F is for Fleece
Harvey Ranch is located in the Sierra Valley, where Anna's family has been raising meat sheep for four generations. Anna decided several years back to develop a flock of wool sheep, since she is a fiber and quilt artist. Her flock consists of Rambouillet (her family has about 4000 of these) and Coopworth-Salish sheep (recently acquired from the M Nine Bar Below spinning flock from Diane Wheatly of Lebanon, OR). Anna also had a fleece win Reserve Champion Handspinning Fleece at the Dixon Lambtown Festival last summer.
Anna takes very good care of the fleece while it develops, making for much less work for the spinner. She also has much of the wool that is not as suited for hand-spinning combed into quilting batts at the Yolo Wool Mill.
These poor pregnant girls... Anna's sheep shearer was a bigger wimp than we were, as he backed out of coming today, so they will have to wait till next Tuesday to shed their 10-pound fleeces.
The sheep are wearing coats to protect their bee-yoooo-ti-ful, long-stapled fleeces, some 6 or 7 inches in length on their backs, from mud and damp until they can be shorn. I was a spinner in an earlier version of this life, and greatly admired the length, softness and crimp of the fleece, which we looked at on a few of these girls, who needed their canvas jackets changed. There is also less lanolin than average (but still plenty to spin well) because of the lack of humidity in the Sierra Valley. This group will begin lambing about April 1st, so are quite large and cumbersome (remember when you were pregnant? Now, add a 10-pound coat you can't wiggle out of... you get the idea).
And, yes, those ARE icicles hanging from the roof. However, the day remained dry and we got a good look at the various pens:
Linda just loved how this girl was smiling at us!
This big bruiser is the main man for the wool flock, and both Anna and her husband Dan said he has lots of "attitude". He was pretty relaxed today, on his side of the fence, but alone and with no harem to defend. His fleece probably weighed closer to 15 pounds, and Dan estimated he weighs around 180 pounds. His distinctive nose marking shows up on several of the flock.
An overview of several of the woolies. Anna said they are getting tired of being cooped up the the barn, waiting to be sheared, but that is the only way to keep their fleeces clean and dry. Wet wool is much harder to shear!
This is Daisy, in a work pose... she is a Great Pyrenees puppy (I know, she looks huge, but is only seven months old). GPs make excellent livestock guard dogs, for those who don't have the good fortune to have burros, and she is no exception. She has grown up with the lambs, sees herself as one of the flock, and although sweet and friendly, was alert and "on duty" the entire time we were near the sheep pens. I have always believed that animals need jobs, just as we do, and she is a great testimonial... a lost snowmobiler drove onto the ranch while we were visiting, and she became hyper-alert to the sound and was listening intently until he departed. She also followed our movements and kept close watch, as we were the intruders, and it was her duty to make sure we didn't "mess with the sheep". The Harveys have a mature GP, George, who patrols the ranch grounds, along with their Australian Kelpie, Rockie< and have very little trouble with predators.
We then went inside to take a look at Anna's latest work of art, a quilted wall hanging featuring both piecework of fine detail, and embellishments in the form of dogwood branches needlefelted onto the borders and 3-D dogwood blossoms! She had the piece quilted by a friend with a long-arm machine to echo the dogwood theme, and it will be one of the samples she uses at her classes this coming season. Anna will be one of the featured teachers at our Mountain Star Quilt guild retreat we are offering to the public in the fall, along with other fiber artist luminaries... watch for details.
Linda and I headed to Sierraville for a terrific Mexican food lunch. We discussed our craft afflictions and how we never seemed to have enough time for all of it. Even though F is for Fleece, and I even want to add a few woolies here someday soon, I don't think I will take up spinning again; it would cut seriously into my knitting time!