Fiber Animals on the Homestead: Make Your Own Clothes
In the quest for self-sufficiency, most of us recognize the value of growing our own food and we plant gardens and raise livestock for food. But, next to food and a roof over our head, clothing ranks pretty high as a clear necessity! If you are someone who loves fiber crafts, such as knitting, crochet or weaving, don't overlook adding fiber animals to your homestead. Even if you don't have the necessary skills now, a beginning homesteader can learn how to knit socks and mittens, crochet a hat and scarf, and eventually move up to a bigger item like a warm sweater, afghan or rug. The tools for making these items are inexpensive - all you really need are needles and perhaps a pattern or two. But the yarn is quite another story - natural, warm woolen yarn is very expensive. Why not "grow" your own!
When people think of "fiber animals" it is usually sheep on their mind. Sheep have been domesticated and bred for their wool since the time of the ancient Persians. At Hyer Wools, we think the Finnsheep breed is the most suitable for the homestead. Finnsheep serve as a dual purpose sheep, providing both soft, lustrous fiber and tender meat (even cheese for those willing to attempt it) along with a gentle disposition and hearty good health. But other breeds of sheep are also quite popular.
In fact, many people don't realize that there are animals, other than sheep, whose fluffy coats are also used for fiber. While wool is the most common animal fiber, alpaca is also very popular. Cashmere is the luxurious wool from the Cashmere goat. Mohair is the lovely, soft hair collected from Angora goats. Angora wool or angora fiber comes from the special breed of Angora rabbit. Though not as common, hand spinners also collect fiber from animals such as llamas, camels, and even yak. Qiviut is the fine, soft undercoat of the Muskox. Many pet owners save the hair from dogs and cats as they brush and groom their pets. Silk is also a natural protein fiber produced by the larvae of bombyx mori and sericulture, the practice of rearing silkworms for fiber, has been practiced since about 3000 B.C. Still and all, sheep are really the most practical if you want a reasonable amount of fiber and a less complicated animal. If you really want only the fiber, you could consider yourself a "yarn" farmer and keep only non-breeding animals.
Expect some start-up costs for fiber animals. You may need additional housing and fences and various minor equipment such as buckets and a shovel. There is the ongoing cost of possible veterinary services and supplemental winter feed. You'll need a small investment in fiber processing equipment such as wool cards and a spinning wheel or inexpensive spindle, but these can often be found used and you may be able to barter. The cost of the animal itself is the big consideration. Pure bred stock can be pricey, particularly for registered breeding stock, but reputable breeders might still be able to provide a quality animal they need to cull from their own flock or a wethered ram, for less money. We understand frugality, yet our many years of experience has taught us that quality, pure bred stock gives the most satisfaction in terms of health, vigor and characteristic quality of fleece, etc. The animal is usually worth its cost and an ongoing relationship with the breeder is invaluable. Auction animals or rescue animals may be an option, but only for those most experienced and willing to take a chance on long-term issues.
Having things in place before you bring the animal home is the best plan. Make sure you have suitable housing and that fences and gates are secure. Have enough feed and a plan for water, especially in freezing temperatures or emergency situations. Learn the local predators ahead of time and take steps to keep your animals safe. Don't be surprised at the mischief that neighborhood dogs can get up to at night.
If you are a complete beginner to keeping livestock you should realistically recognize a high learning curve. Obviously, no one produces high quality fiber by accident and caring for animals requires a thoughtful, deliberate commitment. This is not a reason to avoid the opportunity, but you'll need to be willing to learn. You'll find lots of resources available in the form of books and mentors. You will need patience though, and the ability to keep records and learn from them. You'll need the ability to admit your mistakes and learn from those as well, and to find out how to improve when problems occur. But, truly, raising fiber livestock is an enjoyable endeavor that rewards you with beautiful, useful fiber and a possible income stream if you also prepare the fleece and/or fiber for sale.
Feel free to contact us with an email to ask questions or to start a conversation. Well, except for sericulture and raising muskox. We freely admit we know nothing about that! We would also welcome your visit our Hyer Wools homestead - just let me know to unlock the gate and I'll put on the kettle!