from the farm. You can learn more about our Free Range Yarn and see what’s for sale in our Etsy shop.
Our newest product (available here) is Natural Dyeing Kits, complete with yarn, dye, and natural products that enable you to try natural dyeing without a costly investment. More of my dye recipes are available on the website, and in my book, Raising Sheep and Other Fiber Animals. Where will your journey with raising sheep or using wool take you?