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!

2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Wool Sheep Flock

This was a different year for us as far as fleece and fiber processing goes.  Last summer and fall we sold most of our wool sheep and added several dairy sheep to the flock.  Leaving us with only 2 wool sheep fleece this year.  They are sheep we have had a long time, Fiona and Fergus, and thus we are very familiar with their fleece and what we like to do with them.

Fergus

Fergus was a 3-year-old CVM/Merino x BFL ram.  He has always had my favorite fleece of our flock each year.  Since we had to cull him back in December, this was our last fleece from him.  It was shorter than usual, since he didn’t have a full year’s growth.  But it was just as wonderful as it always is.  It weighed in at 3.9 lbs raw.

Since this was our last year with Fergus’ fleece, Mtn Man decided to try something different with the processing.  Fergus had quite a range of grey color, from very light, to medium, to very dark.

So Mtn Man separated the light section from the darker sections and ran them separately.  Then he put them together at the pin drafter.  This made for a more heathered appearance to the yarn, instead of his usual medium-grey.  He also mixed in bamboo at the pin drafter, which is my favorite thing to do with Fergus fleece.  The bamboo adds strength, and just a tad of color, and makes for excellent, warm socks, which is mainly what I think I will do with this yarn.

His fleece produced 62.4 oz of 3-ply, DK-weight (11 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is 15% bamboo, which was pre-dyed a forest green.  There are 1,250 yards of it.  The yarn feels great.  It has loft and memory and is soft enough to be used against the skin.  It was very difficult to get a photo that showed the true color and heathering of the yarn.  But the bamboo fiber that was blended in was a dark forest green.  So it is a dark, heathered grey with a touch of the dark forest green.  I am very happy with it and looking forward to making it into some wonderful knit items for my family.

Fiona

Fiona was our first-ever sheep at Willow Creek Farm, and she is the flock matriarch.  She is 7 years old, and this was the first year we began to see her age in her fleece.  Generally between 6-8 years old the fleece quality begins to go downhill.  Fiona had less crimp than usual, but her fleece was still very soft and wonderful, with a nice crimp and some light luster.  It weighed in at 4.1 lbs and had a nice, long staple length.

Fiona’s fleece never runs evenly when machine-processed.  I don’t know what it is about it, probably how very fine it is, but it never runs even.  So I have learned to embrace it as somewhat of a novelty yarn each year.  Mtn Man added in 15% bamboo on her fleece this year, in a pre-dyed turqouise, so the yarn is speckled with color.  I am really enjoying the bamboo/wool blend yarns and was very happy with this decision.

There is 37.5 oz and 1,575 yards of 3-ply sport-weight (13 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is very soft and squishy, with a pretty good amount of memory.  I am trying to decide what to do with it.  It matches nicely with a purple bamboo blend Fiona yarn that I have from a few years ago.  I only have a little of that one left, but think maybe the two would look nice together.  With all the year’s fleece done into yarn now, I have a lot of knitting projects ahead of me!

I will share our milk sheep yarn for the year in the next post.

Sunday Homestead Update

We had a cold, wet week of snow and rain.  It is looking to be warmer this week, which we are looking forward to.  There is so much to get done outside, it is hard to be held back by weather and watch the to-do list pile up.

Garden

We got a bunch of snow this week, so our garden plans were pushed back a bit.  Hopefully we will be able to get the seedlings out this week on a sunny day under their tents and wall-o-waters for protection.  We got the wall-o-waters full and they are waiting for the plants to be ready.  I am putting the plants out a little bit each day to harden them off.  They should be ready by mid-week to move if the weather holds.

Chickens

The search for the thin-shelled egg layer (which is causing egg eating because it breaks) continues.  We have narrowed it down to 3 birds and are working at figuring out exactly who it is.  Of course, two of those three are my favorite birds – why is that always the case?  Sigh.  During the process we also figured out which hen is pecking at everyone’s backs and balding them, and which hens are eating the thin-shelled eggs.  Once we have all the information we will decide what to do next.

Knitting

I haven’t wanted to work on anything special lately, just mindless knitting with quick results.  So I have continued on the mitered squares for the scrap afghan.  Here are the 15 from last week.  I have 5 more done now as well.

