Smallholders Insurance from Greenlands

Author Topic: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc  (Read 5895 times)

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« on: August 23, 2016, 07:27:24 pm »
Picking up on a conversation from another thread, about diversifying, in which I said the following:

Quote from: SallyIntNorth
There has been some interest in no-kill fleece and yarn recently, although I think it's yet to be proven that people genuinely will pay the price for this product.  Anyway, there's been enough interest in it for Jane to have created a 'Wool Only Flocks' page in her British Wool Products listings on the Woolsack website.

Breeds that people do seem happy to pay a premium for include Polwarth, Saxon Merino, Scottish Bowmont.  Or one of the rare breeds - especially coloured fleeces of breeds that are usually white, seem to be very popular at the moment, and to fetch a premium.  A really good Black Wensleydale fleece will fetch 35-50, for instance.  (And that's the regular flock price, not a no-kill flock price.). Other black longwools - Leicester, Lincoln and others - equally fetch a premium.

We recently had a farmer turn up at a wool show with an outstanding coloured Oxford Down fleece.  She was swooped upon and offered 20 for it.

You could look at producing yarns and/or fibre.  Ellie Stokeld does it all with her no-slaughter flock of rare breed Border Leicesters - and has a real following of very enthusiastic supporters.  She works hard at it, though, keeping an active group going in Ravelry, running knits-a-long's with her yarns, going to the shows, and so on.

and was asked for more information.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2016, 07:29:58 pm »
Basically, it's fleece and yarn (or other products) from a flock run on a no-kill basis - ie., not producing a lamb product.

Some run wethers for fleece and ewes to produce more ewes and more wethers.  It's a fact that a wether's fleece is often much thicker and better than the ewes' - he has no work to do so can put all his energy into making his fleece.

Others produce breeding sheep - ewes and tups - to sell, and take fleeces from the shearlings before they are sold to breeding homes.

Some crafters run a flock for themselves, retaining sheep with good fleeces and breeding only for replacements.  They may sell surplus fibre, or yarn they've spun themselves, or felt pictures and other items, and so on.

Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Rosemary

  • Joined Oct 2007
  • Barry, Angus, Scotland
    • The Accidental Smallholder
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2016, 07:38:38 pm »
Marketing magic. What happens to the old sheep?

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2016, 07:40:02 pm »
Jane was moved to create the new page in response to a crowdfunding project, which was seeking funding to make use of fleeces from a non-slaughter flock.  The pitch was phrased in unnecessarily emotive terms, terms which were rejected by most sheep-keepers.  However, it became clear that a) there is an interest, and b) there are some flocks which do not produce a meat product (nor fat lambs to sell on the hoof.)

It's an interesting topic.  I am intrigued by how the numbers would work - the numbers and also the numbers of lambs.  If you produce breeding stock, surely not all your lambs are suitable for breeding?  If they are all sold for breeding, doesn't that reduce the quality of the breed?  And if a shearling isn't suitable to breed and hasn't got a good fleece, well, then what?

And if you don't breed all your ewes each year, do they become infertile?  Perhaps it doesn't matter, as they will still be producing a better fleece, like the wethers, in years when they aren't bred.

It is of particular interest to me on two counts. 

Firstly, I have been wrestling with what I think crafters ought to pay for fleece in order for there to be sustainable fleece production of good quality fleece.  And I have many sheepkeeper friends, Rosemary included, who have been trying the route of getting their clip processed into either rovings or yarn. 

Secondly, I am moving the core of my fleece flock to more of a hobby situation.  We will eat spare hoggets, but for the most part, my sheep's job will be to look nice, be friendly, and turn grass into nice fleece for me and other crafters.  Initially I shall aim to not produce much of a surplus over the needs of the community for hogget, so will breed only what we need to eat, and what replacement ewe lambs I need for the flock.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2016, 07:42:07 pm »
I do know flocks where old girls (and boys) are kept on until they need to be pts on welfare grounds.

Some dairy farms do not cull cows which are no longer productive. Some chicken-keepers allow old hens to live out their retirement.

