A New Clip: Shearing Finn Wool 2016

It had been unusually warm all week, as high as 60 degrees and lots of sunshine. But the evening before we sheared the temperatures dropped back down in the teens and our shearing day’s high would not go much over the high 20’s.  Most of the day the sun poured in through the barn windows while we sheared and skirted; we were all more than comfortable, including the sheep. We had a lovely shearing day as we harvested our year’s wool clip.

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 Aaron Loux can be found @   http://www.aaronshearing.com/

This year we invited Aaron Loux, a circuit shearer here on the east coast, to shear 61 of our purebred heritage Finnsheep. Aaron was gentle with our Finns, which was a priority for us. Finnsheep are very prolific, and the pregnant ewes are carrying multiple lambs each. The fleeces came off like butter under Aaron’s shears. He was careful and conscientious of our hand spinning wool clip. After 61 sheared, he could have easily sheared more.  Many of our finnsheep were coated all winter. It was important to keep the fleeces free of hay and straw, so we left the holding pen straw free. This year we built a raised platform for Aaron to shear on. Plywood on the ground does work fine, but using the platform kept the shearing area extra clean. We will use the raised platform again. Since Aaron was shearing all of our Finns in one day, I asked some friends to help me lightly skirt and bundle the fleeces. They were a big help and I was glad to offer them some beautiful Finn wool for their assistance.

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One week later and the adult ewes already are growing their next fleece. Finn fleeces have a nice 5-6 inch staple after a year’s growth. Nutrition is important at all stages of the sheep’s cycle. Proper nutrition protects the fiber from breaking and helps maintain the Finn’s silky, soft, crimpy wool that hand spinners covet.

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Our yearling ewe’s above are in top condition. I have already begun to skirt the fleeces. First clip lamb’s wool is even softer and perfect for next to skin garments  like scarves or baby products such as blankets, bibs, hats, and booties. More about the fleeces to come.

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We had a second lambing period  last year and these later born younger ewes will add to our flock of breeding ewes this fall. We plan to retain a few more ewe lambs due to start arriving in just a few days. Add these to our growing flock and I would say that Aaron will have a bigger group to shear next year. We may have to start a little earlier so that we can enjoy a nice lunch in the cabin again. Most shearer’s welcome a meal, and it was nice to come into the cabin, sit buy the fire awhile and get to know Aaron.

 Aaron’s Shearing Service on Facebook

     https://www.facebook.com/Aarons-Shearing-Service-376280709266/?fref=ts

Our next blog we will share our beautiful fleeces we are busy skirting; some of the fleeces will be sold to hand spinners and felters. Some fleeces will go to our mill to make top, roving and yarn.

 

 

2015 FINNSHEEP LAMBS ARRIVING

We have over 70 heritage Finnsheep lambs so far. Our largest litter so far is a set of quintuplets, which is 5 lambs. The dam did not need any assistance birthing or nursing, and no bottle feeding has been needed for this large litter to date. We have had numerous quadruplet litters, which is 4 lambs and just as many triplets, just a couple of twins and no singles yet. Finnsheep are very prolific. This is one of the many reasons we chose Finnsheep for our flock. We have a large assortment of brown lambs, along with black, badger, white, fawn, and grey lambs to to choose from. Our lambs display many shades of Finn colors and a unique mix of spotting that give each lamb their own personality. Questions about Finnsheep? Contact us and we can help you.

Steam Dyeing Wool: Mason Jar Technique

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Steam Dyeing Finn Wool with Mason Jars

I have used the immersion dyeing method to dye my Finn fleeces the most. Dyeing roving is basically the same as dyeing washed fleece using this technique. The difference for me is that since fleece still needs to be blended in a carder after it is dyed, it will come out fresh and fluffy, and easy to draft when spinning.

On the other hand, when immersion dyeing  roving it becomes compacted because it is already carded and then does not draft as easily. I end up recarding the roving again which adds an additional step in the processing.  I don’t mind doing this if I am going to make a blend of different colors, but sometimes I like to leave the dyed roving like it is; and of course not recard it.

You can just pre draft the roving to loosen it, but I found this makes the fibers lose the alignment that the carding process is meant to give the roving to begin with. There had to be a better way to maintain the fiber alignment without reblending.

I investigated steam dying using different methods and tried oven dyeing. The results were good, no felting. But I still found that the roving became a little compressed. Not as much as when immersion dyeing but nonetheless, I recarded the roving again.

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Roving from an exhaust bath will be a great overdye experiment.

I have some beautiful roving, it is Finn lamb’s wool and Kid mohair blend. Super soft and fluffy. But this batch was from an exhaust dye bath and I wasn’t happy with the light colors it gave, so I decide to overdye this. I knew I didn’t want it to matt and compress so into the mason jars they would go. I also wanted to be able to overdye multiple colors in case I wanted to blend into colorful batts. I experimented with using the 2 qt size mason jars. 8 of them would fit in my granite wear canning kettle, which is reserved just for dyeing wool.

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Turn the rack upside down to fit more jars, but be careful they don’t tip over and use empty jars to fill space if you need to.

The jars would not fit in the rack, but turning the rack upside down and placing the jars carefully so they would not tip worked! I was in business. 2 jars of each color, for a total of 8 jars and 1 oz in each jar looked like it was going to give me 8 oz to play with.

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Roving is wetting to assure consistent take up of dye. Just water and a tiny drop of soap in each. I use citric acid in the dye jars.

I premeasured the wool in 1 oz increments and soaked them in  smaller jars so I would keep the weights consistent and mixed my dye solutions in the 2 qt jars they would be steamed in. I mixed my dyes while the roving soaked for, well it was going to be a half hour to an hour, but everything takes longer than you plan. The shearer was on the way and I had to leave everything sit until the shearing was done for our Finnsheep. But, mason jar steaming is so easy. When I returned from the barn I was ready to steam dye, while I got dinner cooking! No worrying about roving felting in the pot, the glass jars keep that from happening!

