2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Milk Sheep Flock

You can read about the yarn we made this year from our wool-bred sheep by clicking here.

This was somewhat of an experimental year for fiber processing for our sheep this year.  With the addition of 5 milk sheep last fall, we were unsure what to expect from their fleece.  So this shearing and processing we are just “playing” with the new fiber to figure out what it is like and what it should become.  Our goal was to make each fleece into yarn, unless for some reason it couldn’t be or shouldn’t be.  Then we could determine if it made a nice yarn or was more suited to roving for rugs next year.

All the fleece were heavy on the vegetable matter (VM) because they were not jacketed until they came to us last fall.  So they had half a year’s growth without a jacket.  We expect next year to be a lot cleaner.  In addition, our 15-year-old daughter, Sunshine, wanted to learn how to shear this year.  So we let her shear the three smallest sheep.  This led to uneven shearing and fleece, which leads to uneven yarn with flubs.  We are fine with that because we want her to have the opportunity to learn, and since this was just an experimental year anyway, with a lot of VM, we are not expecting to get high-quality product from the dairy fleece this year anyway.  We also had a higher than average percentage of loss on the fiber, due to the second cuts (shearing) and the VM.

Autumn

Autumn is a 2-year-old East Friesian/Lacuane with a dark brown fleece.  Her tips were very sun-bleached this year because she wasn’t jacketed before we got her, so her finished yarn was a lighter shade of brown that it would be if it wasn’t bleached.  This year her fleece weighed in at 1.5 lbs and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was more curl than crimp, but still had good memory to it.  Memory in a fleece means it “bounces back” to it’s original position well, as-in it is firmer hold, not floppy.  Her yarn reflected that.

Her fleece produced 12 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (10 wpi) yarn.  There is 375 yards of it, in two skeins.  The yarn has a lot of memory, and is surprisingly soft.  There is a tiny bit of itch-factor, but not enough to make it not work as a hat.  It is a beautiful shade of dark brown.

Mtn Man loved this yarn and wanted me to make him a simple, ribbed hat with it.  The hat turned out very nice and he absolutely loves it and wears it often.

Daisy

Daisy is a white, yearling East Friesian/Lacaune.  Her fleece this year weighed in at 2.1 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was very lofty and had a very squishy feel.  It was VERY dense, and had a pretty organized crimp.  We found it to be surprisingly soft as a raw fleece, which did not turn out to be true with the yarn.

Her yarn was, in fact, very itchy.  To the point that it will be used as rug yarn.  The yarn it made was also very uneven, with a lot of flubs – this is because Sunshine sheared Daisy as her first-ever shearing experience.  So the fleece had drastically different lengths to the fiber throughout due to uneven shearing.  This causes uneven yarn and flubs.

The fleece produced 25 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (12 wpi) yarn.  We ended up with 900 yards.

Blue

Blue is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold with a white fleece.  Her raw fleece was 1.9 lbs and had a 4.25 inch staple length.  It had more curl than crimp, and was soft with a mild sheen, reminiscent of BFL wool.

Blue’s fleece produced 19 ounces of 3-ply fingering-weight (17 wpi) yarn.  We got 1000 yards from it.  We were very happy with the yarn, it is soft with no itchiness.  It has a slight sheen to it, and is floppy with very little memory.

It did run unevenly, due to Sunshine shearing Blue as well.  It did not let go of the vegetable matter very well either, and it will have to be picked out as I knit with it.  But both of those issues can be avoided next year by having a better shearing, and being jacketed all year to help prevent VM.  This fleece puts Blue in an important position for our breeding program, as we are trying to have sheep that milk well but also produce a nice fleece.

Maggie

Maggie is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold mix with a dark brown fleece.  She is Blue’s twin sister, though their fleece are very different.  She had a very nice fleece this year that we were very excited about processing.  It was the heaviest of the dairy ewe fleeces, at 2.2 lbs raw, despite her being the smallest sheep in the flock.  Her staple length was also the longest at 5.25 inches.  Her fleece was very dense and soft, with a very organized, wavy crimp.  It was by far the nicest of the dairy sheep fleece, and could be in the category of a wool-bred sheep fleece.  The problem came when we realized it had a break in it.  You can learn about what a break is by clicking here.

To deal with the break and attempt to salvage the fleece, Mtn Man decided to hand break it and use the longer parts for yarn, and the shorter ones for roving.  It worked beautifully!

The longer part of the break produced 16.7 ounces of a 3-ply fingering-weight (16 wpi) yarn.  We got 750 yards from it.  The yarn is very soft, no itch-factor, and has good memory.  I am so excited to use this beautiful chocolate brown yarn to knit up something wonderful.  I am thinking a sweater or hoodie for Mr. Smiles.

The shorter parts of the fleece gave us 3/4 lb of roving that we will use for rug braiding.

Overall, Maggie’s fleece was excellent and we are very happy with the results.  Between the nice length and the softness, her fleece is exactly what we are breeding for here at WCF.  She will be an important part of our breeding program in our attempts to have sheep that have nice fleece as well as being good dairy producers and hardy for the high-altitude climate.

Remi

Remi is a yearling East Friesian/Lacaune ram with a white fleece.  His fleece weighed 2.4 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 4.25 inches.  At first look, Remi’s fleece was more of what we were expecting the dairy fleece to be like:  kind of mediocre for wool, with not much crimp and not soft.  It was dense, but that was about all we thought it had going for it….until we started processing it.

Upon washing, it suddenly had quite a lot of crimp and felt very soft.  Strange, we have never had that happen before.  Did we not examine it well enough beforehand?  When it got through the machines to roving, we had a beautiful, very soft roving.  I was so excited to see it spun up.

Remi’s fleece gave us 26.9 ounces of 3-ply sport-weight (14 wpi) yarn.  There are 1,175 yards and Mtn Man blended it with bamboo, so it is 85% wool 15% bamboo.  The bamboo was pre-dyed navy blue, and when mixed with the white it is a nice speckled color.

 

Overall, it was a very good learning year for the milk sheep fleece.  I have a ton of yarn that I need to start using, and we know better what to expect from their fleece.  This will also help us in our decision-making as we are trying to selectively breed our milk sheep to have both nice fleece and good milk production.

That finishes our yarn production from our flock for 2020.  Overall, we ended up with 7,025 yards of all different colors and weights of yarn from our wool and milk sheep.  I better get knitting!

3 thoughts on “2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Milk Sheep Flock

  1. How does a ‘soft raw fleece’ (Daisy’s) turn out itchy? … I know nothing about fleeces so my thought process was, if it starts out soft and is washed/spun/etc wouldn’t that make it softer’. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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