A lot of changes have happened in relation to the purchasing of the equipment in the new Wool Mill. One of those changes is the addition of a second sheep breed to our farm.
To start at the beginning, we had chosen our sheep breed (Polypay) to be able to make a medium weight yarn and a fine fingerling lace yarn. In operating our farm booth at the market, we realized that the stash of dyed Border Leicester sheep curls from our previous farm were super popular in our Felter’s Box. We knew we would eventually run out of our stash. I also saw a need for a strong fibre to take the place of nylon in sock yarn which is a commonly requested yarn type. But I really hadn’t done much about resolving this in my flock’s fibre range yet. Purchasing specific sheep when you live in Northern Ontario is quite an ordeal.
The chance for me to do something appeared on our biennial visit to get new genetics for our existing Polypay flock from a breeder in Arlington, Wisconsin. As we were touring his barn, I was super delighted when I spotted curls on a ram – there were just loads of curls everywhere. It turned out to be the curls on a Lincoln Longwool sheep. I asked if he was for sale and sure enough, he was ready to go to a new home.
Right there in the barn, I started sending pictures of the curls to my daughter. She was very confused as I had never mentioned Lincoln and she thought we were in Wisconsin purchasing Polypay. And as it turns out we actually didn’t purchase the Polypay they had for sale. They did not have the fleece coverage or fineness that we were looking for. Instead, we found two yearling Targhee rams with amazing fleece that were available for purchase. Those are the two we ended up bringing home.
You might be wondering what Targhee sheep have to do with Polypay sheep, and how we can use Targhee rams with Polypay ewes and still call our sheep Polypay. We are doing what they call “top breeding”; you choose one of the original breeds to continually breed into your ewes to enhance the characteristic that they bring to your flock. Most Polypay breeders choose other characteristics to do top breeding with such as selecting for high multiple births, good mothering or breeding out of season. We use Targhee due to the quality of their fleece, as that is a priority for us here.
Husband (usually reticent to make sudden changes costing more money) saw the advantage of bringing three rams over the border versus the planned two, as the work shouldn’t be that much more if done at the same time - but check out his upcoming blog at the end of the month for the full details about that giant headache of a transaction.
I figured we would just breed the Lincoln ram to select Polypay ewes who didn’t have fine fleeces but surprisingly Husband said no. He wanted to find some purebred Lincoln Longwool ewes here in Ontario to purchase so that we could have a purebred Lincoln flock. Well, Lincoln is a rare breed in Canada and we only found one breeder with acceptable ewes; Bill Gardhouse whose family brought them over in the early 19th century and still farms in Schomberg. That’s only 17 hours away. We arranged to go down and get 3 ewes. We came back with 4, as I wanted two white and two black, of course. History repeats itself.
In the process of sourcing Lincolns, I talked to St. Isidore Farm, a Lincoln breeder who didn’t have stock for us but was able to refer us to Bill. We established a good connection as she was having a hard time getting the small Canadian mills like ours to process her Lincoln. In my initial trials with the Lincoln fleece, I definitely noticed a difference in the handling. Lincoln is especially greasy and super-hot water of 180 is needed to remove it. It also requires you to slow down the carder and to apply the conditioner liberally. The carder also needs to be loaded first with short fibres to prevent the long fibers from getting deep into the carding matt which is really time consuming to remove fully. The Belfast Mini Mill carder has no problem dealing with fibers less than 10 inches but longer fibers do get caught in the first doffer.
Lincolns have great fiber for many different end uses and mattress stuffing doesn't have to be one of them (this was what they used to do with all the fibre not good enough for yarn or further processing). Instead, I am replacing nylon in sock yarn with Lincoln, developing a new yarn called Lincoln Lopi, and of course dying curls. I’m super happy that we made this decision. The Wisconsin breeder told us that the Lincoln breed is the fastest growing breed in the USA. I can see why.
Picture 1: Beverly with Abe the ram (coated) and the four Lincoln ewes. Picture 2: Abe the ram and Mary Denise, a ewe. Picture 3: Hand-dyed Lincoln Locks, Picture 4: Undyed Lincoln Locks