Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ewe a day - Sansa

Sansa is one of Genoa's triplets, sire is Nitro.  Happy to have a nice black ewe and look forward to getting her fleece this March.  She is the larger of the two black ewes we got from Genoa x Nitro.  Her little sister is Arya.  We didn't keep the moorit ram, had we done I'd have named him Bran...

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Jean posted a comment to our blog yesterday asking about micron data, so I decided to dedicate a post to her answer.

We say "microns", what we mean is AFD or average fiber diameter, which just happens to be measured in microns since the fibers are so small.  Two contributors to the feel of wool as defined by AFD are:
  1. The smaller the fiber diameter, the softer the wool is.  
  2. If there are high diameter fibers mixed in with low diameter fibers in the same fleece, the wool product you produce from it will feel scratchy.
Every year just before we shear, we grab our mini clippers and head to the barn to take fiber samples from each of our sheep.
Many years of micron data...

We do this just before shearing so we get a full year growth to be tested.  We do take samples of lambs in early fall before we put together our sales list just to get a data point to determine if a lamb has fallen out of our breeding program - based on micron numbers as well as other equally important criteria like handle, staple length, conformation, color, pattern, bloodlines etc.  It is very unusual for us to sell lambs, as they change so much over the year - you might sell something that can really make a nice contribution to the flock, and we can't afford to make too many mistakes with our small flock size.

Anyways, each sample has to come from a specific location on the sheep's body  - 5th rib back, vertically centered on the body.  This is so you can compare sheep to sheep, flock to flock.  Everyone who does this is on the honor system to make sure they take from the same location.  If you take from the neck wool that is cheating as neck wool is the softest on the body.  Sometimes we take samples from the britch, neck and 5th rib to see how consistent a fleece is on one sheep, but we don't claim those when we are publishing our results, unless we define it carefully.

A fiber sample bagged, labelled and ready to ship out
We then take that sample, bag it, label the bag for the sheep's ear tag and pack it in a box full of samples to Texas A&M Wool and Mohair lab.  Before we mail the samples, Rich will write down what he thinks the numbers will turn out to be based on the feel and appearance of each sample.  Over the years he has gotten more adept at predicting the numbers, a useful skill when visiting farms or attending sheep shows.

Texas A&M use their equipment to measure a sample of fibers from each of our samples.  They measure the diameter of the staple, taking measurements along the entire length of the staple, and they do multiple fibers from each sheep.  They also measure the staple length.  Then they calculate the statistics of the sample, and provide you with the data and a histogram to go with it.

AFD Summary Report from 2017 - this is the first page of the report, each row is data from one sample of wool.  The far left column is the ear tag ID for each sheep

Top half of page is the detail data for one sheep.  The chart is depicting the diameter of the fibers in the sample - you want it as narrow as possible, as the higher diameter fibers will make the wool feel scratchy, even if you have a large number of low diameter fibers in the sample

This link takes you to a post where Rich nicely defines the terms used to measure fiber diameter.  Its actually an outdated sales post from 2015, but if you scroll to the bottom you will find the definitions:

And these are really good posts Rich wrote about Shetland wool, I think they are very interesting, you might like them:

We use micron data as one of many data points to determine who gets sold and who becomes breeding stock as well as who to breed with who (whom?).  I also publish the micron data for the wool I sell - it goes on every label of everything I sell.
Label for some batting I have for sale, row five provides the micron data

We don't typically purchase breeding stock without micron data, if the breeder doesn't have it, we obtain a sample from the breeder and send it in ourselves.

Hope this helps!  Let me know if you have other questions.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What I am working on

This has been a slow roll due to the holidays, but there are a lot of things happening on the farm and in the fiber studio.

I am washing Lady Mary - the last moorit fleece I have left from 2017 clip and a lamb fleece.  Looking forward to carding and deciding if it goes as batts or yarn.

Spinning Marianne - pretty creamy white, the remaining darker wool I will make into a gradient yarn.

Finished a barn sock, reinforced toes and heel with additional strand of black.  This wool is from the rams we had processed by Acorn Fibers - nice and soft.  Of course it will take me forever to brace myself to thread a sewing needle to finish the toe, I hate sewing...

Still working Bousta Beanie - loving knitting with my nice handspun.

Finishing carding up Sarin - so lofty and soft and an unusual shade of black, just love it.

Breeding groups were broke up mid December, so now we just wait until April for lambing.  Once we finish the ewe a day postings, I'll have Rich write up the breeding groups and his strategy for each group.  Here are the rams in the shed, after having made friends again once we got them all back in same pasture from their breeding groups.