School

We are almost done with our school year, which is fun and exciting.  I have been working on some plans for next school year.  It is nice to get preliminary planning done now, while the successes and failures of this year are fresh, so that I can remember the changes I want to make.  Then a couple weeks before we start again I will pull out the plans I made and do the final prep and planning.  I have also solidified our summer plans.  We do much better when we keep somewhat of a routine in summer, but with more free time and flexibility.  If we have no plan and no routine we all end up bored and grouchy.  So I have that ready for the summer and we are all looking forward to it.

Willow Creek Fiber Mill

The mill has really taken off the last few weeks and we have gone from a 6-week wait time to a 6-month wait time.  The fiber is pouring in like crazy and it is very fun and exciting.  We sorted through over 100 bags of fleece that arrived this weekend and did all the intake paperwork for them and put them up.

And the beautiful yarn pouring out is even more fun and exciting.  I love seeing what Mtn Man creates and all the different yarns.  Each fleece is truly unique and thus so is each batch of yarn.

Mtn Man only has a few weeks left running multiple businesses and then we will be living our dream of him milling full time!  What a blessing!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have spent most of the first month of the year dealing with surgeries and hospitalizations.  But things seem to be calming a bit and yesterday we were able to have a “normal homestead Saturday.”  Which for us means working on projects in the home and on the homestead.  This time it was in the home, in the basement to be exact.

Since there are 7 of us we buy a lot of food in bulk, especially our flours because we are Gluten-Free as well.  We also home-can a LOT each fall.  So in the basement we have another refrigerator/freezer, as well as a pantry area for our overflow bulk food, flours in buckets, and home-canned food.  It was previously a temporary mix of different shelves and cabinets from here or there.  But yesterday we built the real and final basement pantry.  We are very happy with how it turned out!

Normally, by this time of year we wouldn’t even be halfway through the home-canned goods.  But as you can see by all the empty jars, that is not the case this year.  That is because we didn’t can even close to as much as we usually do last fall.  Hopefully next fall it will be all full of FULL jars, not empty.

Chickens

The two old hens we put in their own pen were only laying one egg a week, so we did end up butchering them this week.  We have 18 hens, 3 chicks (we are guessing 2 cockerels and 1 pullet), and 1 rooster.  We also moved all the hens into the upper coop together to consolidate our flock to make winter barn chores easier.  So now all the hens and chicks are in the upper coop and barnyard, and the rooster is in the grow pen in the barn so he doesn’t tear the girls backs up.  The lower coop and the Mama Hen Pen are currently empty.  Come spring we will rearrange again for breeding season.

The last change we made this week was to move the water trough and set it up in a way that the birds can drink from it but not fall in.  Previously it was set up so that if they did fall in they could climb out, but in freezing weather, as we learned last week, that doesn’t work because a wet chicken is a dead chicken.  It is very convenient to use the trough with its de-icer in the winter, but we didn’t want any more chick-falling-in-freezing-and-dying scenarios like last week.  So now that is fixed as well.

Knitting

Here it is!  The cabled cardigan I have been working on for months.  The pattern is Let Go by Joji Locatelli.  The yarn is a special yarn Mtn Man made for me from a fleece he bought me for our anniversary.  I call it Sandstorm because that was the name of the sheep.  It is a thicker and somewhat coarse wool, so this cardigan will be perfect fall and spring outerwear.

I am really excited about this sweater and pretty happy with how it turned out.  There is only one problem…when I blocked it the length shrunk.  Probably because I was really trying to be sure the cables opened good and wide.  So I will be putting it back on the needles and lengthening it because I have plenty more yarn and if I am going to spend months making a cardigan for myself I ought to LOVE it when I am done.

I love the pattern so much that I have already cast on another one.  This one is with a much finer yarn that is a deep purple, silk/merino wool blend from Knitpicks.  It will be a much lighter, very soft, more indoor-wear cardigan.  I will have two VERY different cardigans made from one pattern.

After casting on the new sweater I noticed my pile of project bags and WIPs (works in progress) was pretty big, and that made me feel like I needed to get some of the smaller, almost finished projects done before I spend too much time on the sweater.  So I am doing a knit-WIP-down, starting with finishing my hat.

