Fiber Farms and Wool Farming

Shearing sheep, alpacas, or llamas can bring your small wool farming operation a tidy profit, without the fuss of breeding.

  • Nubian and Angora Goats at Steam Valley Fiber Farm.
    Photo By Terry Wild Stock
  • This sheep is being sheered the old-fashioned way — by hand.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Sevaljevic
  • Alpaca wool at Winters Gone Farm and Alpaca Store.
    Photo By Terry Wild Stock
  • Steam Valley Fiber Farm natural dye workshop with Phylleri Ball.
    Photo By Terry Wild Stock

When posed with the question of what I do here on the farm, I respond that I am a “yarn farmer.” If I were to say, “I raise sheep, alpacas and llamas,” it would imply that I actually breed the animals. I don’t, however, breed anything. In fact, I have a very strict ‘no-males-allowed’ policy.

I do miss out on the overwhelming cuteness of newborn lambs this way, but I don’t have to spend sleepless nights in the barn during lambing season either. I also don’t need to castrate the young ram lambs or take care of many of the other activities with which breeders must contend. In that way, yarn farming is a way of farming that suits me just fine.

In fact, I have recently discovered yarn farming was an occupation of my fourth-great-grandmother. Around the year 1820, her husband was killed, leaving her alone with seven small children. She kept a flock of sheep and took in weaving to support herself until the children were old enough to help her work a full-scale farming operation. So you might say fiber farming goes right down to my roots.

Bringing home the herd

The first step of yarn farming is determining what breeds you are interested in, and then establishing relationships with quality breeders in your area. I chose the Shetland sheep breed due to its hardiness, the fineness of its fiber, and the variety of natural colors available. I found a reputable breeder in my area to make arrangements for a farm visit. Every breeder reaches a point where he or she needs to choose which animals to keep for their breeding program and which animals to cull. They are perfectly healthy animals, but may have body conformation issues that the breeder finds undesirable. For instance, they may be slightly cow-hocked, or their ears might hang too low. These are minor issues most of us never notice, but a big deal in the show ring.

These are the animals that can be purchased at pet-quality prices, even though their fleece is just as nice as the blue-ribbon winner standing next to them. I don’t show the animals competitively, so they don’t need to be pretty. They could be ugly as mud, and it wouldn’t matter to me as long as they have nice fiber. By not maintaining my own breeding stock, I also have the luxury of being able to pick and choose whatever color and texture I want to add to my flock or herd, instead of being stuck with whatever lambs, kids or crias are born to my flock.

The alpaca and llama industries have been going through a rightsizing of sorts the past several years. The astronomical prices once asked for breeding stock have plummeted, leaving breeders with pastures full of animals they can’t sell. Breeders in some cases are practically giving away juvenile males and geldings. In my case, they even threw in free delivery.

8/5/2018 4:35:43 PM

Great info! Nice article with Dos and Donts! Thanks

8/5/2018 4:34:20 PM

Great info! Nice article with Dos and Donts! Thanks

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