Nanoo Nanoo is not here at present. She is off somewhere in the barn looking after her new born daughter, Wambam. Instead it is me, Queso, the flock photojournalist and, for the moment, special correspondent. Nanoo Nanoo asked me to look after things and to make sure that the sheep perspective is not given a short shift while she is on maternity leave.
The barn is finally settling down, as all of my pregnant buddies have delivered their lambs. As I mentioned Nanoo Nanoo had a girl. The shepherds claim she is “cute as a button”. (Whatever that means, we have no use for buttons.) The girl is growing well at more than ½ pound per day. Nanoo Nanoo is a very good, attentive mother.
Over the last few days I have spent a lot of time with the shepherds, making sure that they do their jobs properly while the ewes are in labor. While we killed time waiting on births, I had a chance to talk with the nice lady about our fleeces. Here is what I managed to get recorded.
Queso(Q): So, nice lady, what can you tell me about our fleeces this year?
Nice Lady (NL): The fleeces this year are really quite beautiful. As you know, I look carefully at each fleece during the days and weeks after shearing. Then I write down all my observations.
Q: What are you looking for?
NL: I look for any vegetative matter and try to pick that out of the wool along with any short little bits of fiber. I test each fleece for soundness, that is, I look for any tender spots in the fiber length that would break as it is being spun. This year we had no fleeces with tender spots.
Q: How long does it take you to look at each fleece?
NL: It depends. The least amount of time is probably about 15 minutes. Some fleeces take up to 45 minutes. Some of your friends here in the barn tend to be hay magnets. Even though you all wear jackets, some of you like to collect vegetative matter along the edges of your jackets. Some of it even works its way underneath the jacket. After I have the fleece examined, I measure the staple length, I try to describe the color and characteristics of the wool, and then I place the fleece in a clear plastic bag with the name of the sheep clearly visible. Finally, I weigh the fleece and record all this information on a chart so that we can put that information on the website in preparation for the annual fleece sale.
Q: Which fleeces have you spun from our flock?
NL: I have spun or am spinning fleeces from current flock members including Justine, Kassia, Luscious, Mindy, Nutbread, Octavia, Prunella, Ruby, Stud Muffin, Tabitha, Trudi and, of course Nanoo Nanoo’s and yours. When we first started with the flock back in 1990, I spun a small amount of every fleece from the original 20 flock members. And, I have spun fleeces from flock members that are no longer here.
Q: I have heard that sometimes you add color to our wool. Is that true?
NL: Yes, sometimes I dye the wool. I especially enjoy adding color to the pale gray and vanilla gray fleeces. Those light grays add a nice undertone to the color. I am starting to use more and more natural dye materials. I especially enjoy trying out new plants as possible dye sources. Some experiments work, others are not so good.
Q: Am I ever glad you do not try to dye our wool before they shear it from us! What happens to the yarn you spin from our wool?
NL: Some of the yarn is used by that grumpy old guy when he weaves blankets, scarves, and other items. I use some of the yarn in knitting things like hats, mittens and socks. I also use some of the yarn as embellishments in felting projects or in dressing the teddy bears I make. Occasionally, I will sell some of my handspun at the Door County Shepherds’ Market or through our Art Gallery.
Q: I heard a rumor that each year you make a list of your favorite fleeces for that year. Is it true? And, why do you do it?
NL: Yes, it is true. Each year I pick 5 or 6 of the best (in my opinion) white fleeces and 10 to 12 of the best naturally colored fleeces. I keep my list from year to year to see how my opinion changes and to see which members of the flock are producing consistently good fleeces. Fleeces on this list may end up being priced differently than other fleeces in the flock. For example, this year one of the top fleeces is going to be Violette (a lovely lilac gray lamb fleece) which is going for $15.00 a pound.
Q: Am I on the list?
NL: Oh yes, you are on the list. This year my favorite naturally colored fleeces are from: Limburger, Naomi, Nutbread, Nanoo Nanoo, Queso, Sunflower, Toodles, Tessa, Tallulah, Upsadaisy, Ulayla, and Violette. My favorite white fleeces are: Cynthie, Quiche, Portia, Quazar, Ukiah, and Vanilla. All of these fleeces have lovely color or whiteness, are consistent from front to back, and all have a lovely crimp. It is unusual for two lamb fleeces to be on the list but both are very special this year.
Q: I have heard that each year you usually keep at least a couple of our fleeces for your spinning projects. I cannot imagine what you do with all the rest of our fleeces. After all, there are over 120 of them this year.
NL: Every year we put most of your fleeces up for sale on our web site. People from all over the U.S. and Europe then buy them. In fact we will be having our next fleece sale this week. People who are interested can have a look at the Fleece pages on the web site. You are even welcome to look.
Q: I really am not interested in buying back my fleece. What good would that do me? In any case, thank you for telling me about our fleeces and what you do with our wool. It was also very nice of you to spend so much time scratching me behind the ears. I think I’ll go over and see if the old bearded guy will give me a rub for a while….