It's the same thing.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Fleecewife

  • Joined May 2010
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2016, 08:22:06 pm »
As you know Sally, I used to keep a fleece flock of wethers.  My overall flock was never no kill and the fleece flock  was chosen very carefully from amongst those animals for fleece quality, plus some were bred specifically for fleece..  Eventually because of unforeseen circumstances I had to kill them all and put them in the freezer - they were the fattest carcases I've ever seen.  I could get 20 for a good fleece, 11 years ago, but I definitely had to work hard for it.
I feel strongly that those crafters wanting to work with fleece or alpaca fibre should expect to pay a good price for a good product, and if they want something even better than I could produce, then they really would have to pay for it.  I'm not convinced though that the end price you could charge could ever pay for the cost of raising the animals.  The number of folk who would actually go ahead and buy such expensive fleeces regularly is infinitesimally small, so would not be worth the investment.  There's the worth of the land occupied by the flock, the purchase price of the animals,  the time and care they require throughout the year, feed over the winter, marketing and advertising, careful shearing, P&P, and then you need to make a profit.  I think the only way you would get anything like a fair return would be to add value to the product, but of course that requires further input.  Let's just say - you couldn't live on your earnings.
More and more as I grow older I resent those who expect to be able to buy just exactly what they want, for a very low price, whilst doing nothing towards its production.  I'm sure I've made the point many times on TAS that I feel that the young and fit could be out growing their own vegetables instead of expecting to buy from me, at a rock bottom price, when it's a huge struggle for me to produce enough for us to eat ourselves.  I'm not saying that everyone can go and rear sheep in their back garden, but I do think that they should be paying top dollar for a good product, and even topper dollar for something as unusual as is being mooted in your comments Sally.
I really don't think there are enough spinners, weavers, felters out there who will pay enough to make such a business sustainable.
I'm going round in circles here.
Then there are the questions you raise about the practicalities of keeping a truly no-kill flock.  Then I see the practice of coating sheep creeping in, to raise the value of the fleece again.  Then your sheep end up housed all year to preserve the quality - that's not a natural life for a sheep and something I would never condone.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2016, 11:53:20 pm by Fleecewife »
Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

 Love your soil - it's the the lifeblood of your land.

pharnorth

  • Joined Nov 2013
  • Cambridgeshire
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2016, 09:09:55 pm »
I think I rather upset someone on a spinning forum who was making a point that people shouldn't expect her to put hours of work into spinning for next to nothing, but she seemed to feel she should get a fleece for next to nothing as it was a 'by product'.   My response was it is only a by product because she didn't want to pay a fair price for it and the time and effort and skill needed to keep sheep long enough to produce a fleece should also be valued.

I can see why a 'no kill' flock would work for someone who is a vegan spinner but can't really see the point of it if you a milk guzzling meat eating omnivore.  Or simply if you feel you have sent enough livestock off to the abbatior for one lifetime.   But I do struggle with those who want to have 'no kill' wool while enjoying a lamb kebab because they can't deal with the livestock, meat, food equation.

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2016, 09:16:38 pm »
I think I agree with everything you say, Juliet - but I'm happy to let the ,armed prove me wrong.

I do know of several flocks where the product isn't lamb, it's fleece, and the fleeces sell for 35 - 65 per sheep.  If you already have land and love sheep, maybe that makes sense.  It's never going to make you rich, though.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2016, 12:21:50 am »
.....but then again neither is producing meat!


the fleeces sell for 35 - 65 per sheep.


Hmmmm, so say I have a no-kill fleece flock with an average sale price of 50 per fleece. Could I look after, fence, feed, vaccinate, worm, and clip each animal for less than 50 a year? I don't think I could TBH, and certainly not once wool marketing costs are taken into account.


There's a bit in the book Isolation Shepherd where they talk about keeping blackface wethers into old age primarily for their fleeces. How times have changed!!


BTW, what do you mean by "the practice of coating" Fleecewife?  Do you mean literally sheep wearing coats like horse rugs, or have I misunderstood?  ???
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

Fleecewife

  • Joined May 2010
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2016, 06:33:24 am »
No Womble, you've understood exactly.  It's something they do in Oz sometimes with the finest, most valuable Merino fleeces, and in some specific flocks the sheep are also kept indoors all year round to protect fleece from the sun.   Coating seems fairly common in fleece flocks in the US.  It's to keep the fleece immaculate, but I would have thought that sweating away in a hot climate, with your wool rubbing constantly against a coat would tend to cause the fleece to mat.  I think it's rarely done in Britain, although I have known a few sheep-keepers who do it.

