- Just received my e-newsletter from Gretchen's Wool Mill so am passing it on. I thought the information about the feral sheep was pretty interesting.
Check out the new Gretchen's Wool Mill website at www.gretchenswoolmill.com.
It looks very similar, but is now easier for me to edit so ALL info is updated.
There are new, nifty pictures on the gallery page and updated blog on front page.
Son, Peter and his wife are expecting their new baby girl any minute!! Molly's had contractions for over a week. We keep waiting for "the call".
July 17 is our annual spin-in. This year we will hear from local spinner, Patt Cox, who is changing lives of impoverished women in Mexico.....through knitting!! And Aimee Robinson of EcoBalanza will be on hand if you wonder "Just what IS Artisan Furniture"? ALso local vendors, demontrators, mill tour and of course...........spinning!!
For 11 years we have supported this great event at Monroe Regency Care Center. The residents look forward to this 1/2 day mini-fair ALL year! We need spinners and fiber demonstrators. 10-2 July 31 at 1355 W. Main, Monroe.
1 spring ewe lamb. Out of our best milker. Crossed with proven midwestern dairy lines. She is a beauty and is avaialble now. Call or email for details.
Also available: small "Fiber Flock". 2 hand-raised, freindly, middle-aged ewes. Beautiful, white Freisian fleeces. Long, lustrous, medium-fine. Must go together to approved home. Cannot be bred. Great "fiber pets" for a small acreage.
Last weekend, after battling a fast but gruesome stomach bug, I drug myself to Anacortes for the boat ride to the Decatur Sheep Gathering. A full year had gone into getting an invite to this remarkable event and I was determined to go--dramamine and all.
What an incredible day!! The Sylvan Spirit operated by the Decature NW community took a load of happy families out of port. An ethereal,"fantasy" quality settled on the day as dolphins accompanied our boat across the strait. Though raining and cold on the mainland the west horizon of the San Jauns glowed brighter. The dock at Decatur Island had a Cape Cod look with a vast green lawn, charming beach cabins and smiling folks waving from the dock.
"Everyone helps with everyone's bags and luggage until the boat is unloaded, so no one is left struggling alone" explained a cabin owner, "it is part of the community culture".
The golfcarts were charged and waiting (no cars on these wooded, winding trails) to take us up the rocky headland to another pioneer clearing featuring a century-old, log barn. The oldest in the islands. Children ran and played, climbing an ancient maple on a large immaculate green. "No brush or grass issues here", said one the the shepherds, "the sheep keep it that way."
Pioneers first settled this island over 100 years ago bringing various sheep breeds. As the last pioneers had to give up the farms in the 1930's, inevitably some sheep were left behind. They became feral and lived for decades on their own on this rugged little island. In the early 1980's the Decature NW planned cabin community began and made a community decision to manage this feral sheep flock.
On the first gathering 25 years ago most were awestruck to find that the sheep were in poor condition from wool-load and parasites and didn't live over a 4 years. Every year since then the same Oregon shepherd's family has come to gather the sheep with their dogs--not an easy task on rocky rugged terrain with feral sheep! The early years were hard.
The community asked the shepherd to help them manage this flock and set about rounding up sheep 2 times a year: spring for shearing and vetting lambs; and fall for shipping lambs to market.
Over the years many buyers have worked with the community to buy lambs and wool.
The community learned how to roll and tie a fleece with its own wool-rope; and used to bag in 200 lb. burlap bags that headed for Pendelton and the like.
Though buyers have changed, the "sheep care crew" has not. The 3rd generation of shepherds still come each year. I asked one young shepherd what he thought of all this? "This is awesome" he said reverently. "It is my 12th year and the best thing I do all year!!" High praise from a country kid.
A most remarkable part of the day is the meld of cultures. Urbane Seattelites mixing with quiet, earthy shepherds and handlers. All learning from each other and enjoying this ancient rite of spring.
Over the years the shepherds fitted the old barn with holding pens, squeeze chute and skirting floor. Now the operation runs like a well-oiled machine. The shepherds round up the sheep one evening, gather stragglers the next day, and seperate the ewes and lambs that night. Then comes shearing day; many cabin owners bring freinds and family and a large picnic enuses on the green under the maple. Shepherds are hosted each year by a different cabin owner for their 4 days. A seasoned vet from Mt Vernon, also "from the begnning", comes to castrate and dock lambs while their moms are being sheared. At the shearing floor, shafts of sunlight peirce the dimness through chinks in the logs; one shepherd calls out the tag number for the record keeper, he asseses for health and gives ivermect shots. The local sheaer takes off the up to 10 lb fleeces, and a local crew of delighted kids and cabin owners grab the fleece, skirt and bag it. Kids crawl through the barnloft and peek out of holes here and there giggling; a roughhewn viewing area is set up for photos and onlookers.
Lunch break is welcome to the hard workers. Back after lunch another 20 ewes to go. 60 in all are sheaered, 60 lambs tagged and vetted.Though all is available for veiwing and questions the shepherds are meticluous about keeping the sheep unharried by inexperienced hands.
I demonstrated spinning and showed what their fiber looks like processed.
Over the years the shepherds suggested switching to a hardier breed than the original merino/dorset crosses. So the change to Scottish Blackface was made about 15 years ago and is mostly complete. The flock is handsome and healthy. Feral island life agrees with them, some living to 16 years. Bummers are often raised by the resident caretakers of the development and always find a home as "flock leaders". One was immortalized in the children's book "Mary Was little Lamb".
After switching breeds, wool-pool buyers found the Scottish blackface wool to be too kempy for many commercial mills. No one would buy the clip any more and the islanders were sorry to discard 300 lbs of wool each year. Enter EcoBalanza and our mill. Over the past year of experimenting we found this wool felts wonderfully and will buy it for furniture felt.
At the end of shearing the sheep dog wowed the crowd with a demonstation, weaving through lines of spectators with 5 feral ewes in control. Then came the "grand finale" of the show. The lambs and ewes were let out of their seperate pens. Both groups sprung out on coils, arching like dolphins. The noise of lambs and ewes bawling to find each other was deafening but lovely. Most lambs were 2-3 months old, but twins just 2 weeks old were held back so not to be trampled. Their mom found them first though!
The end of my sparkling day came as we loaded 6, 50 lb bags of wool on the Sylvan Spirit and headed across the water.
God Bless- Gretchen
THE SUN IS SHINING !!!