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The 2 qt dye jars were waiting for me when the shearing was done. I drained the soaking roving and set it in a colander for a few minutes. Then carefully eased 1 oz of roving into each jar, so as not to displace the dye liquid. I added enough water in the kettle so it was just under the rack and then carefully added the jars and turned on the heat.

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Keep the water beneath the jars so they do not crack. Put the lid on tight.

I brought the temperature up slowly, with the kettle lid on, until it reached 180 degrees. Then kept an eye on the temperature, amount of steam, and water level. I did not have to add any additional water, and left it steaming at 180 degrees for a half hour to 45 minutes. I turned off the heat and left the dye to cure until I returned home from work the next day. A nice surprise to come home to.

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The roving came out fluffy, soft, and was not compressed!

The dye had exhausted clear for the most part, but to be safe I rinsed and drained the 4 colors separately. Spun them in my large salad spinner and put the wet roving by the wood stove to dry. I chose fairly well with my color combinations, but may drop one of the colors, the intense red. This color is much cooler hue than the other three’s warm tones. We will see, I will decide when I blend these to make a summer sunset color way. Yes, I decided to blend them anyway, but to make a lovely batt or two. I see a lovely colorway here.

Click the follow my blog button below and you will be notified when I post the next blog demonstrating the colorway from the steam dyeing experiment. Other blogs heading your way will be on shearing day, lambing in April (2 weeks!), custom dyeing 16 inch felting batts and more! 

Thanks for joining me in the kitchen today : )

November is the Homestretch and Breeding Season

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November brings our Finnsheep their final days on pasture until Spring 2014. We have been fortunate this Autumn of 2013, in that the weather has been unseasonably warm and the pastures have provided healthy grasses for our Finns to remain outside. Finns can stay out on pasture throughout the winter months with a shelter. But, we are heading the Finnsheep down the homestretch, leading to the barn soon.

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We are using a minimum of 4 of our rams this year in our breeding program. This means at least 4 breeding pens will be needed. Pasture rotation with this many breeding pens means breeding inside the barn will be easier to manage.  Having breeding pens in the barn allows us to observe the individual matings and provide a good indicator of when each ewe’s lambing date will be. Finnsheep ewes are very maternal and lambing is usually an independent event requiring little assistance in most cases. But, we still like to be present at each birth whenever possible. We will be breeding about 25-30 ewes this year with 4-6 of our rams.

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We anticipate 65-70 lambs this Spring of 2014. Our breeding program will provide us with multiple sets of unrelated ewe and ram lambs for starter flocks and individual lambs, in an array of colors and patterns.  Reservations are already being made and it is never too late for a farm tour any time of the year at Ironwood Hill Farm. We look forward to visits from future Finnsheep buyers.

Lambing and Kidding 2013

First came lambing. And then the kidding began.

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Today I feel normal again for the first time in about a month. It has been about two weeks since our final ewe lambed.  A few days later our goats began kidding. No kidding. Lambing followed by kidding is like taking a time out from the world where you live and instead you become a member of the flock or herd.  You live in the barn. Flashlight visits down the road to the barn at midnight, followed by a couple of hours of watching the mothers lamb or kid. Then tending to all:  helping with nursing, clearing nostrils, needles, bringing warm molasses water to help mom regain her energy after perhaps a set of triplets or more are born.  You re-enter the house, the smells still abound you. A quick look at the clock reminds you that you will hear the alarm ring in maybe 3-4 hours. Back to the barn to bottle feed weaker lambs, check for more babies on the way, a quick cup of java and off to work you go… weeks later-we are catching up on sleep now, cooking , cleaning, and enjoying the sunshine.

Isn’t she beautiful?

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All of our Finnsheep lambs and Nubian kids are running and playing and gaining independence.  And so are we. We are now in full swing, dyeing fiber, blending beautiful spinning batts, and making batch after batch of our soaps.  But, we still hang out in the barns, still a few bottles to be brought, and lots of snuggles and kisses and many smiles and laughs as we lose time watching them all run and hop and race.

Isn’t he handsome?

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Shearing of the Lambs

It was a cold morning on shearing day. It is a fascinating experience to watch what appeared to be a bulky ram with intimidating size, be reduced to a playful lad minus his great fleece.

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This is one of our rams, Palo Salpa.  He is piebald and his fleece is very soft and lusterous with well defined crimp. His roan fleece lends itself magnificently to creating unique overdyed locks.

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Our Finnsheep ewes stayed warm in the new barn, but they seemed to gaze longingly at their missing coats. We have 4 different shades of brown fleeces, each provides the fiber artist the benefit of being able to work with beautiful natural colors, minus the dyes. These lovely natural browns blend perfectly with a variety of different colored dyed locks, offering  contrast and numerous  possibilities of blending for the fiber artist.

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It was an exciting shearing day. And a pleasant reminder of how beautiful all of our Finnsheep are under their coats. Many of our fleeces have gone to the local mill and will be returned to the farm in a few days for us to hand dye and blend. Batts and roving will be available and on the For Sale page very soon.

Now that sheaing is done,we can closely monitor the ewes physical changes to watch for lambing. One of our new Southern Belles on the Ewe page should lamb first, possibly by the end of March.

Finnsheep raised naturally and humanely on rotational pastures. Providing exquisite yarn, locks, fleeces, roving, comb top, and long wool locks for spinning, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and felting. Ironwood Hill Farm is a sustainable farm using organic practices to provide you with healthy sheep and natural fibers.