I agree that as a business I don't see how it could be profitable, nor do I see how it could be genuinely no-kill on a whole flock scale.  Fleece from animals kept solely for their fleece, as I did, is feasible, and you could perhaps find pet homes for some once the fleece quality starts to lesson with age, but you have to be selective about which lambs would join your fleece flock, or you could never charge your premium.  How many spinners would pay 50 for every fleece they buy?  A few, but not enough to sustain a worthwhile business.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for - plant a tree

 Love your soil - it's the the lifeblood of your land.

kanisha

  • Joined Dec 2007
    • Spered Breizh Ouessants
    • Facebook
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2016, 07:09:02 am »
presumably the no kill policy is limited to sheep you raise and own  and that income is generated from sales of sheep. Technically I have a no kill flock of sheep. I don't raise them for meat.

Its just another "label" to try to get a leg up on the commercial ladder.
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Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2016, 07:58:07 am »
Aha! So I have a no-kill flock too then Kanisha!  :idea:   :innocent: . Somebody at work said to me the other day "I can't believe you're going to eat your sheep - that's just barbaric", to which the only possible reply was "No, don't be silly - I'm not going to eat them........ just their children!". Some people shouldn't ask stupid questions unless they expect straight answers!  ;) 

So at the end of the day, no-kill is basically alpaca farming with sheep isn't it!? If I was going to try it, I'd focus on adding as much value as possible, so I'd be following Rosemary's lead and selling premium balls of wool (signed by individual sheep of course), and woven blankets etc - definitely not raw fleece as the main product. I think if you did that, you could find enough people willing to pay.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2016, 07:59:48 am by Womble »
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2016, 08:07:57 am »
I think you would be taken aback by the processing costs, Womble.  I don't think the margins improve much as you go through the various processes.  The fleece needs washed, picked, carded and/or combed - now it can be sold as rovings.  The rovings can be spun into yarn.  Every process adds an amount per kilo, and the weight of end product reduces after each of the first few processes, up to roving stage.

I've a friend has sacks of absolutely delicious rovings produced from her Shetlands, but the price she needs to charge to cover her costs makes them more expensive than commercially available tops.  People do buy them - I do, it's my favourite quick and easy spin - but generally people need to have tried a bit in order to know why they want to spend more on them than the very excellent tops from Jamieson & Smith, for instance.

And Rosemary's had some great marketing for her yarn, and initial sales have been very encouraging.  Her yarn will always have the cachet of being The Accidental Smalholder yarn - but the rest of us would have to somehow create as strong a brand.
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

kanisha

  • Joined Dec 2007
    • Spered Breizh Ouessants
    • Facebook
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2016, 08:08:48 am »
OK OK I confess....... I do put the odd one in the freezer .  Now I feel soooooo bad  :-\
Ravelry Group: - Ouessants & Company

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
    • Trelay Cohousing Community
Re: No-kill flocks for fleece, fibre and yarn etc
« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2016, 08:13:24 am »
presumably the no kill policy is limited to sheep you raise and own  and that income is generated from sales of sheep. Technically I have a no kill flock of sheep. I don't raise them for meat.

Its just another "label" to try to get a leg up on the commercial ladder.

Not always true.  The Doulton flock claims to sell all its production as breeding sheep, none are ever sold as fat or store, she tells me.  Of course she has no jurisdiction on what happens to them after they've been sold.

I don't think we need to turn our noses up at people who do this, nor at people who use whatever aspect of their operation for marketing purposes, provided they are honest and don't use negative tactics to besmirch how others do things.

There are thousands of crafters who are vegetarians.  Some of them have flocks of sheep, and many of them would like to buy from a no-kill flock.  It's just a matter of can that work, will they pay enough and is it really feasible ?
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cows (rearing their own calves for beef), pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

 

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