This pattern is Jason’s Cashmere Hat by Melissa Thomson.  I used 100% Alpaca yarn for the first time ever.  Mtn Man made the yarn in the mill for a customer and I liked it so much I bought a couple skeins from her (the benefits of owning your own custom fiber processing mill!).  I love, love, love the grey color with lighter and darker fibers mixed together and I am seriously considering reserving the fleece off this particular alpaca this year so that I can make a sweater.  I am just not sure how alpaca wears and washes.  Anyone know?  Does it pill easily and get worn out?  Because my life is a little too active for high-maintenance clothing right now.

Willow Creek Fiber Mill

Speaking of the benefits of owning your own custom fiber processing mill…have I ever mentioned how cool it is for a knitting-crazy gal like me to have a husband who makes custom yarn for a living?  Well it is REALLY cool.  And it is kind of funny, but also cool because he is such a burly Mtn Man that is outdoorsy and hunts and builds anything you can imagine, and yet he is really skilled at making something as soft, fine, and un-burly (new word, add it to the dictionary) as beautiful custom yarn.

As I mentioned above, one benefit is that I get to see all types and styles of yarn come through the mill, and then, when I see one I really like, I get the opportunity to buy it from the customer.  Fun, fun!

This week Mtn Man processed some of the fleece from our sheep (that we don’t own anymore, so it is nice to be able to still be using some of their fleece even though they are gone now).  This particular one is from Fiona, our white CVM/Merino, and he blended it with purple bamboo.  It is fingering weight and I am seeing socks and hats in my daydreams about this yarn.  I LOVE how it turned out and can’t wait to get it on the needles.

He only did a small part of her fleece, giving me about 900 yards of this yarn.  Now we have to decide if we want more of this, or if we want to do something else with the rest of the fleece.  I LOVE my yarn-making Mtn Man!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have been oh-so-sick this week.  Croup, strep, and pneumonia.  Very.  Sick.  But thankfully everyone is improving and the terrible part is over.  By next SHU we should be recovered and doing much better.

Knitting

Mr. Smiles couldn’t sleep in any position except on our chests in the recliner for 4 days, so Mtn Man and I took turns overnight and Sunshine and Young Man also pitched in a few times during the day.  But for the most part he was in my arms or asleep on my chest all day for four days.  Thankfully, I was able to do some knitting when he was asleep, because I was getting very antsy and bored.

Dog Yarn?

We had an interesting “first” in the mill this week.  We made our first dog hair yarn.  The hair came from a standard poodle, and was mixed 50% with wool from a Lincoln Longwool sheep.  It turned out really cool.

The dog hair definitely needed plenty of support from the Longwool, but it is indeed possible to make dog hair into yarn.  It turned out pretty and is quite soft – softer than I expected.

Snow

We got a good 15-inch dump of snow this week.  It is safe to say fall weather is gone and winter weather has arrived here in the Rockies.  Last year was a very long, mild fall, this year it was short and colder.

We still really need to get the firewood chopped and stacked for the winter, but illness put that off for now.

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel successfully hatched out 4 chicks.  That is a pretty low percentage, considering she started with 10, but that sometimes happens with hatching, especially at high altitude.  And the cold weather could have something to do with it as well.

But I am happy about the four.  We don’t usually hatch in the fall, and with winter cold arriving early I think it will be good for her to only have four because it will be easier for her to successfully keep them all warm even as they grow.

Sewing

I have started working on the Winter/Christmas cloth placemat and napkin set.  Once I finish them I will have all four seasonal sets done!

While I have been working on those, Little Miss and Sunshine have taken it upon themselves to make matching trivet pads with the scraps from all the seasonal sets we have made.  When I cut the placemats’ corners off, we end up with a lot of little triangle scraps from the two different placemat fabrics for each season.

We felt like it would be wasteful to just throw those out, so the girls are piecing them together (there are a million different ways to arrange 36 triangles), adding a couple of layers of batting, using the larger scraps of fabric for the back, and making these cool trivet pads that will coordinate with each of my placemat/napkin sets.

Here is a peek at the Autumn/Thanksgiving set, which we are currently using.  These are the pads they made:

Which go with these placemats and napkins.  Left is Autumn, and right is Thanksgiving:

Once I finish the Winter/Christmas set, I will do a post that shows all four different sets, and the trivet pads that go with them.  If you are interested in finding out how we make these, you can click here for the post that shows how.