Ewe a day - Catelyn

Catelyn is out of Mr. Darcy and Rossana. Well, you breed grey to grey and you feel pretty good about the odds of getting either grey or black. Not this time, but I think this is a very good fawn katmoget. It’s going to be tough next spring to find 10 or so good ewes we are willing to sell, but clearly, some of the fawn kats will have to go. It’ll be difficult to decide.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ewe a day - Cersei

Cersei is out of Mr. Darcy and English Garden. This grey katmoget ewe did get my attention and continues to impress me. I don’t know if she sticks the landing with all of the things I was looking for, but she is an improvement on the weaknesses of both parents in most ways. She’s not as fine as her father, but much finer than her mother. Her fleece is dense like her mother’s and also has her length (most of it anyway). I think all of the ewe lambs this year will have yearling micron tests in the 21 to 22 micron range.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ewe a day - Gilly

Gilly is out of Nitro and Treviso so that in itself is promising. A fawn katmoget ewe is not going to get my attention unless it is exceptional, but I think this one could be.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ewe a day - Daenerys

Keeping with the Game of Thrones naming scheme, Daenerys is out of Mr. Darcy and Siena. I had the same thought process here in terms of striking the balance. Unfortunately, all of the planning resulted in a fawn katmoget lamb, something that we did not need more of. I think this is going to be a good ewe though.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ewe a day - Ygritte

I was pretty high on the class of 2016 ewe lambs, but still had high hopes for the 2017 class this spring. It’s still too early to do a full evaluation on them, but we felt we had reached the fineness summit with the 2016 class and needed to work on other things. After working for many years on improving our flock fineness, that left us in a rather uncertain area. Was it possible to increase fleece length while maintaining fineness? Could we add the full diversity of colors to the mix? Who knew? I still don’t.

What I’ve noticed over the years was that as much as we liked most of our ewes, the ram is the most important contributor. All of the fineness that we enjoy started with our ram selections over the years. So, you be the judge as to whether the 2017 ewe lambs are a step in the right direction. It won’t be until April that I finally decide for myself.

Ygritte is out of Darcy and Vogue. I was going for black-based lambs here, but failed miserably. I like moorit, however, and I think she is a good one. As much as I like Mr. Darcy’s fineness and color, I felt that Vogue had a good combination of goods that could improve him in his weak areas. This ewe lamb looks to be a success in that regard, but I did not do micron testing, so we will have to wait to determine whether we struck a good balance.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ewe a day - Sarin

Ok Acres Sarin is another ewe we brought in last fall. The primary purpose was to add to our collection of fine blacks. Plus, I liked her. I don’t know that we needed another black, but at the time, it seemed like a priority. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at her fleece. It had a dreadlocky structure as a lamb (which I detest), but that has changed with her second fleece. I don’t usually see that dramatic of a change with the second fleece. I like what I see here and hope that the fineness is still there (I think it is). Her SF was 19.1 microns. When you get this fine, sometimes, the standard deviation can be relatively high (as the CV will indicate), but that’s not the case here. She has a CV of 19%, which is where we like our sheep. I think that’s a matter of opinion, but that’s what we like.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ewe a day - Elara

Ok Acres Elara is a really pretty white that we brought in last year from Wisconsin to help add whites to our flock. Her SF was a very impressive 18.8 microns. I haven’t decided who to breed her to yet this fall. Density is great and so is the crimp.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ewe a day - O'Brien

O’brien is the last of the Whispering Pines yearlings, and maybe the best one if I am being honest. She is out of Mustang Sally (Khan and Siena) and Mr. Darcy. I was not a big fan of many of the Khan daughters, but this was one of the better ones (along with Irish Mist and Frangelico). The good news is that the Khan granddaughters have been really nice (which is good because I don’t have any more Khan daughters). O’brien’s SF was 18.9 microns. Really nice moorit ewe with great density. I’d like to see more fleece length in her, but I sometimes think that is a bit overrated. I do believe Shetlands should be between 3” and 5”, but we’ve not had a great deal of success achieving density, fineness, and crimp at the longer end of that spectrum. The fleeces that we really like seem to be at the bottom end of that range. Having played around with fleeces longer and shorter than that, it’s become clear where that range came from. I’m sure historically speaking, Shetlands came longer and shorter than that, but you lose a lot of really nice characteristics when you exceed 5” and the same is true when you fall below 3”.
Not sure why but don't have fleece nor lamb shots of O'Brien.  This is her over the summer of 2017.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ewe a day - Ivy

Ivy is one of my favorite yearlings and was also one of our top lambs. She is out of Mr. Darcy and Pamela (who is out of Egyptian Autumn and Frangelico – two home grown Shetlands). Once is a while (and more often now than in the past) with all the making of room for the new generation of ewes, I sometimes wonder why I sold certain animals. Pamela is one such ewe. It often comes down to how many fawn katmogets we can really have and that was the case with Pamela. Ivy’s SF was 21.2 microns as a yearling.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ewe a day - Lady Rose

Lady Rose is Isobel’s twin sister and her SF is almost identical at 21.7 microns. Now, this one did increase by a micron from September to March, so that is interesting, but we will see what happens in the spring. I do not have any concerns with what I am seeing with the second fleece, however. Both she and Isobel will have second fleeces that are less than 25 microns, which is what I always look for.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ewe a day - Isobel

Isobel is one of our outstanding yearling moorits out of Canterbury and Kahlua. Kahlua is out of Vogue. Isobel’s SF this year was 21.9 microns. One thing I like about all of these yearlings is that their fleeces didn’t change much between the fall and spring. It’s always a red flag when they do, but so far so good.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Ewe a day - Baxter

Baxter is a fine black out of Mr. Darcy and Kyrie (who is out of Pearl). Her SF was 21.5 microns. As blacks go, this is a really good one. I usually qualify comments about black fleeces by saying things like, “pretty good for a black fleece,” but this one stands on its own against any color. I might not be as excited about it if it was moorit, but it would still grade out high.